In April, inspectors with the United States Armed Forces discovered a problem with the ejection seats outfitted on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets that could affect the entire fleet. Officials said they originally suspected the problem was simply an isolated incident. As such, they waited to ground the aircraft for three months so they could more thorougly investigate the issue. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets are flown not only by the United States Air Force but also the Navy and the Marine Corps, as well.
Steve Roberts is a spokesperson for Martin-Baker, the seat manufacturer. He explains, “During a routine maintenance inspection at Hill [AFB, Utah] in April 2022, an anomaly was discovered with one of the seat cartridge actuated devices in the F-35 seat. This was quickly traced back to a gap in the manufacturing process, which was addressed and changed.”
The cartridges in question are the component of the ejection seat that explodes, launching the aviator out of the cockpit and prompting the parachute to open. Apparently, the defective aspect of the cartridge was found to be not only loose but also devoid of the magnesium powder crucial for igniting the propellant whose purpose to is to propel the pilot out of danger.
According to an unconfirmed briefing summary from the USAF Air Education and Training Command, an engineer inspecting one F-35 suspected that its ejection cartridge felt lighter than it should. Further inspection led to the conclusion that this particular cartridge was installed on the F-35 despite the fact that its explosive charge was missing.
This led to the testing of another 2,700 F-35 ejection seat cartridges to discover three failures. Roberts adds that the problem appears to be unique the F-35 and to a specific cartridge number installed therein.
He goes on to say, “Martin-Baker has been providing the [prime aircraft contractors like Lockheed Martin] and multiple [government] agencies with supporting data to prove that all other aircraft may be excluded. Outside the F-35, not a single anomaly has been discovered worldwide as a result of the forensic investigation which continues at pace.”