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Workers Claim Rockwell Stressed Production Over Quality In B-1 Project

November 29, 1988 GMT

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Rushed production schedules pressured workers inspecting parts for the B-1 bomber and some flawed parts may have been used in building the aircraft, some Rockwell International plant workers say.

A copyright report Monday by WBNS-TV quoted workers as saying substandard parts disappeared after being rejected by plant inspectors. The employees said they believe those parts subsequently were used in building the bombers to meet production schedules.

U.S. Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, and Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, called for inquiries as a result of the news report.

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Fred Hoffman, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said today the Defense Department and Air Force were aware of the TV report but had no reason to suspect faulty parts had been used in the bomber.

″The Air Force does not have any evidence at this time which corroborates the assertions by former Rockwell employees that substandard parts were used in the construction of B-1′s,″ Hoffman said.

″However, the Air Force is investigating or is looking into these allegations.″

Four B-1B bombers have crashed in the four years since the aircraft began flying as the nation’s first new long-range bomber in more than 25 years, including three crashes in the past 14 months and two in the past three weeks.

Tod Sumner, identified as a B-1 inspection manager, said he was told that if he did not reduce the number of finished parts that were stored for inspection, he would be fired.

WBNS said Sumner and Larry Greene, identfied as a former quality inspector with Rockwell, worked over the Fourth of July weekend in 1986 to inspect 1,400 parts after they were threatened with dismissal. The men were later suspended for 17 days after the Air Force questioned the quality of inspections conducted in so short a time, the station said.

″Rockwell wanted a scapegoat, fall guys, so they could say quality problems were taken care of (and) let’s go on,″ Greene said.

Greene and Sumner met with an attorney and planned to sue the company if they were fired, WBNS said. They ultimately were assigned to less sensitive jobs.

Mike Mathews, a spokesman for North American Aircraft, the Rockwell unit that operated the Columbus plant, said Rockwell had investigated similar claims by the two workers previously and found no bad parts had been used.

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″We believe similar allegations were made involving Greene and Sumner in 1985, at which time they were thoroughly investigated and no defective parts were found to have been delivered to the Air Force,″ Mathews said.

Mathews said the company would have to examine the claims in the WBNS report before commenting on them.

The newscast also reported that other workers said the Air Force was more interested in verifying paperwork than in conducting on-site parts inspections. They also said workers and management knew in advance when inspections would be conducted.

Last month, the General Accounting Office, Congress’ watchdog agency, released a study saying B-1Bs at Dyess Air Force Base in west Texas were unable to fly 47 percent to 66 percent of the time because they undergo maintenance ″a significant portion of the time.″

The Columbus plant manufactured the housing for the B-1′s jet engines, the forward intermediate fuselage of the plane, and what Mathews described as a ″primary structural element″ of the supersonic aircraft.

Rockwell has ended operations at the plant and has delivered the last B-1 components to its Palmdale, Calif., assembly plant, Mathews said.