On March 22, 2021, Two Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) Northrop F-5E Tiger II fighter jets collided midair off Taiwan’s southeast coast. Both pilots ejected, one pilot died and another is still missing.
One of the pilots of the ill-fated aircraft, First Lieutenant Lo Shang-hua, had ejected from the plane and was found at sea by a search and rescue team at 4:41 p.m., but he was pronounced dead after arrival at the hospital. Captain Pan Ying-chun, the pilot of the other plane, is believed to have also ejected, and he remained missing as of press time.
A preliminary examination revealed that the late pilot suffered a head trauma causing intracranial hemorrhage. He eventually succumbed to a neurogenic shock. The trauma was likely due to the ejection.
Taiwanese military experts said that the ejection seats on the Air Force’s F-5E fighters are of an outdated design and should be replaced.
The circumstances of Lo’s death were the same as that of another pilot Chu Kuan-meng, who was killed in an F-5E crash in October 2020. Chu had ejected from his aircraft and was rescued but was later pronounced dead, with brain hemorrhage listed as the cause of death.
According to military experts, Lo and Chu were likely killed when they ejected from the aircraft and their heads hit the cockpit roof because of the outdated design of the F-5E’s ejection seat.
Su Tzu-yun, a senior analyst at the government-funded Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), told reporters that the F-5E ejection seats are more than 40 years old, which means safe ejection is possible only if the plane has reached a certain altitude and airspeed and is flying at a certain angle.
Under any other circumstances, the pilot’s head is likely to hit the cockpit cover, rendering him unconscious or causing his death, Su said.
He said the American Air Force has long recognized the problem and has replaced the old ejection seats in most of its aircraft with new zero-zero seats, which allow the pilot to eject safely even at zero altitude and velocity.
Expressing similar views, retired pilot and Air Force Lieutenant General Chang Yen-ting (張延廷), said that all of Taiwan’s main fighter jets, namely the F-16s, Mirage 2000s and IDFs, are using zero-zero ejection seats, which increases their pilots’ chances of survival in the event of an ejection.
In response, the Cabinet said that the Ministry of National Defense (MND) had already allocated NT$780 million (US$27.1 million) to replace the ejection seats on all 43 of the Air Force’s F-5Es and F-5Fs.
The MND said the money will be spent to buy the Martin-Baker’s Mk. 16 zero/zero ejection capability seats, which will be installed starting at end of this year or in early 2022.
The F-5E is a single-seat variant of the F-5 fighter, while the F-5F is a twin-seat model.