US Air Force, Navy ground hundreds of warplanes for faulty ejection seat parts
Story Code : 1006902
The issues first became public on Tuesday, when the Navy grounded an undisclosed number of F/A-18 Hornets, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and EA-18G war planes, as well as T-45 Goshawk and F-5 Tiger II training aircraft, US-based military.com news outlet reported Friday.
The service made the decision to ground the warplanes "after being notified of [a] potential defect by the vendor," it declared. The manufacturer of the ejection seats is the UK-based Martin-Baker company that specializes in ejection gear for foreign and US aircraft.
According to the report, Martin-Baker flagged its cartridge-actuated devices -- explosive components used to launch an ejection seat out of the cockpit -- as the issue, conceding that certain lots of those devices don’t work properly and need to be replaced.
The problem is also affecting the US Air Force, the report added, noting that Air Combat Command (ACC) confirmed in a statement on Friday that “it is standing down its fleet of F-35A Lightning II jets due to the Martin-Baker defect.” On July 19, it began a 90-day inspection of all the components in its aircraft.
"Out of an abundance of caution, ACC units will execute a stand-down on July 29 to expedite the inspection process," a statement from the Air Force said as quoted in the report. "Based on data gathered from those inspections, ACC will make a determination to resume operations."
Two days earlier, the 19th Air Force's Air Education and Training Command was made aware of the ejection seat issue on its T-38 Talon and T-6 Texan II training planes. Martin-Baker also manufactures the ejection devices for those aircraft.
The Air Force identified a total of 279 T-38 and T-6 planes that are affected and ordered a stand-down for those aircraft, meaning they won’t fly until the ejection seats are cleared.
"Out of an abundance of caution, 19th Air Force directed that T-38 and T-6 operations be terminated on July 27 while our maintenance and logistics teams further investigated the issue," a statement from Air Education and Training Command said. "Working with the manufacturer, AFMC [Air Force Materiel Command] was able to isolate the specific lot numbers of product that require inspection and further identify which aircraft may be affected."
According to the report, US Congress has paid close attention to ejection seat problems after the 2020 death of 1st Lt. David Schmitz, an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot with the 77th Fighter Squadron out of Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. Investigations after his death found that an ejection seat malfunction was partly to blame.
JV Venable, a former Air Force pilot with 25 years of experience and a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said faulty ejection seat cartridges are just the latest example of long-standing issues related to the military's aging equipment and lack of maintenance preparation.
"This is just one of the many readiness issues that is facing the military right now," Venable said in an interview. "You're starting to see the impact of that with these ejection seats."