For test pilots at Edwards, their long-time trainer airframe, the T-38 Talon, is receiving an upgrade that is set to ensure the safety of T-38 aircrew now and well into the future.
The upgraded ejection seat, known as the Martin-Baker Mk US16T, brings added safety features that were not previously available.
“We have an entirely new ejection seat system for the T-38,” said Maj. Jon Appelt, 370th Flight Test Squadron training officer. “The biggest benefit of this new seat is the expanded ejection envelope which increases aircrew survivability. This includes the ability to successfully eject in a zero airspeed and zero altitude situation as well as improving survivability in the high altitude and high airspeed regime.”
In addition to the zero-zero seat feature, Appelt mentioned the seat would include an inter-seat sequencing system, which allows one of the two aircrew members to start the ejection sequence for both aircrew members and sequences the ejections to avoid seat to seat interference.
“Potential seat to seat interference during the ejection process is a serious problem with the old system, and now with the new inter-seat sequencing system, the seats are automatically de-conflicted during the ejection, avoiding this problem,” added Appelt. “Once the center ejection handle is pulled, the aft seat will always eject first, followed by the front seat, which reduces the possibility of both aircrew members colliding in-flight.”
In conjunction with the inter-sequencing system is the seat’s leg restraint system, which provides two upper and lower leg garters attached to the aircrew member’s legs.
“This feature draws the pilot’s legs in and retains them in a position, clear of obstacles, until man-seat separation occurs,” said Master Sgt. David Buczynski, 412th Operations Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment Quality Assurance. “The leg lines are connected to the inner pistons of the main beam assembly, which stays with the aircraft after ejection.”
Since the new seat incorporates a parachute system built into the seat just like the ACES II system on an F-16, Buczynski said the aircrew member will no longer have to carry a 50-pound, back-style parachute out to the aircraft.
“Added features of this ejection seat include the use of drogue chute stabilization, an automatic chute deployment, automatic man-seat separation and a manual override system, in the event of automatic and backup system failure,” added Appelt.
Although the new integration is ongoing, Appelt said aircrews will still be required to undergo the appropriate training before flying.
“Everybody flying in the new seat will be required to train on the new seat, which involves 30 to 45 minutes of ground training and about 30 minutes of training at the aircraft,” Appelt said. “Once the modular training seat system is available, aircrews will be able to use the system as a fundamental training device.”
The integration commenced in early July and, at this point, should end by mid-October, according to Appelt.
“Obviously, it will take a while to take all these T-38s through the modification process, but we’re near the tail-end of the mod process. There are contractors working at Vance Air Force Base, Calif., which allows us to mod one jet per week, but training has to be accomplished on both airframe ejection seats nonetheless,” said Appelt.