Exclusive: USAF Weighing Replacement F-35 Ejection Seat
As I had explained earlier, this was a USAF issue, being dealt with by them appropriately. As the earlier links have shown, there are a total of 11 tests to be performed between march of 2016 and November 2016, and only after these would the 136 pound weight restrictions be lifted. As if those 11 tests (planned before Gilmore’s rant) weren’t enough, the USAF is now actively introducing an alternative into the mix in case the fixes Martin Baker has designed for the seat do not work out or incase Martin Baker is unable to go back, and re-design changes in order to meet the 136 pound pilot requirement. Keep in mind however that the safety boards do not find the risk above the weight restriction to be significant enough to warrant any restrictions, that still stands even with the standard seat and would obviously still stand even if the three fixes identified do not work exactly as planned.
To recap some points from the previous discussions and background –
- During testing the ITT found unacceptable risk for neck injury during the escape process for pilots weighing below 136 pounds (60kg).
-The risk of injury to pilots above 136 pounds was found to be acceptable by the ari worthiness authorities – Keep in mind that with the heavier helmets there is always a HIGHER risk compared to non HMS escape scenarios – USAF’s own expereince with ACESII and the F-16 proves that, including fatalities. Therefore, there is elevated risk of neck injury even on the upgraded f16s with the JHMCS compared to pre-upgraded f-16Cs.
- At the moment the F-35A (USAF) is restricted to pilots weighing 61.7 kg to 111.1 kg
-The current ACES II ejection seat, along with the current standard HMS (JHMCS) has 60 kg as its lower limit when it comes to pilot weights when the heavier HMS’s are involved
-The USN’s NACES has a pilot nude weight range of 61.7kg to 96.6 kg so they are not affected by the restrictions
-The US16E seat on the F-35 was/is EXPECTED to sustain the widest range ever asked for in an ejection seat + HMS scenario by a US service - between 46.7 kg and 111.1 kg
-Despite having this wide range, apart from the USAF, the other two services were to continue to maintain their existing weight ranges (61.7 kg to 96.6 kg for the USN and USMC)
- It is unclear what the international customers are planning, but its quite likely that they will keep their institutional status-quo (mostly built around the F-16+ACESII+JHMCS combo)
- The USAF is still STICKING to its weight range, and EXPECTS Martin Baker to fulfill its contractual agreement to fix the seat using its own money
- There are three fixes planned to open up the 46.7 kg to 60 kg envelope. All three of these fixes have begun testing and 11 tests through the differnet weight classes are to be pefromed till november to confirm that the fixes are suffiecient to open up the envelpoe, and reduce overall risk fo death or serious injury during escale.
There are three primary solutions, he says. The first is to add a “heavy/light” switch to the seat that will delay deployment of the main parachute for lightweight pilots. “We plan to begin modifying seats by the end of the year,” Babione says.
The second fix is to reduce the weight of the Gen 3 helmet-mounted display, developed by Rockwell Collins ESA Vision Systems. The third is to add a fabric mesh between the parachute risers to capture the pilot’s head during ejection
To compare weights of helmets. The original JHMCS I was a 4.5+ pound setup. The JHMCS II is a 4.3 pound system, while the Gen III HMD for the F-35 weighs 5.2 pounds. The re-designed, lightweight helmet weighs in between 4.6-4.8 pounds so is fairly close to the JHMCS I which is the most widely used HMS between the USAF and USN (JHMCS II hasn’t yet been adopted by a US customer, only Saudi’s).
The USAF is sticking to its guns, and Martin Baker is being asked to act, act fast or face the chance of loosing out on what is likely to be the company’s largest ejection seat contract for the forceeable future.