Tuesday, February 14, 2017

US Air Force: Removal of F-35 pilot weight restrictions eyed for April

US Air Force: Removal of F-35 pilot weight restrictions eyed for April: The Air Force could be ready to remove restrictions on lightweight F-35 pilots as early as April, following fixes to the aircraft’s ejection seat and helmet.

But Martin-Baker’s US16E ejection seat is not completely in the clear yet. Even if the newly modified pilot-escape system meets requirements, the service may still press ahead with certifying a second ejection seat as a bulwark against potential risks in the future, said Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, who heads the Air Force’s F-35 integration office.

In 2015, the Air Force discovered that F-35 pilots who weigh less than 136 pounds were at high risk of severe or potentially fatal neck injuries upon being ejected from the aircraft. The service then restricted all pilots below that weight from flying the F-35 while Martin-Baker, which produces the US16E ejection seat found in all variants, and Rockwell Collins, which manufactures the helmet, adjusted their products.

Now, testing of the modified escape system is mostly complete, and the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) has provided that data to the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center, which functions as the service’s airworthiness authority, Pleus told Defense News during a Feb. 10 interview.