Safety Experts Disagree on Safety of F-35 Seats

Safety officials disagree on the risk F-35 ejection seats pose to pilots, Roll Call reported Monday.

The Pentagon in 2016 released a report that said a design issue caused the ejection seat to rotate backwards after ejection, which “results in the pilot’s neck becoming extended, as the head moves behind the shoulders in a ‘chin up’ position.”

As a result, the Air Force put in place a restriction that prohibited pilots who flew a variant of the F-35 fighter jet from weighing less than 136 pounds, a limit that was lifted in May after modifications were made to the pilot’s helmet and the aircraft’s ejection seat.

But the seats still pose a “serious” risk, and 22 pilots will be injured or killed in the next ten years unless the seats undergo additional testing in “off-nominal” cases, according to an internal Air Force safety report that was not made public.

The Technical Airworthiness Authority said tests that would take no more than one year at a cost no greater than $1 million should be conducted to secure the safety of pilots. But the program office “non-concurs” with the recommended testing, the report said. Army Lt. Col. Roger Cabiness agreed with the assessment.

The program “needs to conduct sufficient testing under off-nominal conditions to adequately characterize and assess the effect of off-nominal, (i.e., out-of-control) ejections,” he said.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, who oversees the program, told reporters he was, “confident our pilots are no longer concerned with the F-35 ejection system.”

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