Air Force to upgrade F-5 ejection seats
By Jung Sung-ki
South Korea’s Air Force will push ahead with equipping its fleet of F-5 aircraft with up-to-date ejection seats to help save the lives of pilots in cases of emergency, the service announced Thursday.
The plan comes after a month-long investigation into the cause of an F-5F jet crash last month that claimed two pilots’ lives.
The pilots allegedly tried to eject when their aircraft encountered sea fog when landing, but the ejection system failed because the older ejection seats work only when the aircraft is flying at an altitude of 600 meters or more, a spokesman for the Air Force, told reporters.
On June 18, an F-5F fighter aircraft crashed into the sea off the coast of Gangneung in Gangwon Province on its way back from a routine training mission. The accident followed a series of F-5 jet crashes in recent years. The bodies of the two pilots onboard were recovered with one of them being caught up in a partly opened parachute, and another tangled in the parachute ropes. The wreckage of the jet was also found scattered in the water.
“The investigation found that sudden sea fog restricted the pilots’ vision,” the spokesman said. “The pilots were believed to recognize the problem just before landing and pushed the ejection button. But their attempts failed because the aircraft’s old ejection seats only work at a certain altitude.”
Nearly 50 billion won ($4.2 million) will be spent to modify the ejection seats for about 150 F-5s flown by the Air Force between 2011 and 2013, he said.
F-5 fighters account for 35 percent of South Korea's air power, with around 170 out of 480 aircraft in service.
There are two types of F-5 fighters in service: the F-5Es, which were brought in from the U.S. starting in 1974, and the F-5F, which were assembled in Korea between 1983 and 1986.
Since 2000, eight F-5 aircraft have crashed, claiming the lives of 13 pilots.