Written by Dabney B. on Monday, November 5th, 2012
In the world of military aviation, sometimes the simplest improvements can make a big difference. The F-35 is being touted as one of the most advanced stealth fighters ever built, but F-35 test pilots are giving the aircraft a thumbs-up in an unexpected category: comfort. Pilots are calling the F-35 seat one of the most comfortable seats ever built.
So, what’s the secret? It all boils down to the restraints. The harnesses of traditional aircraft are notoriously uncomfortable. US Marine Col. Arthur Tomassetti, vice commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing and one of the first F-35 test pilots, said “I never in my life, had anyone … describe [the conventional harness] as comfortable.”
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 seat utilizes a new five-point restraint system that is reminiscent of a car’s seat belt. The seat has two lap and two shoulder belts that all snap into a fifth belt that comes up from between the pilot’s legs. These belts do the same job of securing the pilot to the plane and to his seat, but without locking the pilot into an uncomfortable position. And unlike other seats, which only allow for height adjustment, F-35 seats can also have their tilt adjusted. All of this convenience should mean that the cozy F-35 cockpit seat is one less thing for the pilots to worry about in an otherwise stressful job as a warfighter.
The seat system also enables to pilot to get out in a hurry, even if the F-35 seat takes longer to get into than other aircraft seats. Tomassetti said, “I never really want to rapidly get in the airplane, but there are times when I want to rapidly get out. Now, when it’s time to get out, I hit one button and turn the buckle and all of the things that are connecting me, from my shoulder to my lap, are disconnected in one motion.” These new features may not make the seat as comfortable as a cozy bed, but it’s a great step in the right direction.
Why all the fuss about seat comfort? It might seem like a minor concern. When you’ve got a trained professional piloting a multi-million dollar aircraft, does it really matter how comfortable the seat is? Well, yes. Pilots have to be in the air for hours at a time without ever getting a chance to take a break. Comfortable chairs, while seemingly minor, can help a pilot stay more focused on the mission and less worried about back pain and uncomfortable restless leg syndrome. And every pilot wants to have a reliable harness system if he ever has to activate the ejection seat.
An aircraft is only as good as the pilot, so anything that you can do to help a pilot do his job will ultimately lead to a stronger Air Force. The F-35 seat demonstrates the importance of pilot-focused thinking. When military commanders look at an aircraft they see them in the big picture, that the F-35 is a powerful stealth fighter. Politicians look at aircraft and they see price tags. Pilots on the other hand, experience an aircraft from inside a cockpit. They think about things like how much visibility they have, how far they have to reach in order to reach certain controls, and yes – how comfortable the seats are.
Maintaining a pilot-centric focus in aircraft design will help produce a machine that is adored by USAF and Naval pilots alike. That’s where military consulting firms come in. Military contractors and commanders are skilled at looking at problems from their own unique perspective, but only truly skilled warfighters who have sat in a cockpit can give an accurate, insightful opinion about what an aircraft is missing. Getting advice from a military consulting firm can make the difference between the most despised cockpit in the USAF and the most loved cockpit.
If you want advice about the world of military aviation, there’s no better people to turn to than men and women who have sat in the cockpit and flown some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. With over 50 current and ex-warfighters on call, Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can give you access to up-to-date, first-hand technical and tactical expertise.