The US Air Force completed electromagnetic environmental effects (EEE) testing on the Lockheed Martin F-35’s escape system 23 March, marking the last round of testing on the Martin-Baker US16E (MKk16) ejection seat.

The air force’s airworthiness engineers are analyzing the data and so far the results appear to be good, Brig Gen Scott Pleus, director of the F-35 Integration office, told FlightGlobal in a 24 March interview.

During the test, the seat’s electronic controls were hit with electricity to test their functionality, F-35 programme executive officer Lt Gen Chris Bogdan told reporters last week. The data from the EEE, helmet and dummy testing on the ejection seat will help the USAF decide whether to remove restrictions on pilots weighing less than 62kg (136lb), Bogdan says.

“We think that weight restriction could be removed anywhere from April and beyond,” he says. “We’ll start modifying airplanes in April to the new seat configurations with the new helmets, so as soon as the USAF gives it the OK, that’s up to them.”

Meanwhile, the air force is also examining the cost to qualify United Technologies Aerospace Systems (UTAS)’ ACES 5 ejection seat. It would be premature to halt that second source qualification and until the USAF receives the results from the Martin-Baker study and decides on the weight restriction, the service still has a competition to qualify the ACES 5 seat, Pleus says.

The UTAS UT’s seat would represent not only a second option for the service, but a domestic source as well. But Pleus says he is less concerned with beefing up the local industrial base and more focused on pilot safety.

“We are going to put the safest seat we possibly can and if it happens to be an American industry, great,” he says. “We believe that if the seats meets the specifications there would be no need to take a secondary look at qualifying a seat.”

When asked about the potential cost and schedule implications of qualifying the ACES 5 seat, Bogdan expressed strong support for the Martin-Baker seat. Other fixes on the US16E, including a switch that briefly delayed opening the parachute with a lightweight pilot and a lighter weight helmet, have also made the escape system safer for all pilots flying the aircraft, he says.

“I have an ejection seat on this airplane now that is better than anything in the field or projected to be in the field,” Bogdan says. “So as a programme manager I got what I need. I gave the warfighter what he asked for. Yes it was painful, yes I had to make some changes to the seat, yes it was controversial, but the seat today meets all the requirements.”