The aircrew escape system for the T-6A aircraft is the first to provide a safe escape from the aircraft for the lighter, smaller females who are now entering the United States Armed Forces as the next generation of fighter pilots.
The MK-16 ejection seat was designed by Martin-Baker Aircraft Company located in Higher Denham, England, specifically for the Joint Primary Aircraft Trainer System (JPATS), now owned by Hawker Beechcraft, in Wichita, Kansas. This seat is not only one of the safest seats used in aircraft today, it is also one of the easiest to maintain.
The T-6A Trainer Aircraft, which is the main component of the trainer system, is now being used by the Helanic Air Force (Greece), used in Canada to train NATO pilots, and is also being used by the United States Air Force and Navy to train our U.S. military pilots.
The escape system used in this aircraft has incorporated more than just a specially designed ejection seat. It is also the very first aircraft to utilize a fiber optic system to transfer the sequence of events from the crew compartment system, to the canopy system. This fiber optic system, developed by Alliant Techsystems, in Rocket Center, West Virginia, uses lasers to send energy through a fiber optic harness to detonators that then convert the signal to an explosive system.
McCormick Selph, now known as Pacific Scientific, located in Hollister, California, developed a system to cut away the acrylic transparencies to make room for the pilot’s ejection seat once the escape system has been initiated. Pacific Scientific also supplies some of the individual components that are used to bring it all together.
The T-6A Aircraft Escape System is entirely independent of all of the other aircraft systems. This is an absolute necessity because it is due to the failure of another aircraft system that would require the pilot, or student pilot’s use of the escape system. A good example of this is how the ejection seat, when fully armed, can be activated even while sitting on the hangar floor.
The escape system, known by many as the aircrew’s last chance for life, is extremely fast, and must be treated with the utmost respect at all times. There is no time to get away if someone were to inadvertently activate one of the ejection seats, or the canopy fracturing system. When initiated to escape a failing aircraft, even a large male pilot in full gear can be safely rocketed from the aircraft, and be safely hanging from his fully opened parachute in less than three seconds.
To activate the aircraft escape system, the pilot needs only to pull the yellow and black handle located between his or her thighs, and then hang on for the ride. When the handle is pulled, the pilot’s shoulders are pulled back into the seat to ensure he or she is in the upright position. The seat will begin to move upward towards the canopy transparency. After the seat has moved less than one half inch, a laser mounted on the side of the seat rail is activated. This laser sends a signal through the fiber optics harness to a detonator, which is connected to what is known as a donor. The donor houses a large pin that shoots out from the donor, which contacts an acceptor on the canopy. This acceptor/donor transition provides the transfer of the system from the cockpit to the canopy. The acceptor houses an explosive charge that ignites a contained fuse, which in turn ignites the cutting cord that is attached to the transparency, which then cuts a path for the pilot and the ejection seat to safely escape the aircraft.
Due to the hazards that come with aircraft escape systems, they require closely regulated procedures to be followed by maintenance personnel at all times. Even in civilian companies, government agencies such as the Department of Defense, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, National Transportation and Safety Board, and even Fire Marshalls all share an input in the management and training of those who will be working with these systems.
This is an incredible system designed to keep our pilots safe, and the fact that it is taken very seriously by all who are involved with its development, testing and maintenance, shows that we hold the lives of our pilots in high regard.