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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Experts urge replacement of F-5E ejection seats in wake of crash

ROC Central News Agency

03/23/2021 09:55 PM

Taipei, March 23 (CNA) Taiwanese military experts said Tuesday that the ejection seats on the Air Force's F-5E fighters are of an outdated design and should be replaced, after a mid-air collision of two of the jets the previous day left one pilot dead and another missing.

The two F-5E fighters collided over southeastern Pingtung County during a training mission Monday afternoon, about 30 minutes after taking off from Taitung Airbase at 2:30 p.m. with two other fighters.

One of the pilots of the ill-fated aircraft, First Lieutenant Lo Shang-hua (羅尚樺), had ejected from the plane and was found at sea by a search and rescue team at 4:41 p.m., but he was pronounced dead after arrival at hospital. Captain Pan Ying-chun (潘穎諄), the pilot of the other plane, is believed to have also ejected, and he remained missing as of press time.

Tseng Yang-ling (曾揚嶺), chief prosecutor at the Taitung District Prosecutors Office, said an initial investigation indicated that Lo had died of a brain hemorrhage suffered during the crash.

The circumstances of Lo's death were the same as that of another pilot, Chu Kuan-meng (朱冠甍), who was killed in an F-5E crash in October 2020. Chu had ejected from his aircraft and was rescued but was later pronounced dead, with brain hemorrhage listed as the cause of death.

According to military experts, Lo and Chu were likely killed when they ejected from the aircraft and their heads hit the cockpit roof because of the outdated design of the F-5E's ejection seat.

Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), a senior analyst at the government-funded Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), told reporters Tuesday that the F-5E ejection seats are more than 40 years old, which means safe ejection is possible only if the plane has reached a certain altitude and airspeed and is flying at a certain angle.

Under any other circumstances, the pilot's head is likely to hit the cockpit cover, rendering him unconscious or causing his death, Su said.

He said the American Air Force has long recognized the problem and has replaced the old ejection seats in most of its aircraft with new zero-zero seats, which allow the pilot to eject safely even at zero altitude and velocity.

Expressing similar views, retired pilot and Air Force Lieutenant General Chang Yen-ting (張延廷), said that all of Taiwan's main fighter jets, namely the F-16s, Mirage 2000s and IDFs, are using zero-zero ejection seats, which increases their pilots' chances of survival in the event of an ejection.

In response, the Cabinet said Tuesday that the Ministry of National Defense (MND) had already allocated NT$780 million (US$27.1 million) to replace the ejection seats on all 43 of the Air Force's F-5Es and F-5Fs.

The MND said the money will be spent to buy the Martin-Baker's Mk. 16 zero/zero ejection capability seats, which will be installed starting at end of this year or in early 2022.

The F-5E is a single-seat variant of the F-5 fighter, while the F-5F is a twin-seat model.

Monday's crash has once again raised doubts about deploying the aged F-5s, which first went into production in 1973 with the help of the U.S.-based Northrop Corporation.

Following the introduction of the F-16s, Mirage 2000-5s and F-CK-1s in Taiwan in the 1990s, the F-5Es and F-5Fs have either been withdrawn from service or deployed as second line fighters and trainer jets.

According to data compiled by CNA, prior to Monday's incident, there had been eight accidents involving F-5E/Fs since 2001, causing the deaths of 11 pilots, with two listed as missing and presumed dead.

Taiwan's military is in the process of building 66 new indigenous advanced jet trainers by 2026 to replace its aging F-5 and AT-3 trainers.

(By Matt Yu and Joseph Yeh)


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