Air Corps adjusts ejector seats in effort to recruit more women pilots

Potential pilots must now only attain a minimum weight of 53kg to be safe

The Irish Air Corps (IAC) has adjusted the power of its ejector seats to allow more women to train as pilots.

The minimum weight requirement of the ejector seats used on IAC training aircraft was previously considered too high for many potential female candidates and was seen as a barrier to entry.

There is currently just one woman among the roughly 100 pilots in the Air Corps with several more at various stages of training.

All trainee Air Corps pilots are taught to fly on the PC-9m aircraft, a single-engine, two-person trainer plane equipped with ejector seats in case of emergency. For years the minimum weight requirements for the aircraft’s ejector seat was 63kg or 70kg with a full equipment load.


Any pilots lighter than this faced a risk of serious injury if they had to eject due to the strength of the ejection mechanism.

Since the PC-9m was introduced in 2004 several potential female pilots have struggled to keep their weight up during training.

This is far less likely to be a problem in future due to an overhaul of the ejector seats which has been completed by the IAC in conjunction with their manufacturer, Martin-Baker.

Under the new configuration, the minimum weight is now 53kg, a Defence Forces spokesman said.

The reconfiguration involved the adjustment of the explosive charges used to eject the seats from the aircraft in emergencies and a recertification of the system.

A new pilot recruitment competition is expected to open and a Defence Forces spokesman said it is hoped it will attract a diverse range of candidates.

The organisation marked its 100th anniversary in May with nine pilots, all male, receiving their wings. Several of the pilots received part of their training from a private company in the US as part of an arrangement with the IAC.

The Defence Forces previously told the Irish Times the “ejector seat minimum weight requirement is an issue that affects other military organisations”.

"The Irish Air Corps, to our knowledge, are the first military organisation to tackle it," it added.

Air Corps flight officers must complete training on the PC-9 before going on to specialise in helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft. The Defence Forces operate eight PC-9s, which are often seen flying in formation over State ceremonies.

In its recent report the Commission on the Defence Forces recommended steps be taken to recruit a more diverse military, “not only in gender and ethnicity, but also in socio-economic, educational and geographical background.”

It also recommended a significant expansion of the IAC, including the acquisition of long range transport and a primary military radar system. Under the proposals the organisation would be renamed the Irish Air Force.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times