Why Ejection Seat Maintenance and Repair is Essential for Pilot Safety

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U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Johnson and Senior Airman Lauren Avila, 169th Maintenance Group Egress Systems specialists, perform an incoming inspection on an Advanced Concept Ejection Seat (ACES) 2 ejection seat at McEntire Joint National Guard Base. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Mackenzie Bacalzo, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

Few pilot safety systems are as important and impactful as the modern ejection seat. This device is quite literally the pilot’s last line of defense, allowing them to get out of an aircraft that has been damaged or is failing.

While the concept of the ejection seat sounds simple, the actual seat itself is anything but.

Modern ejection seats are nothing like their forebearers, which were first invented in the 1940s. They’re even more complex and complicated than the next generation of ejection seats that followed in the 1960s, designed to handle the increased speed and G-forces of advanced military aircraft.

The modern aircraft ejector seat must be able to safely remove a pilot from a plane at 0 mph per hour on the ground or at high speeds in the air, and return that pilot to the ground where they can be recovered. This is why modern ejection seats—such as the ACES II—are incredibly advanced devices comprised of upwards of 20 different systems and subsystems, all designed with the pilot’s safety and survivability in mind.

Like any complicated device or system, ejection seats and their components can become fatigued, worn or obsolete. As they accumulate flight hours, the disparate components are exposed to extreme G forces, stress and harsh environmental conditions, which can damage them over time.

This is why we recommend that the ACES II seats in aircraft like the F-15 and F-16, which face extreme G forces and environmental conditions in certain regions of the world, be removed and inspected every 36 months to reduce or eliminate any potential structural or performance issues.

Should an ejection seat be used for longer than advised between repair cycles, or should Time Compliance Technical Order (TCTO) updates be ignored, it could put the pilot at risk. In other instances, TCTO updates are necessary to accommodate changes in military service members and pilots’ stature.

For example, the ACES II ejection seat was originally designed for pilots who weighed an average of 140 and 211 pounds. However, the integration of female pilots into the military and a new generation of larger male pilots has increased the average pilot weight range to between 103 and 245 pounds. This change required an update to the ejection seat through a TCTO.

Engineers install modular ejection seat components on an F-15E Strike Eagle at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kevin Holloway)

This is why it’s essential that modern Air Forces take the time to inspect, service, and maintain their ejection seats. But not every global military is capable of this. In fact, some may need help.

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It takes highly specialized tools, knowledge, and abilities to perform a comprehensive inspection of an advanced ejection seat like the ACES II. It takes even more skill and knowledge to tear down and overhaul these complex, modern ejection seats to ensure that all internal systems and components are functioning and make necessary repairs.

The ACES II ejection seat has been the industry standard for decades because of its reliable performance. In fact, it has saved the lives of more than 700 pilots to-date. If a global military doesn’t feel like it has the capacity to keep the seat working at its peak level of performance, they can ask for help from those who know them best.

This is why Collins Aerospace recently opened a brand new, state-of-the-art facility built to inspect, analyze, repair and overhaul the ACES II ejection seat in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This facility has more than 70 dedicated ejection seat engineers and more than 50 technicians on staff to ensure that seats that have been in the field for years operate just as effectively as new ones.

They accomplish that by thoroughly analyzing each ejection seat, performing non-destructive testing (NDT), conducting stress and fatigue analysis, and correcting any parts or components experiencing wear and tear.

Training is also available for global militaries that want to learn how to better maintain their own ejection seats. These training courses include performing structural repairs, packing parachutes, TCTO implementation, inspection procedures, component repairs, and other ejection seat best practices.

The modern ejection seat is a marvel of engineering and design—capable of safely removing a pilot from a failing aircraft that can move faster than the speed of sound. But for these seats to work correctly and effectively every time, they must be serviced and maintained according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and certified to function as required.

If a global military customer  cannot service their ejection seats, manufacturers like Collins Aerospace can provide  maintenance as needed.

For additional information on ejection seat maintenance, repair, and overhaul services, click HERE.