Bombers Modified To Counter Bird Strikes
ABILENE, Texas (AP) _ Two B-1B bombers assigned to Dyess Air Force Base are the first to undergo modification in a $40 million program designed to make the aircraft less vulnerable to birds, officials said.
Air Force officials said certain sensitive areas on the 99 bombers nationwide are being hardened following the Sept. 28 crash in Colorado of a B- 1B based at Dyess. Three crewmen died in the crash, and three others parachuted to safety.
Although the investigation into the crash isn’t complete, Air Force officials believe it was caused by birds being sucked into the engines of the $280 million aircraft.
Technicians from Rockwell International, the prime contractor, already are working on one of the B-1s at Dyess, while another has been flown to Rockwell’s Palmdale, Calif., plant for modification, said Lt. Monica Taliaferro, public affairs officer for the 96th Bomb Wing at Dyess.
Mike Wallace, a public affairs specialist with the Aeronautical Systems Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, said the modification program is related to the fatal crash.
Low-level training flights of B-1Bs have been suspended since the accident, Taliaferro said.
The modification project involves the installation of deflectors under the skin of the aircraft to protect vital hydraulic, fuel and electrical lines from damage caused by striking a bird at a high rate of speed, officials said.
Taliaferro said deflectors are being installed in three critical areas - a 20-foot strip on the leading edge of the wings, above the engines; a 2-foot area on the tail; and a 2-foot area on the wing pivot section.
The aircraft’s wings pivot forward for takeoffs and back for efficient high-speed cruising.
Most of the deflectors are made of Kevlar, a lightweight material that is also used in the U.S. Army’s new combat helmets and in many bulletproof vests.
The Air Force hopes to have 20 B-1Bs modified by April and the remaining 79 aircraft by December, Wallace said. Rockwell will handle the first 20 planes and Air Force technicians are expected to do the rest, he said.
Col. Joseph O’Hara III, commander of the B-1B Site Activation Task Force at Dyess, estimated that modification of the first two aircraft will be completed by the end of the month. Others should take about two weeks each, he said.
Dyess received the Air Force’s first B-1B in June 1985 and now has 28. Others are stationed at Ellsworth AFB, S.D., with 35, and Grand Forks AFB, N.D. with 17. McConnell AFB in Kansas is expected to receive 17 B-1Bs on Feb. 29, officials said.