US Air Force Instructor Dies After Ejection Seat Activates

| May 20, 2024 | 18 Comments

A USAF flight instructor has died after his ejection seat was activated. The officer was in a T-6A Texan II (type pictured above), which is fitted with a “Zero-Zero” ejection seat. Seats of those type are designed to deploy at zero airspeed and zero altitude. Earlier models had minimum altitude and/or speed requirements.

Simple Flying has the story;

A malfunctioning Raytheon T-6A Texan II’s Martin-Baker ejection seat claimed the life of US Air Force 80th Operations Support Squadron Capt. John Robertson May 14. The ejection seat was fired from the ground of Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, the preceding day, and a full US Air Force investigation is underway.

About the T-6A Texan II Ejection Seat

In the case of the T-6A Texan II – which is the US Air Force’s primary flight trainer, the Martin-Baker Ejection Seat is the model US16LA. According to Martin-Baker’s product page,

“Designated the US16LA, this lightweight ejection seat is designed for training aircraft, such as the T-6 Texan II. It optimizes the pilot field of view, improves comfort and pilot efficiency, and provides increased reliability and maintainability. With the Mk16 lightweight, low-speed seat, ejection performance is optimized throughout the escape envelope, from zero height at zero velocity in a near-level attitude through to 370 knots. It is designed to accommodate a very wide size and weight range.”

Additionally, Martin-Baker has delivered over 2,000 ejection seats with at least 33 aircrew lives saved, with 14 serving in the US Air Force. This tragedy at hand is the first fatality from the US16LA. Finally, every preflight includes checks of the ejection seat that there is nothing blocking the seat and that the seat is disarmed.

Follows previous ejection seat issues

The tragedy follows previous issues with Martin-Baker ejection seats. The concern was that the ejection seats would not fire when commanded. Why? According to a September 30, 2022 Breaking Defense report by Valerie Insinna, there was a fear some Martin Baker supplied ejection seats may lack magnesium powder – a key ingredient in carrying out an ejection. Each seat had an eight-hour inspection for verification.

NBC Dallas also quoted aviation lawyer Jon Kettles who shared,

“As someone who’s flown an aircraft with an ejection seat, sure you want it to be able to work when you need it but frankly if I was flying one of these now, I would be more concerned right now about an ejection seat launching me out just on a routine flight even when I don’t want it to.”

Clearly, a voice of caution.

Here’s a news report on the incident;

Category: Air Force, Training Incidents

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Sounds like it wasn’t a perfectly good airplane!

Joking aside, it sounds like we lost a truly dedicated pilot and instructor. Hope it wasn’t due to someone being frugal on repair parts.


Just because these systems are complex doesn’t mean they cannot be safe to the nth+. Fix your s**t, AF.

No one else.

Rest In Peace, Captain.


Just because these systems are complex doesn’t mean they cannot be safe to the nth+. Fix your s**t, AF.”


Any job worth doing is worth doing right…The First Time and EVERY Time! Remember when quality was job 1? Pepper Ridge Farms Remembers.

Rest Easy, Good Sir. May God’s Comfort bring some measure of His Peace to your family and Squadron mates.


It’s unfortunate that problems with equipment is discovered because it has taken the life of someone. Terrible tragedy, may his family find peace. And they resolve the problem with these seats before another fatality occurs.


“2,000 ejection seats with at least 33 aircrew lives saved, with 14 serving in the US Air Force. This tragedy at hand is the first fatality from the US16LA”

Even one fatality is too many but considering the alternative of
not having any means of escape I would opt for the seat.
Hope they can identify the problem and let the pilot rest in peace.

President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neande

“Reach Out, and touch the Face of God”

RIP, sir, RIP.
May your family find peace and closure.


Sheppard Again…Sheesh, what is it with ejection seats??
I mean, I get human error but mechanical? What are we BOEING??
When I was there in 84, someone in maintenance had just ejected themselves into the roof of the hangar when they didn’t safe something working on it or inspecting it.

Hack Stone

Late 1970’s, air show at Willow Grove Naval Air Station. Had some fighter aircraft on display, and they allowed the public to sit in the pilot’s seat. A kid about 10 years old got in, started flipping switches, and was launched out of the cockpit, only to crash somewhere on the runway. Who the hell doesn’t disable the system when doing a Dog & Pony Show? And yes, the Navy did pay up to the deceased kid’s family.

Army-Air Force Huy

If an aircraft’s going to be on static display like that, the crew chief’s supposed to pull a shit ton of circuit breakers to keep the general public from raising the landing gear, starting the APU, etc.

Last edited 26 days ago by Army-Air Force Huy

Aren’t they supposed to remove the rocket initiators or at least make sure all the pins are in?

Skivvy Stacker

Jared and Kelly Calderon are two young people who are the exact opposite of all the failures we see in the American education system. It’s because of people like Capt. John Robertson that we have such young men and women who I pray will take over and lead this country back to where it belongs in the years to come.
God speed Capt. Robertson.
God bless Jared and Kelly.

Dennis - not chevy

Back in the ’70’s, we USAF NCO’s had to take a class called, “Effective Writing”. We learned to write as people spoke, to be clear and plain, to ensure the reader understood what was written. A bad example was presented of the Wing Commander (usually a Colonel) who wanted his troops to be intelligent; therefore, he wanted big words to be used. HIs thinking was talk smart, be smart. The story was told (and I don’t know how true it was; it sounded true) of the checklist he had someone write on how to remove a fighter plane canopy. An airman read and reread the checklist and couldn’t figure it out. He climbed into to cockpit to see if there was an easier way. There was, he pulled the lever, the ejection seat slammed him into the roof of the hangar. I hope history isn’t repeating itself.

I also pray the Captain rests in peace.


That is like pulling the trigger to see if a gun is safe


Not quite zero-zero, now is it?


“…code zero zero zero, destruct zero….”


Green Thumb


Mike B

As a Retired Aircrew Life Support/Aircrew Flight Equipment Technician I find issues with the ejection systems to be unacceptable. I’ve had 4 pilots eject and all 4 survived.

Now it’s like playing the lottery, you may or may not win (Survive).

First there were issues with the F-22 ejection seats, where substandard (Non US) parts were used leading to seats failing to fire, now this happens. Lead to the death of a pilot if I remember correctly.

There was a time, when seats worked as they were intended to, along with the rest of the equipment. It seems as technology advances, the equipment becomes less reliable.

These companies need to man the fuck up, fix the damn issues, and start giving us properly working equipment from the get go. Quit using the military as your Test Dummies as you figure out if what you made will work. Ejection seats should work 100% of the time. I understand that if they are damaged (Say after the aircraft is hit by a missle or something) they may not work, that is understandable.

What I’m trying to understand is if the seat fired when he was sitting in it, or did it fire as he was inspecting the seat and cockpit before straping in.

TSgt, USAF Retired
Jan 86 – Sept 08
Aircrew Life Support
“Your Life Is Our Business”
(122X0, 1T1X1, 1P0X1)


What I’m trying to understand is if the seat fired when he was sitting in it, or did it fire as he was inspecting the seat and cockpit before strapping in.

But the Air Force will stall for months before releasing that information.