A B-1B Lancer bomber at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, may be unsalvageable after it caught fire on the flightline Wednesday night.
The jet was undergoing routine engine maintenance around 10 p.m. local time when flames erupted, according to a Thursday news release from the 7th Bomb Wing at the base.
A video posted to the airman nco snco Facebook page the same day shows an aircraft engulfed in flames and captioned “Dyess AFB B-1 engine blew up.” The wing is looking into the recording’s authenticity.
Two people sustained injuries that were not life-threatening, and were treated at a nearby hospital and released, the wing said. Staff Sgt. Holly Cook, a wing spokesperson, declined to answer whether they were maintainers working on the bomber.
“Emergency response personnel arrived immediately and contained the scene,” according to the release. “Cleanup operations have begun.”
The incident is under investigation.
“We are so grateful that all members of Team Dyess involved have been treated and are now safely back at home,” said 7th Bomb Wing commander Col. Joseph Kramer. “Thank you to our first responders who arrived immediately on scene and executed a real-world emergency response with the same level of professionalism and proficiency as they do in training.”
“Our B-1 fleet and warfighters remain ready to execute any long-range strike mission,” he added.
One year ago this week, the Air Force grounded its entire B-1B fleet to investigate problems with its fuel system. USAF has halted flight for all of its Lancers multiple times in the past few years for various safety issues.
At issue in April 2021 was the bomber’s fuel filter, which keeps contaminants out of the fuel tank. An aircraft emergency at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, in April 2021 led the Air Force to find a hole leaking fuel, which jeopardized the bomber’s ability to fly, The War Zone reported.
The service then grounded the fleet in search of further problems. Bombers started returning to the skies within a few weeks after they were declared safe to fly, but the Air Force has declined to say how many aircraft were defective.
Air Force Global Strike Command is in the process of retiring the Lancers over the next two decades, and dumped 17 airframes in 2021.
The Air Force owned 44 B-1Bs as of March 28, when the federal government released the number as part of its fiscal 2023 budget request. It originally bought 100 Lancers but the fleet had shrunk to 62 by 2021. The service received its first B-1B in 1985 and first deployed it in combat against Iraq in 1998.
In addition to Dyess, B-1Bs are based at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, with a major maintenance shop at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma. They no longer have a permanent presence in the Middle East, but still regularly fly to Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific. Lancers carry nonnuclear weapons.
Lancers are rarely destroyed; the last reported instance of a totaled B-1 occurred in fiscal 2013, according to Air Force Safety Center data from December 2021. Still, the jets are often down for maintenance after suffering from years of overuse in U.S. Central Command, particularly on missions the bomber was not designed to handle.
On average, the B-1s suffer about three Class A mishaps, the most damaging accidents, per 100,000 flight hours each year, the Safety Center said. Those mishaps cost at least $2.5 million in damages, destroy an aircraft, or cause permanent and total disability or death.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.