Having to eject from an aircraft is never a warfighter’s first choice, but it can be a life-saving decision that needs to be made in a split-second. The minimization of warfighter injuries in the event of an ejection relies heavily on the safety criteria of the aircraft equipment. However, the standardization of these ejection seat criteria over the years has proven to be challenging.
Everything from the aircrew population becoming more diverse with the introduction of the first women graduating a USAF pilot training class in 1977, to the advent of helmet mounted displays in the aircraft have thrown curveballs at the defense industry in their development of the safest ejection equipment possible. So how have ejection seats adapted to necessary evolutions in their safety criteria?
Modern Integrated Warfare spoke with Collins Aerospace’s Donald Borchelt, Director, ACESII/5 BD, Mission Systems, and John Hampton, Chief Engineer, Escape System Engineering and Testing, to learn more about the foundational elements of warfighter safety when it comes to ejection equipment.
According to Borchelt and Hampton, a stable ejection seat is the cornerstone of maximum warfighter safety in the event of an ejection. “It all starts with stability,” noted Borchelt. “With a reliably stable platform, it’s easier to build in other safety features, like proper accommodation for helmet-mounted displays, head and neck protection, and arm and leg protection.”
“With the seat being stable in the airstream, you’re also able to get more efficiency out of the rocket,” explained Hampton. “With greater rocket efficiency, you’re able to achieve better terrain clearance without increasing the propensity of injury to the air crew. As a result, we’re able to achieve a lower than one percent level of injury to the spine for aircrew using our seats.”
In 2018, Collins Aerospace conducted an Egress Feasibility Study (EFS) with the U.S. Air Force, showcasing the capabilities of its ACES 5 ejection seats in accordance with the most recent MIL-HDBK-516C ejection seat safety criteria updates (released in 2016). The series was fully successful, meeting safety requirements for a broad range of pilot heights and weights (from 101.6-246.5 pounds), all while travelling at approximately 600 knots (over 700 miles per hour).
“What the ACES 5 clearly demonstrated is that the technology needed to meet the new, stringent, but extremely necessary, safety criteria is here today and readily available,” Borchelt remarked.
In the interest of delivering consistently safe experiences for warfighters needing to eject, Hampton and Borchelt emphasized the importance of using unmodified standardized testing equipment, like test mannequins for example. “If and when our customers are comparing test data, they need to be able to compare apples to apples,” Hampton stated. “It sounds like an obvious statement, but the importance of abiding by testing standards cannot be overstated when it comes to warfighter safety.”
The ability for technology to adapt to a rapidly changing warfighter demographic and keep pace with new requirements in the field is not optional for defense industry leaders. And that ability to adapt applies to every element of the warfighting ecosystem, down to the seat they are sitting in.
Listen here to Chris Stricklin’s story of surviving a F-16 seat ejection. Subscribe here to be notified of our next podcast, which features women in aviation and how safety criteria must evolve to provide more effective protection.