33
$\begingroup$

Let's say there was a two-person jet (take the F-15 for example) that was involved in some sort of accident in the air that incapacitated the pilot (unconscious but still alive) and left the aircraft unflyable. Could the copilot eject his fellow pilot in an attempt to save his/her life from the inevitable crash that would eventually take place?

Is there some sort of system in the aircraft that would do this automatically?

Seems like an messy problem to have. On one hand you don't want to be blasted out the windshield accidentally by your copilot or faulty computer system but on the other hand it sure would be nice to survive in the off chance you are unable to exit the plane yourself.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Related: Does anything ever overriide a manual initiation. eg The "Starfighter" ejected downwards and at ;ow altitude HAD to be rolled inverted to eject safely. [[German black joke of the period: Q: How do you acquire a Starfighter. A: Buy a plot of land and wait. | I was interested to find one, wheels set in concrete, in a coastal park in Taiwan, staring forever at the distant Chinese mainland and remembering.]] $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2015 at 5:30

8 Answers 8

43
$\begingroup$

In a word, yes.

There is a switch which controls this and the default position is "both". If any handle is pulled (pull down over the face or the one between your legs), then both seats fire. If solo, the switch is turned to "solo" so that the rear seat is not ejected and the front seat gets to leave a little bit quicker. If the switch is left on solo and both seats are occupied, then each crew member can eject on their own.

You would also have if set to "solo" with an untrained passenger in the back. You wouldn't want someone getting a bit excited and firing them both out of a perfectly working jet.

See this question about what happens, and this one to understand why you won't hit the canopy.

As far as I know, there is no computer controlled ejection system. I don't think anyone would trust it to know better than the crew when it's time to bail out.

$\endgroup$
12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Wait, you described the "solo" position as, the front seat pulls the handles, and the back seat doesn't eject, but then you write that with an untrained observer/passenger in the back, that's the position you'd use then also. If an ejection is necessary, it seems unconscionable to leave the untrained observer to his own devices, instead of punching him out on the pilot's command. Are you positive that your description hasn't over-simplified things a bit much? Front-not-ejecting-the-back seems slightly different than back-not-ejecting-the-front... $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Dec 15, 2015 at 4:33
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ @RalphJ The pilot can switch to both and eject the back seat passenger too. The point is not to leave the back seat to their own devices, but to not allow the back seat to eject both. I took a back seat ride in a Phantom (F4) and the briefing included ejection. My seat was live if I pulled the handle but it would not eject the pilot. He could however, eject me. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Dec 15, 2015 at 7:55
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @codedude I'm thinking also about "moral" issues. How many times pilots/crews decide not to eject because of the loss of lives the aircraft could cause to people on the ground? $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2015 at 11:53
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @MarcoSanfilippo - Ejection is a very unhealthy experience. A pilot doesn't consider ejection unless they expect that the plane will crash, with them, or without. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2015 at 16:15
  • 19
    $\begingroup$ This guy had his untrained passenger punch out by accident. Hit that link for a nice photo of a Tomcat flying without the canopy. $\endgroup$
    – dotancohen
    Dec 15, 2015 at 20:54
19
$\begingroup$

Yes. In general, the Weapons System Officer (WSO) can initiate ejection sequence and usually has control over it (of course it varies from aircraft to aircraft). From the interview of LCDR Joe "Smokin" Ruzicka, a F-14 Radar Intercept officer (RIO):

Both crew member's [sic] relied on each other- even down to the RIO having control of the ejection sequence- because conventional wisdom said the pilot would want to stay with the jet until it was too late.

Automatic ejection systems are rare, because you want the pilot to have control over when to eject (automatic ejection is considered a bad thing). However, it is found in a few aircraft, like the Soviet Yak-38, a VTOL aircraft. Once the aircraft rolled past 60 degrees in case of engine failure, ejection sequence was initiated automatically.

