The ACES 5, which could also see use in the forthcoming T-X trainer jet, uses everything from nets to gyroscopic rockets to carry pilots from a plane that flies 50,000 feet off the ground at near supersonic speeds to the ground with minimal risk.
It starts with a helmet support system that automatically extends and retracts during an ejection, catching the heavy helmet like a ball in a baseball glove. That lets it accommodate the larger high-tech helmets like those used in the F-35 as well as accessories like night vision goggles. “Just 15 years ago, helmets were spherical and aerodynamic shells,” says John Fyfe, UTC’s director of Air Force programs. (The former F-16 pilot still goes by his callsign, Barney.) “It’s not spherical anymore, thanks to all the technology inside of it. If we don’t have that helmet stabilized and protected from the airstream, there will be an immediate neck injury and probably a fracture.” With the ACES 5, you can feel free to shoot out of your plane at 690 mph.