New ejection seats for F-5E jets to be installed by 2022: Air Force

09/27/2021 06:49 PM
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CNA file photo
CNA file photo

Taipei, Sept. 27 (CNA) Taiwan will take delivery later this year of the first set of new ejection seats for its F-5 fighter jets, which will improve pilots' chances of survival if they have to eject from the aircraft, the country's Air Force said Monday.

The first shipment of Martin-Baker's Mk 16 zero/zero ejection capability seats, purchased from the United States, is expected to arrive before yearend, Air Force Chief of Staff Huang Chih-wei (黃志偉) said in a legislative hearing.

He said the full order of 70 seats is due to be delivered by 2022, and installation will be completed on all 45 of the Air Force's F-5E and F-5F fighters by the end of next year.

The F-5E is a single-seat version of the F-5 fighter jet, while the F-5F is a twin-seat model.

The new ejection seats for the Air Force's F-5 fleet were ordered after military experts recommended the replacement of the current ones, which they said were of an outdated design.

The recommendation was made during an investigation into the cause of a mid-air collision of two F-5E jets in March, which left two pilots dead.

The crash occurred during a training mission on March 22 over Pingtung County in southern Taiwan, killing two pilots, First Lieutenant Lo Shang-hua (羅尚樺) and Captain Pan Ying-chun (潘穎諄).

Forensic evidence later indicated that Lo had died of a brain hemorrhage suffered during the crash.

The circumstances of Lo's death were the same as that of another pilot, Chu Kuan-meng (朱冠甍), who was killed in another F-5E crash in October 2020.

Military experts concluded that Lo and Chu were likely killed when they ejected from the aircraft and their heads had hit the cockpit roof because of the outdated design of the F-5E's ejection seat.

According to Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), a senior analyst at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, the F-5E ejection seats are more than 40 years old, which means safe ejection is possible only if the plane has reached a certain altitude and airspeed and is flying at a certain angle.

Under any other circumstances, the pilot's head is likely to hit the cockpit cover, rendering him unconscious or causing his death, Su said.

Su said the American Air Force has long recognized the problem and has replaced the old ejection seats in most of its aircraft with new zero-zero seats, which allow the pilot to eject safely even at low altitudes and velocity.

In March, Taiwan's defense ministry said it had allocated NT$780 million (US$28.1 million) to replace the ejection seats on the Air Force's F-5E and F-5F fleet.

Meanwhile, Air Force Chief of Staff Huang Chih-wei (黃志偉) said during Monday's legislative hearing that the military is planning to purchase at least five UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters equipped with infrared night vision, to improve aviation safety.

The decision was made after an Air Force UH-60M chopper crashed in New Taipei's Wulai District on Jan. 2, 2020, killing eight senior military personnel onboard, including Chief of the General Staff Shen Yi-ming (沈一鳴), Huang said.

Following an investigation, the Air Force later said the Black Hawk helicopter crash may have been caused by a combination of human error and poor weather conditions.

(By Matt Yu and Joseph Yeh)

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