After an ejection seat malfunction resulted in the death of a fighter pilot last year, lawmakers plan to require the Air Force and Navy to notify them when rescue seats need to be repaired.
The pilot’s death was linked to a shortage of spare parts, which meant the ejection seat was three years behind in service.
In its guidelines for the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022, the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Subcommittee wants to know how often the Air Force delays aircraft maintenance. whose ejection seat needs to be repaired, to the text of the invoice.
“The committee is aware of two recent aircraft accidents in which the ejection seats in operational service malfunctioned during the pilot ejection sequence due to a lack of parts or deferred maintenance actions; one ejection had a death, ”lawmakers said.
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Beginning in February 2022 and on a semi-annual basis thereafter, congressional committees await reports from the two service secretaries on the number of ejection seats in service in both services.
The Air Force primarily uses the ACES II ejection seat manufactured by Collins Aerospace in its older F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-15 Eagle and Strike Eagle, F-22 Raptor, A-10 Thunderbolt II, B-1 Lancer and B- 2 Spirit plane. Collins is now a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies. The Navy uses the common NACES ejection seat for its F / A-18 Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler jets and T-45 Goshawk trainer aircraft, manufactured by Martin-Baker.
Pilots from both services train in T-38 Talon and T-6 Texan II aircraft, which use Martin-Baker ejection seats.
Service reports should indicate the number of cases where seat maintenance has been delayed; where the service cannot obtain parts for ejection seats; or if they fail to inspect the seats on the schedule mandated by the services.
Services should also disclose when a waiver is issued to allow an unrepaired seat to remain in service and who has signed it, in accordance with the law.
Lawmakers were referring to the fatal ejection-related accident involving 1st Lt. David Schmitz, an F-16 pilot at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, which occurred in June 2020.
Coming for a landing after night training, Schmitz, 32, severely damaged his plane’s landing gear while landing, striking an antenna array near the runway. He attempted to stop a cable with the broken gear, as reported – wrongly, an investigation determined – by control tower personnel. This meant that the F-16’s tail hook would be caught by a steel cable on the runway, but the Air Force found it to be a misguided direction.
He got kicked out. But after a malfunction in the ejection sequence, Schmitz crashed into the ground while still in his seat. He died instantly.
Investigators have discovered a problem with the signal that triggers a sequence to launch the seat from the plane. A the modification could have avoided the problem, but Schmitz’s headquarters was awaiting its regular service, which had been postponed from 2017 due to a lack of available parts.
The “Digital Recovery Sequencer,” or DRS, a device located in Schmitz’s headquarters – crucial to the launch process – was also considered “expired” in February 2019. Knowing this, the Cycle Management Center Air Force Life, in charge of equipment management, approved three waiver extensions due to the spare parts issue.
In 2014, a Tulsa Air National Guard F-16C instructor pilot experienced a similar DRS failure during an uncontrolled ejection near Moline, Kansas, after having and his student pilot collided during a training mission. Both pilots survived this incident.
An investigation by Military.com revealed that the Air Force chose not to expedite deliveries of spare parts to bases, even in light of the Schmitz affair. The service also saw no reason to ground its fleets of planes following the incident, as the required inspections – first ordered in 2016 following the Tulsa Guard event in 2014 – were already in progress.
Air Combat Command, which oversees combat fighter fleets, temporarily grounded a number of planes that had seats from the same production batch as Schmitz’s. He found that 19 seats shared the same sequencer on the same production line.
As of April 8, the seats of 32 planes are still waiting to be upgraded by the end of September.
Related: The Air Force knew it had an ejection seat problem, but did not rush a solution. Then a pilot died
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