US Air Force Allows Thin Pilots to Fly the F-35A Stealth Fighter
Thin fighter pilots can now fly the Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter after problems with the stealth fighter's Mk 16 US16E Ejection Seat were resolved, announced the U.S. Air Force.
The air force forbade fighter pilots weighing 62 kg (136 lbs) or less from flying the F-35A out of concern these pilots might either be severely injured or killed when ejecting from the aircraft.
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Because of these dangers, no air force pilot below 62 kg have been authorized to fly F-35s since 2015. Tests conducted in this year showed unacceptable levels of risk of head or neck injury for thin pilots.
The flight restriction banning thin pilots from the F-35 was removed after the development and testing of fixes to the Mk 16 US16E Ejection Seat made by Martin-Baker and installed on F-35s.
Removal of the restriction on May 15 means pilots weighing between 46 kg (102 lbs) and 111 kg (245 lbs) can pilot the F-35A, the version of the stealth fighter flown by the U.S. Air Force.
Martin-Baker Aircraft Co. Ltd. is a British manufacturer of ejection seats and safety-related equipment for aviation. It claims its US16E Ejection Seat fully meets the F-35 Escape System requirements and is the only qualified ejection seat that meets the U.S. government defined Neck Injury Criteria (NIC) across the pilot accommodation range.
The fixes made by Martin Baker to the US16E Ejection Seat consist of new settings for thin or "lightweight pilots" and a head support panel, said Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, Director, F-35 Integration Office, Headquarters U.S. Air Force.
Changes were to the F-35 Gen III Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) made by Rockwell Collins, Inc., to reduce the helmet's weight.
"Combined, these changes reduce the risk to lightweight pilots in both high- and low-speed ejections and make the F-35 ejection safest one of the safest in our entire inventory," said Gen. Pleus.
"We've done rigorous testing of all the new configurations, and it's clear that the combination of our lighter helmet, the delay in the opening speed of the parachute and the cradling of the pilot's helmet with a head support panel have significantly improved the safety of the seat."