Earlier this month it was reported that the U.S. Military is temporarily preventing pilots weighing less than 136 pounds from flying the F-35 aircraft because tests had shown that those individuals could be at risk of neck injury during low speed ejections. However, it now appears that another object could be compounding the issue.
Joe DellaVedova of the Joint Program Office previously told Defense News that the military had held the restriction in place since Aug. 27, due to the examinations this past summer that found the flaw. Now Defense News has obtained information from several sources suggesting the weight and bulk of the helmet worn by F-35 pilots adds to the risk. The helmet, which is manufactured by Rockwell Collins and Elbit Systems of America, is being altered for the third time due to issues.
Rockwell Collin’s V.P. of Strategy and Business Development for Government Systems David Nieuwsma told Defense News that the company has now been tapped to develop the new Generation III Light helmet.
“The F-35 program is still in its System Development and Demonstration phase and the aircraft’s safe escape design continues to develop and improve. All ejections from any fighter aircraft are risky and place extreme amounts of stress upon the body,” DellaVedova told Defense News Wednesday. “The safety of our pilots is paramount and the F-35 Joint Program Office, Lockheed Martin, and Martin-Baker continue to work on this issue with the US Services and International partners to reach a solution as quickly as possible.”
Like the issues with the F-35 ejection seat, the faults of the Gen III helmet were unveiled by inspectors this summer who found that lighter pilots were at enhanced risk during low speed ejections, according to a recent email issued by a Pentagon spokesperson to Defense News.
Defense News was told that the failed examinations entailed two slow-speed sled tests of the F-35 ejection process where the pilots were mimicked by mannequins, one weighing 136 pounds and the other 103. Both of the crash dummies were wearing the 5.1 pound Generation III helmets and were traveling at 160 knots.
The representative said the problem didn’t arise during testing involving the Gen II helmet, which weighs about six ounces less than its successor.
Despite the concern sorrounding the helmet, the device didn’t factor into the military’s decision to temporarily bar those under 136 pounds from piloting the F-35, according to DellaVedova.
“That was an ejection seat issue discovered during the parachute opening phase and was not related to the differences between the Gen II and Gen III helmets,” DellaVedova said. “For lightweight pilots in a low speed ejection condition, there is a possibility the pilot could rotate to a position in the ejection sequence where the parachute opening shock could cause the head to rotate backward.”
Prior to the testing of the ejection seat, the Gen III helmet passed all of the Joint Program Office’s requirements, according to Nieuwsma. After the flight tests unveiled the F-35 ejection issue, Lockheed Martin suggested chin pads be implemented in the helmet, but the Joint Program Office dismissed the suggestion, and instead proposed that the helmet be manufactured at a lighter weight.
DellaVedova said a review of the Rockwell Collins-developed Gen III Light is slated to occur in December. To bring the helmet down to its projected 4.67 pound weight, strapping material could be reduced. The entire external visor could also be stripped from the helmet.
Two other changes could be made to the F-35 ejection system according to DllaVedova. One involving the implementation of a head support panel that would be placed between the parachute risers shielding the pilot’s head. The other, the addition of a switch on the pilot’s seat that would postpone the ejection of lightweight pilots.
All three fixes should be assimilated into the F-35 by the summer of 2017, according to DellaVedova.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense