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Economy & Business

More Problems for the F-35

The Pentagon’s F-35 fighter jet is in the news again with more technical problems. According to reports, the latest issue comes in the form of “a potentially life-threatening blunder as [the F-35’s] ejection seat could snap a slender pilot’s neck when attempting to save his life.”

As Roll Call reports:

Nearly 1 in 3 pilots who will fly the F-35, the military’s $159 million fighter jet of the future, runs a heightened risk of fatal whiplash during an emergency ejection, according to defense officials and internal documents obtained by CQ.

What’s more, the Pentagon lacks information to assess the safety of a substantial portion of its remaining pilots.

The Defense Department has acknowledged this risk to its lightest weight pilots. But those who are closer to average weight are also potentially in danger, according to the documents and experts.

During an ejection from the F-35, the canopy over the pilot is deliberately shattered by an explosive charge. Then the entire seat is blasted skyward with tremendous force. Mannequin tests this summer showed that the lightest F-35 pilots, in particular, are more likely to be rotated into a position where they face all but certain death or serious injury from the parachute rocketing into their heads — at least in cases when the plane is flying low and relatively slowly…

According to the September documents from the jet program, for F-35 pilots weighing 135 pounds or less, there is a 98 percent “probability of fatal injury” during ejections from the jet at 160 knots, a typical speed at take-off or landing.

Those lightweight pilots are currently not allowed to fly the F-35 because they are at “high risk,” the documents say. Historical data indicate, according to the documents, that more than 7 percent of Air Force officers fall into this weight category, which is equivalent to that of a lightweight boxer.

The Pentagon has acknowledged that much. However, of far greater concern is data that has not previously been made public about the possible effects of ejection from the F-35 at relatively slow speeds for pilots of more normal size — the welterweights and middleweights of U.S. military aviation, to use the boxing analogy.

This is not the first major issue with the F-35. Among other things, the fighter has suffered from massive delays and cost of overruns, it is vulnerable to being hacked, its hull could crack, and its design specifications have been stolen. That’s on top of software delays, faulty fuel-tank design, lighting issues, flight-control problems, and helmet-display issues, in addition to many of the jet’s components being unreliable.

However, because the F-35 is manufactured across multiple states lines (and congressional districts) and because the Pentagon has put all its eggs in one $1.5 trillion basket, we are told that this is the plane and we are sticking to it.


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