This Way to the Egress

A recent report from the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation suggesting a major issue with the F-35’s escape system isn’t as big a deal as it was made to sound, Joint Strike Fighter program director Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan said Wednesday. The DOT&E reported problems between the ejection seat and helmet that could seriously injure pilots weighing less than 136 pounds. Bogdan said the issue is well understood and there is a fix already in test. First, very lightweight pilots will select a switch for “light” on the seat when they step to fly, which will affect the speed at which the seat will fire and the drag chute will deploy. Next, the system program office is getting Rockwell Collins—the helmet maker—and Lockheed Martin to develop a lighter weight helmet to put less strain on the pilot’s neck, and lastly, a patch of fabric will be sewn into the risers to prevent the pilot’s head from getting caught in them when the parachute deploys. The new helmet will be ready for production by the end of the year, at 4.6 pounds versus the current version’s 5.1 pounds, Bogdan said, noting that the number of pilots currently flying the F-35 who weigh less than 136 pounds is “zero.” One pilot who might have been affected was sent to F-22 school instead, he added. He also noted that the DOT&E report suggested that the problem would seriously injure one in four pilots, but the real figure is closer to one in 50,000, “if they actually eject.” (Read the DOT&E report; Caution, large-sized file.)