The Navy Is Finally Replacing Seahawk Gunner Seats That Cause Back Injuries

Fleet replacement Aircrewman (FRAC) Eugene Schoen, with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 2, demonstrates the typical seated position of an MH-60 gunner in May. Note that the barrel on the M240 gun is missing. (U.S. Navy photo by Mikel Lauren Proulx)
Fleet replacement Aircrewman (FRAC) Eugene Schoen, with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 2, demonstrates the typical seated position of an MH-60 gunner in May. Note that the barrel on the M240 gun is missing. (U.S. Navy photo by Mikel Lauren Proulx)

A seat so jarring and uncomfortable that fixing it was the Navy's No. 2 priority for all of aviation is finally going to become a thing of the past.

The Navy's Aircrew Systems Program Office installed the first two newly redesigned gunner seats for the MH-60S Seahawk this week in San Diego.

The Seahawk's current gunner seat was designed to improve survivability, but it actually caused chronic back injuries and led to medical groundings due to its uncomfortable design, according to past statements from Navy officials.

The first prototype for an improved seat was created three years ago, in September 2016. According to a news release from Naval Air Systems Command, rapid funding authorities were used to accelerate fielding.

Related: Sailor Killed, 2nd Injured When Fuel Tank Falls Off Grounded Seahawk

"The MH-60S Gunner Seat is proof that the fleet and NAVAIR listen to one of our most precious assets -- the naval aircrew. Its redesign focused on the health of the aircrew, providing better crash protection and improving endurance," Capt. Ryan T. Carron, commodore of Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Pacific, at Naval Air Station North Island, California, said in a statement.

The current seat was such a health liability that in December 2017 it was labeled the second-highest priority in Navy aviation, right after unexplained hypoxia-like physiological episodes in fighter aircraft. While the Seahawk, also known as the Knighthawk, entered service for the Navy in the 1980s, the badly designed seat is a more recent problem.

A 2008 assessment document from the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation noted that the seat then in use for the MH-60S Block 3A offered little protection from crashes.

"Troop seats were inadequate and the position of the M-240D gunner's seat, only seven inches from the cockpit wall, prevents the gunner from assuming a proper position in the event of a crash," the report read.

When one problem was fixed, another took its place.

"You were able to crash in [the current seat], but you weren't able to sit in it for extended periods of time," Rabea Shaiboon, student control and curriculum chief petty officer at Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 2, said in a 2018 release.

According to the recent release, the improved seat's comfort features include lumbar support, adjustable height and energy absorbers with a selectable weight profile.

The timeline to field the remaining seat upgrades to the Seahawk fleet is unclear; a message left for Naval Air Systems Command did not receive an immediate response.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

Read more: One Soldier Killed, Three Injured in Black Hawk Crash at Fort Polk

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