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By Thomas Phippen
The Air Force has lifted weight restrictions for F-35A pilots after correcting a design issue that could cause a pilot’s neck to break when the emergency ejection seat deployed.
Technicians made two changes to the ejection seat system that made it possible to lift the weight restrictions, the Air Force said Monday.
“The lifting of this requires two changes: one to the seat, as well as a reduced weight helmet,” Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, director of the Air Force’s F-35 program office, said during a news conference at the Pentagon.
“Combining these changes reduce[s] the risk to lightweight pilots in both high- and low-speed ejections,” Pleus said.
The Air Force imposed the restrictions for pilots weighing less than 136 pounds out of fear of fatal whiplash during emergency ejection. The seat is now approved for pilots weighing between 103 and 245 pounds, the Air Force said in a press release.
“I’m confident our pilots are no longer concerned with the safety of the F-35 ejection system,” Pleus, a former F-16 pilot, said in a statement. “I’ve flown in this seat myself and believe, with these modifications, this is the safest ejection seat I’ve ever flown.”
The cost of fixing the ejection seat and the helmet “will be borne [by] industry,” Joe DellaVedova, F-35 Joint Program Office spokesman, told Military.com.
A Pentagon report released in 2016 found that during testing, “the ejection seat rotates backwards after ejection,” which “results in the pilot’s neck becoming extended, as the head moves behind the shoulders in a ‘chin up’ position.”