As the U.S. Air Force looks to replace legacy escape systems across its fleet of bomber, fighter and trainer aircraft, UTC Aerospace Systems is pitching a solution that the company says will not only save pilots’ lives but also prevent serious injury in the event of an ejection.

UTAS’s ACES 5 ejection seat, which has already been selected to replace the ACES II seat in the B-2 stealth bomber, is on display here at the Dubai Air Show. The company believes ACES 5 is the best solution not only to equip the Air Force’s new T-X advanced pilot trainer and the next-generation fighter, but also to replace legacy escape systems in Boeing’s F-15, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 and F-22, the A-10 Warthog and B-1 bomber.

Those aircraft, as well as the F-117 Nighthawk, are already equipped with the ACES II seat, said UTAS ACES 5 program manager Jim Patch in an interview here.

The Air Force’s need for a new ejection seat is driven in large part by the prevalence of heavy helmet-mounted devices (HMD) and night vision goggles in modern fighter aircraft, which have increased the risk of dangerous head and neck injury during ejection, Patch said.

ACES II has a 91.4 % success rate and has saved 654 lives to date, but almost as important as saving lives is preventing serious injury, he stressed. Both the ACES 5 and ACES II seats significantly reduce the risk of spinal injury by using a catapult rocket that senses the weight of the occupant and adjusts the rate – slower for a lightweight pilot, faster for a heavier occupant – so that aircrew across the 103-245 lb. weight range can safely escape.  

ACES 5 improves on ACES II in several significant ways, Patch explained. The new ACES 5 seat has a passive head and neck protection system, a simple but reliable mechanical design. Another safety feature of the ACES 5 is a passive arm restraint system, a net that deploys on either side of the seat and cradles the pilot’s arms and hands to prevent limb flailing. In addition, the leg restraints hold the pilot’s legs in position throughout the sequence. The new seat also has an improved parachute, the GR7000, which provides a slower rate of descent and reduced oscillation rate, and allows better steering.

the company is also working on “enhancements” to the ACES 5 seat that will be relevant for future aircraft, for instance the Air Force’s next-generation Penetrating CounterAir, and some classified programs, Patch said. He declined to give additional details.

UK ejection seat maker Martin-Baker, which produces the F-35 escape system, is also vying for these programs.