U.S. Air Force leadership has rescinded weight restrictions for F-35A pilots that had previously barred pilots weighing less than 136 pounds from flying the aircraft, according to an Air Force news release.
The restriction was set in 2015 due to concerns about the possibility of neck injuries to pilots during ejections over part of the F-35A’s flight envelope, in part due to the weight of the F-35’s helmet, which incorporates the Helmet Mounted Display System.
The weight restriction was cleared after three modifications to the ejection seat, according to the Air Force.
- A switch on the seat now slightly delays parachute deployment at high speeds and decreases parachute opening forces for lightweight pilots.
- A head support panel was mounted on the rear risers of the parachute to prevent the pilot’s head from moving backwards during an ejection.
- The weight of the helmet has been reduced through reduction of internal strapping material and removal of an additional external visor.
“I have personally briefed every single F-35 pilot in the United States Air Force about these changes to their ejection seat, and I’m confident our pilots are no longer concerned with the safety of the F-35 ejection system. I’ve flown in this seat myself and believe, with these modifications, this is the safest ejection seat I’ve ever flown,” said Brig. Gen. Scott L. Pleus, the F-35 Integration Office director.
The seat was originally rated for pilots weighing between 103 and 245 pounds.
The modified ejection seats are being retrofitted into existing F-35As, and the lightweight helmets are available in pre-production, with full production starting later in 2017.