Ejection Seat Safety & Reliability Improvement Program
Legislators of the Armed Services Committee recently published comments on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2015. This federal law is passed every year and specifies the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense. The 2014 law authorized a spending of $607 billion.
It should be no surprise that this is a huge document. Residing on page 324 (link to entire document below) are a handful of paragraphs with significant implications on flight safety for pilots flying high-performance aircraft. Under the title ‘Ejection Seat Safety and Reliability Improvement Program’, legislators demonstrate their concern for aging ejection seats.
In this document the Armed Services Committee members draw attention to the death of an F-16 pilot in Italy who did not survive an ejection sequence in January 2013. They state that there are concerns that the ACES II ejection seats built in the 1970’s for legacy fighter aircraft like the F-15 and F-16 may be suffering from fatigue and corrosion. But more importantly, the program points out that many modifications to tactical operations may increase the risk on pilots beyond the 5% risk of major injury usually accepted. For example, most pilots of fighter aircraft now wear Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS) and Night–Vision Goggles (NVG’s) on their helmets while training for combat. Although this systems do add a lot of tactical value, they come with the added risk of significantly increasing forces on the neck during ejection sequences.
The document points out that currently the USAF has not delegated any funds to solve this issue thru purchase of new ejection seats or upgrading old ones. The committee also established 2 budget lines and recommended a total of $10.5 million for the Ejection Seat Safety & Reliability Improvement Program.
1. See the entire H.R. 4435—FY15 NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL here, reference page 324.
2. Congressional Panel Warns Aging Ejection Seats Could Kill Pilot in Forbes by Loren Thompson on 21 May 2014, which inspired this post.