Air Force identifies airman who died after ejection seat activated on the ground – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

The U.S. Air Force identified the instructor pilot who died after his ejection seat activated while on the ground at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls on Monday.

The USAF said Capt. John Robertson, an instructor pilot with the 80th Operations Support Squadron, was severely injured when “the ejection seat of the T-6A Texan II aircraft he was in activated during ground operations.”

Robertson, the air base said in a statement, died Tuesday of his injuries.

“This is a devastating loss for Captain Robertson’s family and loved ones, and for the entire 80th Flying Training Wing,” said Col. Mitchell J. Cok, the acting wing commander. “Captain Robertson was a highly valued airman and instructor pilot. Our deepest condolences go with all who knew and loved him.”

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Cok also thanked the team that responded to the incident, whose efforts in providing first aid and medical care allowed Robertson’s family to be at his side when he died.

“We are thankful for the M1 maintenance team who immediately provided live-sustaining care, and for the heroic efforts of the security forces, fire and medical personnel here on base and at United Regional Hospital,” Cok said.

The trainer aircraft can be flown by either one or two pilots. An Air Force official said a student in the aircraft did not eject and was not injured.

The Air Force has not said how the ejection seat may have been triggered but said an interim safety board investigation is looking into the incident and that a full Air Force Safety Investigation Board is expected to be in place later this week.

“Ejection’s a violent procedure,” said Aviation lawyer Jon Kettles.

Kettles says a 2022 incident at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth is an example of what a seat ejection should look like. He points to the pilot being ejected just high enough to allow the parachute to full then return the pilot to the ground.

“Getting injured in an ejection is probably likely but it should be nothing more than say minor,” said Kettles.

He believes it’s highly unlikely the eject lever was pulled intentionally or by mistake.

“As someone who’s flown an aircraft with an ejection seat, sure you want it to be able to work when you need it but frankly, if I was flying one of these now, I would be more concerned right now about an ejection seat launching me out just on a routine flight even when I don’t want it to,” said Kettles.

Sheppard AFB said the investigative board will release its report on the incident when the investigation is complete.

Funeral arrangements for Robertson, who has ties to Fort Worth, are pending.

NBC 5 News

T-6A TEXAN II TRAINER

The T-6A Texan II is a single-engine turboprop, two-seater aircraft that serves as a primary trainer for Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps pilots in basic flying skills.

According to an Air Force dossier on the aircraft, pilots enter the T-6A cockpit through a side-opening, one-piece canopy.

In a training flight, an instructor can sit in the front or back seat; both seats have lightweight Martin-Baker ejection seats that are activated by a handle on the seat.

TROUBLE WITH EJECTION SEATS

Ejecting from an aircraft is a multi-stage emergency evacuation sequence designed to be triggered by the pilot grabbing a handle. Grabbing the handle first jettisons or shatters the aircraft’s canopy before a cartridge fires launching the pilot’s seat clear of the aircraft so that they can then parachute to safety.

The entire ejection process takes only a few seconds from the moment the handle is activated.

In 2022, the T-6 fleet and hundreds of other Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps jets were grounded after inspections revealed a potential defect with one component of the ejection seat’s cartridge actuated devices, or CADs. The fleet was inspected and in some instances, the CADs were replaced.

Ejection seats have been credited with saving pilots’ lives, but they also have failed at critical moments in aircraft accidents. Investigators identified ejection seat failure as a partial cause of an F-16 crash that killed 1st Lt. David Schmitz, 32, in June 2020.

In 2018, four members of a B-1 bomber crew earned the Distinguished Flying Cross when, with their aircraft on fire, they discovered one of the four ejection seats was indicating failure. Instead of bailing out, all of the crew decided to remain in the burning aircraft and land it so they all would have the best chance of surviving. All of the crew survived.

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