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Danish F-35 fighter jets have issues related to ejection seats—jets all over the world affected

Ejection seats are now being inspected worldwide after the discovery of an empty explosive cartridge. Illustration: U.S Air Force

Air forces around the world are now inspecting countless fighter jets from the Super Hornet through the Eurofighter and the F-35 because a manufacturing error at the same supplier has caused an unknown number of ejection seats to malfunction.

Two out of the six Danish F-35s now also appear to have issues with the seats, according to Thorbjørn Hein, head of press and communication at the Danish Ministry of Defence Acquisition and Logistics Organisation (DALO).

“The six Danish planes, which are all stationed at Luke Air Force Base, will be inspected before the next flight. So far, issues have been found in two of them,” he says.

In the USA, the military has chosen to ground the majority of the F-35 fleet after the issue was found in several jets. And the armed forces of the Unites States such as the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps have chosen to inspect their entire F-35 fleet. The Danish jets are also covered by inspections and repairs as part of the so-called Joint Program Office (JPO).

“Denmark once again benefits from being part of a large international program in which safety information is shared and incidents such as this one are handled according to agreed standards,” Thorbjørn Hein says.

Seats have empty cartridges with no explosive charge

Currently, armed forces around the world are trying to get an overview of the scale of the problem. Flight restrictions of various kinds have been introduced on several types of aircraft in countries such as Germany, Israel, and the UK.

The ejection seats in the aircraft come from the same manufacturer, Martin-Baker, based in the UK, and the problem is that some of the seats do not work because the cartridges with an explosive charge that are supposed to lift the seat and pilot out of the aircraft are missing the magnesium powder that ignites the propellant.

Martin-Baker has traced the problem to a gap in the manufacturing process, causing the powder to be missing—and now Martin-Baker and air forces around the world are trying to find out which aircraft are affected by the issue, according to several media outlets, including Navy Times.

Inspections and flight restrictions are affecting most F-35s in the USA, as well as the F-35 fleet in Israel. In addition, Eurofighters have been grounded in Germany and the UK, and the UK’s Royal Air Force has also suspended the use of the BAE Hawk aircraft, which makes up the group of so-called Red Arrows, which also could not participate in this year’s Farnborough Airshow, Aviacionline writes.

In the USA, technicians are also inspecting the F/A-18B/C/D Hornet, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, E/A-18G Growler, T-45 Goshawk, and F-5 Tiger II training aircraft, the U.S. Navy said in a press release.

Routine inspection revealed an empty cartridge

It remains unclear how the issue was discovered, as the U.S. military is relatively reticent to comment on details, but according to several media outlets, including the Air Force Times, the defect was first discovered on an F-35 in April, when a routine inspection revealed a suspiciously light ejection cartridge. At the time, however, the U.S. military considered the issue to be an isolated incident.

However, subsequent investigations have revealed several incidents and sourced the issue to the production line. The U.S. military has now introduced mandatory scanning of the cartridges supplied by Martin-Baker with radiographic equipment to ensure that they contain the correct amount of explosive charge, according to their press release.

There are currently 820 F-35s worldwide, and the six Danish jets are expected to be delivered to Danish territory in the last quarter of 2023.