F-35 aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin has not been approached by the joint program office to weigh alternatives for replacing the F-35’s current ejection seat.
Jeff Babione, Lockheed’s executive vice president and general manager of the F-35 program said the company would be willing to look into changing the seat if the government deems replacement necessary. However, that type of change in scope would be a tremendous undertaking.
“The details of the kind of testing, cost and schedule of integrating another seat would really be out of scope right now,” he said during an exclusive interview with defensenews.com.
The US Air Force had looked into the possibility of replacing the Martin-Baker ejection seat on the F-35. The United Technologies ACES 5 was the model under consideration.
The F-35 ejection seat has come under fire for not being rated for lighter pilots. While it is not certain what the exact reasons are for seat limitations, the heavy F-35 helmet may be a partial cause. Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan told a House Armed Services panel back in late 2015 that the joint program office is trying to shave about 6 ounces from the 5.4-pound, $400,000 helmets. This would hopefully reduce potentially fatal neck injuries for light-weight pilots who eject from the aircraft.
Pilots between 136 and 165 pounds have less risk, about 1 in 200,000, of having their heads snapped forward or backward.
It is no small secret that the F-35 has had major problems during its lifespan. Trying to change ejection seats during the latter part of the jet’s procurement period would be costly–both in time and money. Lockheed Martin expects the timeline for the current ejection seat to be resolved soon.
“We have every confidence with the latest changes that the seat will be fully qualified for all weights, sizes and heights of pilots that the F-35 can be certified for,” Babione said. “And I think that will all be resolved by the end of this fall.”
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Top Photo: Senator John McCain (R, AZ) says the government will have to cut its purchases because of the “prohibitive” cost of the original number of F-35’s. Photo credit: Washington Examiner