WASHINGTON --- The US Air Force won’t lift weight restrictions on F-35 pilots until 2018 — at the earliest — as more testing needs to be done to address safety issues with the jet’s ejection seat, Defense News has learned.
This news is another blow to the Pentagon’s Joint Strike Fighter, which is fast approaching a critical deadline this year to declare the Air Force F-35A variant operational. The pressure is also on for the fighter jet to make its expected European debut at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK this summer. In an embarrassment for a program with years of cost overruns and schedule delays already under its belt, the plane was forced to skip Farnborough in 2014 after an engine fire grounded the fleet.
If 2014 was the year of the engine, 2015 was the year of the ejection seat. The issue has dogged the Pentagon since last summer, when Defense News revealed concern about increased risk of neck injury to pilots during low-speed ejections prompted the services to ground lightweight pilots.
Testing of the seat, built by UK company Martin-Baker, last August showed an “elevated” risk of injury for F-35 pilots weighing under 165 pounds, and an “unacceptable” risk for those under 136 pounds, according to the Air Force. (end of excerpt)
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(EDITOR’S NOTE: This new delay means that it will have taken four years to fix the F-35’s ejection seat, always assuming that Lockheed and its subcontractors can stick to this latest schedule.)