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When looking at newer GA aircraft, for example, Cessna 172s it is very obvious that the seat design has changed quite a lot over time. With the older ones having very short backrests and the newer ones being equipped with quite high seats including headrests the analogy to the automotive world is undeniable. Do the same reasons like impact safety apply to this development? Would it make sense to retrofit headrests for safety reasons?

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  • $\begingroup$ Shoulder belts would be a better investment. I'm not sure that headrests increase safety, generally in an impact your head will move forward. It's different in a car where you can be rear ended. There's only one accident I can think of where the NTSB said a headrest would have made a difference, it was a small aircraft hitting a berm on take off. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Mar 11 at 0:43
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You aren't going to get rear ended in an airplane, which is the primary safety benefit of headrests. On the other hand, there is still some benefit to having them because in a hard forward crash, if you have shoulder harnesses on, you will probably get rebounded back into the seat to some degree or another, and the headrest will keep your head from snapping back too far during the rebound. So better one there than not.

I've been following GA since the late 60s (I still have a FLYING magazine issue I bought at a corner store in 1969) and would say that they were mostly adopted in the 70s for "styling" purposes (keeping up with car interiors; there was a big effort to make GA airplanes as car-like as possible back then), but they aren't totally useless for protecting your neck in the right kind of crash scenario.

The really big sea-change in crash safety for GA aircraft was the adoption of shoulder harnesses, also in the 70s. They made many crashes walk-away events that previously left you with fatal head injuries, or if you were lucky, you survived with a hamburger face.

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    $\begingroup$ @bogl Think "raw ground beef" not "meat and bun". $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Mar 11 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ @bogl it's what happens to your face when it bounces off the panel in front of you after a hard stop with only a lap belt. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Mar 11 at 13:13

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