The Air Force has lifted the weight restrictions governing F-35 pilots. In 2015 the Air Force announced that pilots weighing less than 136 pounds could not fly the jet due to risks during ejections. Since then, the Air Force has installed a switch on the seat that delays parachute deployment at high speeds and decreases the opening force for lighter weight pilots, according to an Air Force release. The seat is now certified for any pilot weighing between 103 pounds and 245 pounds. The Air Force also installed a head support panel on the risers of the parachute to prevent the pilot’s head from snapping backwards during an ejection and it decreased the weight of the helmet to reduce risk. USAF completed extensive testing of the changes before removing the restriction and F-35 Integration Office Director Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus said he personally briefed every USAF F-35 pilot about the changes. “I’m confident our pilots are no longer concerned with the safety of the F-35 ejection system,” he said in the release. The new ejection seats are being retrofitted into the fleet, and lightweight helmets are currently in preproduction, according to the Air Force.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.