Recent tests have shown that a lightweight F-35 pilot could have his or her neck snapped during ejection from the fighter at certain speeds. These troubling new findings have brought some members in Congress to the end of their rope when it comes to the high-profile and highly problematic weapons program.
Defense News reports that the F-35’s Martin Baker US16E ejection seat system can cause fatal neck trauma when pilots on the lighter end of the F-35’s crew accommodation spectrum eject at slower speeds. These recent tests occured when the dummies were wearing the jet’s third-generation helmet, which is heavier than the second-generation helmet, a factor that possibly aggravated the issue. During certain tests, the lighter-weight dummies’ necks were literally snapped according to a Defense News source.
As of now, the Navy, Marines and Air Force have to restrict access to pilots only weighing more than 136 pounds. The original design requirements were set to safely accommodate pilots weighing from 103 pounds to 245 pounds. This all comes as the USMC has already declared the jet operational, although this is widely viewed as a farce among many defense experts and pundits.
The fact that this testing is occurring now, after over 165 F-35s have been built and the aircraft is already supposedly “operational,” has enraged some in Congress. Defense News states:
Since the issue emerged, lawmakers have vowed to push for increased oversight of the F-35, with one congresswoman condemning the program for “malpractice.” Rep. Jackie Speier, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on oversight and investigations, slammed the Pentagon for rushing tests to field the plane prematurely.
“We’re seeing these flight restrictions because the F-35’s ejector seats weren’t tested to the level they would be on a normal aircraft, and the Pentagon rushed to field them prematurely. This is yet another example of the kind of procurement malpractice we should be avoiding,” the California Democrat said in an email to Defense News last week.
Also, Representative Mike Turner of the House Armed Services Committee is holding a a hearing on the F-35 later this month, where this and many other questionable aspects of the aircraft and its procurement process will surely be addressed.
The F-35’s ejection issue does not impact many pilots because the vast a majority weigh more than the 136 pound baseline restriction, and Lockheed and Martin Maker (which has made outstanding seats that have saved thousands of lives) are working to rectify the issue. Still, it is far from encouraging for those who have to fly the jet daily. More than anything else though this new finding and subsequent restriction works as yet another reminder of why “concurrency,” or putting a very complex and expensive weapon system into production long before testing is complete, has been an absolute disaster.
Photo credits: Top photo via Martin Baker, bottom photo via DoD.