$\endgroup$
3
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I wonder if there's any warning for the pilots before they are ejected...that's gotta be a rude awakening. :/ $\endgroup$
    – codedude
    Dec 15, 2015 at 3:01
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @codedude might be... But I guess in certain situations it might be better than wake up dead. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2015 at 13:39
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The conditions were much less trivial on Yak-38 than the roll angle. Roll could be handled manually; the real problem was increasing oscillations due to unbalanced thrust from the main and lifting engines. They feel benign at first but then develop rapidly, leaving no time to react and no way to recover. The system tried to catch these conditions, and exactly because of its non-triviality had quite a few misfires. $\endgroup$
    – Zeus
    Oct 6, 2016 at 6:43
12
$\begingroup$

Not really an answer to the text and intent of the question, but with regard to the question as asked in the title ("Can someone/something other than the pilot trigger the ejection seat?"), I'll share a story that a friend who flew AWACS told me:

He was flying somewhere in the Middle East, and a Navy jet pulled up close enough to wave at the AWACS pilots, who weren't particularly amused. Not knowing what frequency the Navy fighter was monitoring (if any), my friend in the left seat of the AWACS picks up his microphone, switches to Guard (which everybody monitors), and transmits something along the lines of, "Dude, we're putting out enough RF energy to launch your seat at that distance!"

The fighter peeled off in great haste.

So yes, something other than the pilot/s of the aircraft CAN potentially trigger the ejection seat. I don't know how often this sort of thing has actually played out, but it has got to be an "oh, ****" moment if/when it ever did.

$\endgroup$
12
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ @Steve Sounds like sarcasm and hyperbole to me for that very reason. Also, AIUI the control systems for ejecting are primarily mechanical in nature so they'll continue to operate in the event of loss of power and would be inherently immune to RF as a result. (Below melt/ignite the aircraft levels anyway.) $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2015 at 16:49
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ It was apparently an actual warning in the AWACS flight manual. Enought RF radiation can induce current in things like the iniator squibs, and the concern is that once the squib blows, everything else follows. Remember, this is quite close to a massive emitter, and with enough power to see targets despite (some level of) jamming pretty far out, the inverse square law gives a HUGE amount of energy yards away (think, EMP types of effects). And while it clearly didn't actually launch THAT seat that day, the engineers said the risk was there. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Dec 15, 2015 at 20:26
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @curious_cat r Pretty sure they don't turn on the radar until they are in the air, for that reason & others (where it is optimized to scan). And I think they also confirm to the tanker crew that the radar is off before refueling. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Dec 16, 2015 at 14:44
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Steve, "a bunch" in this case is "megawatts at point-blank range", enough to cause assorted EMP effects, and possibly cook the pilot. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Oct 4, 2016 at 21:56
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Sean The radar is directional, so most of the power is in a beam pointing away from the aircraft itself. Beyond that, there is sufficient shielding to protect the crew from whatever stray leakage occurs. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Jan 21, 2019 at 5:08
10
$\begingroup$

The question as to whether other crew members can trigger the ejection sequence has been answered.
As to whether there can be automated systems that do it, the answer to that is a resounding "yes" as well.
The Yak-38 VTOL fighter of the Soviet navy had just such a system and they were considered for other types as well (but afaik never installed for reasons that will become clear).
This system worked. In fact it worked too good. It had a tendency to eject the pilot even when there was nothing wrong with the aircraft, causing more than a few aircraft losses and injured pilots as a result.
A system like that monitors the aircraft parameters and systems and when they go out of normal operational ranges for a certain period triggers the ejection sequence. With the Yak at least, it appears that putting the aircraft into a hover to land it would sometimes trigger the ejection, oops :)

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It would end up landing... $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Dec 15, 2015 at 17:45
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan: It might just as likely wind up seaing. $\endgroup$
    – dotancohen
    Dec 16, 2015 at 12:14
4
$\begingroup$

Something — yes, albeit not intentionally in this case: There was an accident in Sweden some years ago, in which a Gripen pilot was blown out of his aircraft because his legs and flight suit, affected by some high-G turns, actioned the ejection handle.

See Wikipedia and the Official report from the Accident Investigation Authority (PDF in Swedish).

