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New ejection seat added to T-38

T-38 Talons (like the one shown here) are getting new aileron actuator levers.  The workload resulted from a crash in which the cause of the mishap was the mechanical failure of the right aileron.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Steve White)

T-38 Talons (like the one shown here) are getting new ejection seats. The new seat has a host of features that will make ejecting from the aircraft, should the need arise, much safer for the pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo/Steve White)

Rey Gutierrez, 12th Operational Support Squadron, goes over  procedures for connecting parachute harnesses to the new T-38C ejection seat while Maj. Bryan France, 435th Flying Training Squadron, connects his harness shoulder straps to the seat June 30. The new seat replaces the carried parachute with a harness and in-seat chute, has zero/zero capability and includes a redesigned parachute.(U.S. Air Force photo/Steve Thurow)

Rey Gutierrez goes over procedures for connecting the parachute harness to the new T-38 ejection seat June 30, 2010, while Maj. Bryan France connects his harness shoulder straps to the seat. The new seat has a host of features that will make ejecting from the aircraft, should the need arise, much safer for the pilots. Mr. Gutierrez is an aircrew flight equipment instructor in the12th Operational Support Squadron at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. Major France is a pilot in the 435th Flying Training Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Steve Thurow)

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- The T-38 Talon is receiving an upgrade that officials said will improve aircrews' safety and comfort.

Representatives from Martin-Baker Aircraft Co. Inc. are in the early stages of installing their new escape systems in all T-38Cs at Randolph AFB after completing the same project at Laughlin AFB, Texas, the first of five Air Education and Training Command installations scheduled for the upgrade.

One of the greatest advantages of the new seat, called the Mk US16T, is that it functions well in the situation that accounts for most ejections, said Rick French, an AETC T-38 program manager.

"The old ejection seat has the least capability in the flight regime where the most ejections occurred, the low-altitude, low-airspeed range, because it takes a few seconds for the parachute to open when you leave the aircraft," Mr. French said.

"The best part of the new seat is that it's a zero-zero seat," said Rey Gutierrez, a 12th Operations Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment instructor. "It will eject at zero altitude and zero airspeed, so the aircrew can bail out on the ground."

The new seat provides rapid deployment of the parachute following ejection, Mr. French said.

"When the seat clears the aircraft, explosives deploy the parachute," he said. "It's almost instantaneous."

A bonus for aircrew members is that they no longer have to carry their 45-pound parachutes to the aircraft, because each one is part of the ejection seat, enclosed in a container called the head box. Their only requirement is to wear a 5-pound harness that attaches to the ejection seat. The parachute itself, an aeroconical design, incorporates multiple safety features.

Another feature, the inter-seat sequencing system, which has a selector box with three options, decreases the possibility of aircrew collision during ejection and potential aircrew burn, because the rear seat will always eject first, no matter which crew member pulls the seat firing handle located on the front of the seat.

Another advantage of sequencing "is that the rear seat ejects up and to the right, and the front seat ejects up and to the left, so a collision is unlikely," Mr. Gutierrez said.

In addition, the seat decreases the potential of injury to aircrew members, especially at high airspeed, because its thigh and ankle restraints keep them more secure. It also expands the population who can fly the T-38 to anyone from 103 to 245 pounds, because the seat has two positions, including one that moves it one inch forward.

"Now the seat can better accommodate smaller pilots," Mr. French said. "The old seat accommodates 58 percent of female pilots; the new seat brings that percentage up to 87 percent."

The seat's other features include a survival kit with a radio, flares, a mirror, a first aid kit, water, a flashlight and other items as well as fittings that allow for a faster release of the parachute canopy, Mr. Gutierrez said.

The T-38 has been a part of the Air Force's fleet for nearly 50 years.

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