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The military throws away a lot of equipment simply because it doesn't hold up to current standards. So I was wondering...

As a fighter pilot, would you ever get a practice run ejecting out of a plane, or is it just kind of one of those things you read about and hope you never have to do it? What is it like ejecting out of a plane at 500 knots? 1000?

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I have no idea how accurate this article is, but if it is even roughly accurate, it suggests that serious injuries are not uncommon, which implies that it is not one of those things that are tested all the way through. –  waiwai933 May 4 at 5:31
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I'd wager a real ejection is definitely one of those things a pilot hopes to never have to do - While being blasted clear of an aircraft that's about to explode or crash is preferable to the alternative (dying) it's certainly not without its own risks. –  voretaq7 May 4 at 23:18
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I remember hearing that one of the pieces of advice given to those who may have to eject is to be sure and put your back in the position you would like it to be for the rest of your life. –  Terry May 8 at 6:22
    
If you are in a situation where you have to eject, you aren't expecting to come out without injuries. –  HCBPshenanigans Sep 25 at 12:05

3 Answers 3

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Air forces use special training rigs rather than real ejection seats. Example video

enter image description here

Plenty of pilots have survived ejection (Wikipedia says "As of 20 June 2011 ... the number of lives saved by Martin-Baker products was 7,402 from 93 air forces")

The types of injury are illustrated by this example

The ejection seat has been responsible for saving the lives of thousands of pilots around the world since its introduction in the late 1940s. Typical survival rates quoted in the literature vary from 80–97%.

It is generally accepted that radiographic evidence of vertebral fracture can be found in 30%–70% of aircrew after ejection

The reason real ejection seats are not used is almost certainly the high risk of injury. Ejecting clear from a high speed jet requires a lot of acceleration.

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Just a couple things to think about. The parachutes used aren't anything like what your skydive with. You come crashing back to earth around 30mph. Broken legs and ankles are very common. Flail injuries are all but guaranteed during a high speed ejection. –  SHAF Dec 11 at 18:16

Ejecting at 1000 knots means ejection into supersonic flow. Not even the Zvezda K-36, the indisputably best ejection seat around, is rated for that. For this kind of speed, whole enclosures have been designed which did not work all too well when they had to be used.

enter image description here

For training, there are simulators to prepare pilots for that hopefully rare occurrence (the picture above is from this link; there you'll find more pics and a list of their customers), but mostly, simulations are run with simulated pilots, too. The spinal loads are too high to have pilots exposed to them regularly without the benefits which go with a successful ejection.

For the things that might happen, see what William Rankin went through on July 26, 1959. It can last quite a while, too. In his case 40 minutes.

By the way, ejection seats started to save pilot's lives in 1942 (Germany) and 1945 (Sweden).

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On the other hand, the SR-71 used an ejection seat instead of a capsule. The crew wore full pressure suits, though, which provided similar benefits (one test pilot had his aircraft break up on him [he didn't eject, and was unconscious when he left the plane], and survived) –  cpast May 11 at 1:28

I particularly like this site

What is it like ejecting out of a plane at 500 knots? 1000?

Look for this story on the linked site... A USAF F-15 crew ejected, at night, estimated well over mach 1. The back seater was killed in the ejection; the pilot survived; wreaked havoc on his musculoskeletal system and required the lower part of one leg to be amputated but eventually returned to flying status.

As a fighter pilot, would you ever get a practice run ejecting out of a plane

My experience in a ejection trainer, much like the "air force training rig" above, gave a very short initial jolt equivalent to the real thing. I had my head bent ever so slightly and I had a sore neck for weeks. There was never a repeat ride in our year long training.

Ejecting out of the real thing for training? We would have called that sort of thing "practice bleeding".

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