Fixes to F-35 ejection seat could take a year to complete

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The Pentagon says it has solved the problems associated with the F-35’s potentially dangerous ejection seat, but the fixes may take at least another year to be implemented.

During a media roundtable event Feb. 10, in Arlington, Va., F-35 Joint Program Office Director Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan said three upgrades to the seat will allow the office to remove a flight restriction that has been in place since August.

All U.S. services prohibited pilots who weigh less than 136 pounds from flying the jet after testing found an increased risk of serious neck injury that lighter-weight pilots could face during low-speed ejections.

According to a report from the Department of Defense News, Bogdan told reporters that engineers have built a “heavy/light” switch into the ejection seat that, when adjusted for lighter pilots, delays the parachute’s release by fractions of a second, reducing impact to the pilot’s neck.

Bogdan also said a support device has been added to the parachute itself that would prevent a pilot’s head from moving backward. The general said both the switch and support device have been tested and will go into production by the end of 2016.

The third fix necessary to clear the restriction is a different matter, Bogdan said.

The F-35 JPO has to shave several ounces off the the jet’s $400,000 helmet to reduce neck loads for the lighter pilots. The helmet currently weighs 5.1 pounds, but for it to be safe, its weight has to be reduced to somewhere between 4.6 and 4.8 pounds. 

According to the DoD report, Bogdan said the helmet weight reduction fix is at least eight or nine months behind the other two solutions. All three must be in place before the restriction is removed.

A recently released report from The Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation — the Secretary of Defense’s senior weapons adviser — said the seat modifications “may take up to a year to verify improvement and install them onto aircraft.”

Hill’s 388th Fighter Wing is not affected by the flight restriction because all Hill pilots are above the 136-pound weight threshold.

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