How Aircraft Ejection Seats Work
While many commercial and transportation aircraft have standard sets of processes for undertaking an emergency landing, military aircraft pilots may not always be afforded the chance or ability to safely land their vehicle when something goes wrong. To ensure the safety of a fighter jet pilot, defense-oriented aircraft are often designed with what is known as a plane ejection seat. With aircraft ejection seats, pilots can be expelled from the cockpit of an aircraft quickly and easily.
Whether a military fighter jet is damaged during battle or simply faces a catastrophic failure, it is important that the well-being of the pilot is prioritized. Aircraft ejection seats are quite complicated, often consisting of thousands of parts in a single assembly. With their design, the plane ejection seat ensures that the pilot is expelled from the aircraft to a safe distance, and parachutes are then deployed for them to traverse to the ground with ease.
When expelling the pilot, it is important that they are able to clear the aircraft and be removed from the path of any moving objects. Generally, the fighter jet ejection seat will be situated within the cockpit and attached to rails with rollers. The rails are important for guiding the ejected seat at a specific angle of ascent. For the actual launching force, a catapult is used to fire the seat up the rails. Meanwhile, a rocket situated on the seat itself will propel the seat further before the parachute opens for a safe landing. While the catapult and rocket are two separate assemblies, they can be combined into a single unit.
Despite the grand importance of the fighter pilot ejection seat, it is simply one part of the assisted egress system. While the pilot can be removed from the cockpit with a propelling seat, they must be able to leave the cockpit without any hazard. As such, the canopy itself is part of the egress system, and it will always be jettisoned before the ejection seat launches. If a canopy is not present, then an escape hatch will be used. With either design, the canopy or hatch will be removed from the aircraft and move in a separate direction from the pilot. In order to actuate aircraft ejection for escape, the pilot will often need to use pull handles on the seat or pull a face curtain down for facial protection.
The ejection system ensures rapid removal of the pilot from the aircraft, often only taking upwards of 4 seconds for the pilot to be fully removed from the aircraft with their parachute deployed. Meanwhile, it only takes the first half of a second for the pilot to be propelled from the cockpit. To ensure that the pilot is safe during this intensive sequence of operations, ejection seats are often designed to expel the pilot with different settings based on the speed and altitude of the aircraft.
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