Thursday, October 15, 2015

F-35's Heavier Helmet Complicates Ejection Risks

F-35's Heavier Helmet Complicates Ejection Risks: In the latest hurdle for the Pentagon's F-35 joint strike fighter, testers this summer discovered an increased risk of neck damage when a lightweight pilot is ejecting from the plane.

The Joint Program Office blamed the phenomenon on the jet's ejection seat, Martin-Baker's US16E. But interviews conducted by Defense News in recent weeks indicate the added weight and bulk of the new F-35 helmet complicates the problem. It is still unclear whether the blame rests squarely with the helmet, or the seat, or somewhere in between.

The JPO is trying to improve safety for lightweight pilots during an ejection by reducing the weight of the new helmet, built by Rockwell Collins and Elbit Systems of America, which is on its third iteration due to repeated technical problems. Rockwell Collins is now on contract to build a Generation III "Light" helmet, David Nieuwsma, company vice president of strategy and business development for government systems, told Defense News on Tuesday.

"The F-35 program is still in its System Development and Demonstration phase and the aircraft's safe escape design continues to develop and improve. All ejections from any fighter aircraft are risky and place extreme amounts of stress upon the body," JPO spokesman Joe DellaVedova told Defense News in a Wednesday email. "The safety of our pilots is paramount and the F-35 Joint Program Office, Lockheed Martin, and Martin-Baker continue to work this issue with the US Services and International partners to reach a solution as quickly as possible."