1…2…3 Eject! Most dangerous manoeuvre by a fighter pilot

Ever thought how dangerous it can be for a pilot to eject from his fighter jet??
Its like choosing between Scylla and Charybdis!!!

An incident narrated by a friend got me curious about seat ejection from fighter jets. This one is compiled from his narration and other articles that I read on net related to seat ejections.

Did you know that one in three pilots face a spine injury after ejecting out?? Or that if the jet is flying low then the pilot risks injury from the air blasts from forward motion as well as up??
If the pilot ejects at a higher altitude (say 20,000-30,000 feet) then his main parachute won’t deploy until he gets to a low enough altitude, and it can get cold really fast up there.
Usually it could take as long as 20 minutes to get to the ground and there won’t be enough oxygen to breathe, so the seats ‘re provided with supplemental oxygen. In the time frame between ejection and the main parachute opening up , a smaller chute called a drogue is deployed (approx. 2 seconds after the ejection), to stabilize the seat so that it doesn’t tumble and to slow the pilot’s horizontal velocity. In a near free-fall the pilot plummets until he hits an altitude of 15,000 feet, at which point his main parachute automatically deploys.

The ejection is about 15 to 19Gs (200G per second) depending on the type of aircraft, which is too much for the body to sustain but thankfully, it is for a very short time. Nonetheless, such exits can be near fatal if the pilot is unconscious, because of Gs working on him, in a city he might crash on a building, tree etc. Water landing is another possibility.
The good news is the survival rate is greater than 92% in such cases.
Pilots have been killed and hurt only because it (ejecting handle) was used too late or way above the designed parameter. The pilots ‘re trained for such emergency exits, and the first thing they ‘re taught is to keep arms and feet close.
In one such incident, airmen on a mission to Afghanistan initiated the ejection sequence on a B-1 bomber that was going down over the Indian Ocean, all four crew members blew out of the airplane. All of ’em ejected at four different times and at four different angles so they wouldn’t hit each other while clearing an airplane that, crippled by “multiple malfunctions” and was going down more than 600 mph. One of the airman lost a full inch in height because his spine absorbed tremendous G-forces. It is one of the most violent forces you will ever face. [r]

So how is it done?
Most of the modern ejection seat is a two-part system. There’s an ejection gun which is activated by the pilot by pulling a handle and that gets the seat moving up out of the jet. And once the seat has traveled a meter or two up, then the secondary device kicks off. Most of the US fighter jets have ACES II system while Russian counterpart is called K-36DM. And the minimal ejection altitude (from inverted flight) is about 43m for ACES II and 30m for K-36DM.

What happens when the pilot lands?
The pilot, for obvious reason will not be carrying a rifle. Pilots usually carry a pistol for their safety and there is a survival pack attached to his chute. You can see the survival pack dangling below the pilot on a line in many pilot ejection videos (like this one). The pack is part of the seat cushion and is attached by a lanyard to the pilot’s harness. As it is dangling, the pilot can feel it’s weight pulling down. Another advantage is, at night or in a water landing, this assists with judging the landing, the pack hits the ground a second or two before the pilot.

In the picture above–an ejection from USAF Thunderbirds number six aircraft by Capt.Christopher Stricklin. This happened less than a second before it impacted the ground at an air show (Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, September 2003). The pilot ejected after guiding the jet away from the crowd of more than 60,000 people. The pilot survived without any serious injuries. [r]

There ‘ve been many such spectacular ejections, while some were tragic. But the luckiest ejection goes to an Israeli pilot flying an A4 skyhawk. His last memory of the incident is that he was flying low and fast and the next thing he remembers is that he was on the ground with a bloody helmet and aching head. How and when did he eject?
The culprit in this case, was a not so lucky bird who crashed through the canopy and pilot’s helmet, and knocked him unconscious even before he realized it*. The dead bird then hit the ejection handle which ejected the pilot out of the attack jet. How lucky is that?? [r]

* Average human reaction time is .264 sec according to which roads and cars ‘re designed and pilots usually ‘ve a lower reaction time than average.

There’s another pilot whom I would categorize under the most miraculous seat ejection, as he survived ejection at supersonic speed. Capt. Brian Udell had to eject at from his F-15 travelling at supersonic speeds, though the navigator could not survive the ejection.


Highest altitude ejection:

At 80K feet by the crew members of two Lockheed M-21 in the 1966. In the incident, pilot survived but the launch control officer drowned after a water landing [R]

Lowest Altitude ejection:
10-20 feet !! (submerged)
This happened after an engine failure on takeoff, leading to an immediate ditching off the carrier HMS Albion by the pilot Lt. Macfarlane (UK). He went into the sea following a catapult launch and he ejected under the water, suffering slight injuries. [R]

The missing man formation:
The missing man formation is an aerial salute performed as part of a flypast of aircraft at a funeral or memorial event, typically in memory of a fallen pilot. The formation is often called the “missing man flyby” or “flypast“.

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