Defense News reported that delivery dates for the next jet trainer aircraft in the Air Force’s fleet are expected to be delayed. The T-7A Red Hawk apparently has ejection seat problems.

While it’s true that Boeing, with appropriate prodding from the US Air Force, was able to improve the escape system of the T-7A that’s set to retire the T-38 Talon jet trainer, the technology isn’t perfect yet.

But perhaps looking for perfection in design and engineering is the wrong way to go. So, in the wake of the Air Force procuring new Boeing trainers with less-than-perfect escape systems, let’s take a tour down memory lane and look at some of the worst jet trainer accidents, not to relive the pain but to remind us that more than the speed in production, ensuring these jets have superior ejection seats is a prime concern. 

Fatal F-16 Crash – June 2020

Perhaps the most recent incident was the crash that killed F-16 pilot 1st Lt. David Schmitz on June 30, 2020. It was the result of a multitude of errors, accidents, and poor decisions, including a flawed risk assessment that neglected to account for his level of experience for the mission that night, his damaged landing gear, and an improper recommendation from the control tower to attempt a cable arrest while landing with his busted gear.

Despite this, Schmitz could have had a chance to survive if not for one fatal flaw: when he attempted to bail out as his landing was going horribly wrong, his ejection seat catastrophically malfunctioned.

The ejection seat in Schmitz’s case launched 130 feet into the air but his parachute did not deploy. About seven seconds later, Schmitz, still in his seatbelt, crashed to the earth, meeting his death on impact. 

In the months after the disaster, the Air Force conducted an official investigation and discovered that the electronics inside the seat had been poorly constructed, with scratches, uneven sanding, and other flaws.