When a pilot ejects, what happens to the ejection seat? Does the pilot stay in the seat until he lands, or does it get disconnected from the pilot somehow?

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    $\begingroup$ Not directly related, but to add more info. The survival pack on many seats dangles below the pilot on a line. The pack is normally stored in the seat pan and is attached by a lanyard to the pilot's harness. As it is dangling, the pilot can feel it's weight pulling down. At night, or in a water landing, this also assists with judging the landing as when the pack hits the ground, the line goes slack and you have about a second to go before contact. You might find this interesting. youtube.com/watch?v=e-RcMEDLu7Y $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Feb 1, 2014 at 8:25
  • $\begingroup$ I should have added that the pack is actually part of the seat cushion. The pilot sits on it. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Feb 1, 2014 at 8:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Simon That video makes it clear just how violent the acceleration is. I couldn't tell from the video what happens to the seat, however. Of the two dangling bits, one is seat shaped--is that the seat pan? $\endgroup$ Jul 11, 2018 at 15:09

3 Answers 3


It depends on the seat. Most modern seats, including the ACES II system common in US Fighter Jets, fall away from the pilot at a pre-determined altitude. [src]

Once out of the plane, a drogue gun in the seat fires a metal slug that pulls a small parachute, called a drogue parachute, out of the top of the chair. This slows the person's rate of descent and stabilizes the seat's altitude and trajectory. After a specified amount of time, an altitude sensor causes the drogue parachute to pull the main parachute from the pilot's chute pack. At this point, a seat-man-separator motor fires and the seat falls away from the crewmember. The person then falls back to Earth as with any parachute landing.

Generally, according to that link, this occurs at just over 100-200 feet above ejection height. However, if you eject at high altitude, such as Captain Scott O'Grady did (26,000 ft), the seat will fall away on a sensor (either 10,000 or 18,000 feet, I don't recall which). The chute may open automatically, or if it is not set to at that height, you can then pull the chute manually, or wait until its set height to open.

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    $\begingroup$ Do you happen to know if survival supplies are ever attached to the seat so the pilot can survive behind enemy lines? (Ammunition, MRE's, rifle, maps) $\endgroup$ Jan 31, 2014 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ This is from a US Military perspective, but pilots rarely have rifles. They will usually have a pistol in combat zones, but that is on their person. From what I've read, the primary survival kit is under the seat, and when the seat falls away, it dangles below you on a (fairly long) line. This would contain some food supplies and more survival gear. I believe there is also a smaller survival kit closer to the pilot on the line, or connected to them, that has detailed maps and basic supplies. Of course, the pilot would also have many maps instantly accessible. $\endgroup$
    – SSumner
    Jan 31, 2014 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, ok. Any idea why a carbine couldn't be attached on that line as well? It seems that it would be better to be behind enemy lines with a rifle than a pistol... $\endgroup$ Feb 1, 2014 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ It's not that it couldn't, just that there's not much point. In general, surviving behind enemy lines depends on concealment and speed. A pistol is a last resort anyway. A rifle just adds weight and bulk and is probably too tempting to use, and would give away your position easier. $\endgroup$
    – SSumner
    Feb 1, 2014 at 0:22
  • $\begingroup$ I recall reading a long time ago that Capt. O'Grady manually cut away his seat after freefalling for quite a while...which would seem to point toward 10,000. I may very well be mistaken though. $\endgroup$
    – Steve V.
    Feb 1, 2014 at 3:11

I ejected from an FJ-4 at 17,000 ft at 410 kts IAS. I was very briefly unconscious. When I woke up I was head down and looking up between my legs at an object drifting away from me which I saw as my parachute back pack. I could see the tabs down each side side of the pack as well as the pin attached to the D ring. I fell about 13,000 feet before I looked at the D ring. I occurred to me that I might as well pull it even though I still thought I had somehow lost my chute. I felt a minor shock and looked up to see my parachute open. Then it dawned on me that the object I thought was my back pack was the ejection seat. As I remember separating from the seat was simply a matter of the pilots body and the ejection seat having differing response to the wind experienced after ejecting.This incident took place in July of 1957. My back will probably quit hurting before many more years.

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    $\begingroup$ A) Thanks for serving. B) Glad you survived. C) What was it that disconnected the belts holding you into the seat? $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Oct 6, 2015 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ Holy Toledo! Nice to know you survived. $\endgroup$
    – Aaron
    Jan 17, 2017 at 21:10

My only reference is a T38 flight manual I happen to have. That seat has a "man-seat separation system" that is a separate pyrotechnic device that unlatches the straps holding the pilot to the chair after clearing the aircraft. (The pilot wears the parachute, which nestles into a cavity in the back of the seat.) The manual exhorts the pilot to try to manually disengage from the seat, but says that the man-seat separation system can rarely be beaten. There's nothing in the manual that says the seat has a separate chute of its own.


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