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British Air Force admits women can't fly fighter jets, citing safety concerns over weight of flight equipment

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Photo by Georgi Paleykov/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The British Royal Air Force says that women do not weigh enough to fly F-35 Lightning fighter jets, citing safety concerns that result in neck injuries if and when pilots have to eject, according to the Daily Mail.

Currently, only pilots who weigh more than 150 lbs. are cleared to wear the Gen III F-35 helmet due to its complex technology and mounted display system, giving the equipment a five-pound weight.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston says that despite the existence of a new Gen III Lite helmet, there are added safety concerns. "The lighter helmet that would allow lighter aircrew - not just women - to fly the F-35, (but) we would have challenges in clearing it in safety terms, because it does not give the pilot the protection that the other helmet has now," said Wigston, when asked about the female pilots.

"As it stands there are sufficient safety grounds for us to say 'that is the minimum weight limit for Lightning and whether you are a man or a woman or anybody, that is what applies'," Wigston added.

The safety concerns come a year after a new policy called "positive discrimination" was put in place, prioritizing women in RAF training programs. The program also prioritizes what the U.K. calls "BAME" candidates, meaning "Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic" people.

The Royal Air Force appears to be taking criticism from both sides of the issue, with a Labour Party Member of Parliament criticizing the air chief marshal for narrowing down the list of potential candidates of fighter pilots, saying, "You're reducing your pool down straight away, aren't you? Because if women are lighter, which they generally are, they're not going to be able to ever fly. The only alternative is you either stop them flying or ask them to go and put some weight on," said Kevan Jones of North Durham, England.

At the same time, a select committee criticized the Air Force's decision to choose candidates based on race or gender, saying it would be illegal.

"There has clearly been a lack of integrity at the top of the RAF," said Chairman Tobias Ellwood. "Your legal team said it would break the law if you pursued this policy. This was a formal directive from the top," he continued.

Despite this, the Royal Air Force says the policy was never implemented and there has been no impact on operational capabilities.

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