Tuesday, May 16, 2017

USAF lifts ban on light weight pilots to fly F-35A fighter

U.S. Air Force have withdrawn the ban on pilots weighing less 136 pounds from flying the F-35A stealth fighter aircraft.

The weight restrictions were imposed in 2015, after analysis identified a potential for head and neck injuries while ejecting from the aircraft in a portion of flight envelope, during parachute deployment/opening for pilots weighing less than 136 pounds.

Three distinct modifications have been developed after rigorous testing to ensure the Martin Baker MK16 US16E ejection seat works reliably and safely in all flight envelope across all pilots, weighing from 103 to 245 pounds. The tests successfully met all the specified physiological head and neck load requirements according to Martin Baker.

The ejection delay switch in F-35 cockpit
A switch was installed on the seat that slightly delays parachute deployment at high speeds and decreases parachute opening forces for lightweight pilots. Additionally, a head support panel has been mounted on the rear risers of the parachute to prevent the pilot’s head from moving backwards during an ejection, drastically reduce the amount of stress of the head and neck.

Finally the weight of the Gen III helmet has been significantly lowered by reduction of internal strapping material and removal of an additional external visor.

The Air Force signed the military flight release document on May 2 and Martin-Baker Field Teams have begun installing modification kits to the Ejection Seats. The first seat was modified and the aircraft flew May 4.

The new ejection seats are already being retrofitted into the existing fleet, and the lightweight helmets are available in pre-production now, while full production starts later this year.

Ejection tests were carried out at Martin-Baker’s test facilities, at the USAF high speed track in Holloman AFB, New Mexico, and also at altitude where the US16E was ejected at altitudes up to 27,000 ft.
Live ejection from MB's F-35 test sledge

These ejection tests were supported by live parachute jumps onto land and sea, and extensive component and rig testing.

The Air Force has received more than 100 F-35As to date, and trained more than 400 pilots and accumulated more than 40,000 flight hours.

Martin-Baker ejection seats has saved 7,541 lives since 1949, of which over 3,500 are American aircrew. This year alone, an additional six American aircrew lives have been saved. Martin-Baker supports more than 90 air forces worldwide, 56 aircraft types and currently has over 17,000 seats in service.