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Let's say there was a two-person jet (take the F-15 for example) that was involved in some sort of accident in the air that incapacitated the pilot (unconscious but still alive) and left the aircraft unflyable. Could the copilot eject his fellow pilot in an attempt to save his/her life from the inevitable crash that would eventually take place?

In some aircraft, it depends on the position of the "mode selector switch".

Here's how things work with the "mode selector switch" used in the F/A-18, T-45, TAV-8B, and the two seat F-15:

Mode Selector Functions

NORMAL: With the handle in this mode and initiation occurs in the front cockpit, both ejection seats will eject. If initiated from the rear cockpit, only the rear seat will ejection.

SOLO: This mode is used when the rear cockpit is not occupied. When the front cockpit pilot initiates ejection only the front seat will ejection, reducing the time waiting for the aft sequencing to occur.

REAR: With the handle in this position both the front and aft ejection seats will eject, regardless of who initiates ejection and the aft seat will always go first.

Obviously, the switch would only be set to the "rear" position if the rear seat were occupied by a crew member with enough training and experience to be trusted to know when to use the ejection system, and when not to use it!

Source: this web page from PacSci EMC, the manufacturer of the three-mode selector device used in the aircraft listed above. (Interestingly enough, it's actually a pyrotechnic device.)

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

My dad was a 30 year USAF officer. Spent 15 of them in Phantoms. There was an accident at Homestead AFB in the late 70’s where the ship had taxied out and taken the active runway and started lowering the canopies. Just as they sealed and locked either the WSO or PIC seat fired and he went through the Lexan or whatever it was. It probably killed him immediately, but if that didn’t then the fact that the seats weren’t 0/0 then sure didn’t help. It wasn’t an aircraft system though. A maintainer screwed up somehow. Or it was just a faulty part or whatever. Terrible way to go though.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Aviation SE. This is posted as an 'answer' to a question about things other than the pilot triggering ejection but reads more like a comment. You appear to have an instance where an unintentional ejection occurred but no detail on how the event occurred and very vague information on when and where. To make this a useful answer recommend trying to pin down more details (date, which seat fired, why it fired) and remove as many of the 'whatevers' as possible by confirming what you can. $\endgroup$ Jun 17, 2022 at 7:02
  • $\begingroup$ Go through is definitely the right word. $\endgroup$
    – Antzi
    Jun 17, 2022 at 15:26
0
$\begingroup$
  • As requested - this post was substantially rewritten and references added in mid June 2022

Until recently the YAK38-B (maybe also YAK 36, and 141) were the only aircraft equipped with auto-eject.

The newer F35-B Lightning variant has auto-eject capability due to the existence of loss of vertical lift situations that can develop faster than a pilot may be able to manage. It seems likely that the logic which makes this desirable in the VTOL Yak 38 also applies to the F-35B. It will be interesting to see if the F35 designers have overcome the YAk's undesired auto-eject issues.

The British-made Martin Baker US16E ejector seat that equips the F-35 includes 3 airbags that inflate in a two-stage process to protect the head and neck of the pilot, wearing the heavy helmet packed with technology. The F-35B variant has a feature that will also eject the pilot automatically if it detects that the vertical-lift fan has failed (most serious during vertical landing but the fan is also in use during rolling take off). Loss of downward thrust from the fan would cause the aircraft to pitch down sharply, faster than the pilot could react to pull the ejection handle manually. From: https://www.navylookout.com/salva


Various mentions of F-35B auto-eject capability. None of these are definitive but all are consistent:

https://www.pprune.org/military-aviation/643788-uk-f-35b-lost-3.html

A unique feature of the US16E is the trio of airbags that inflate in a two-stage process to protect the head and neck of the F-35 pilot, wearing the large helmet-mounted display, upon ejection. Also of note, the F-35B version of the Lightning II has an auto-eject mode. This is designed to function in the specific instance where the STOVL aircraft is in the hover, and the shaft-driven lift fan fails.

In that case, the jet is likely to pitch down sharply, quicker than the pilot can react to fire the seat manually. It will therefore fire automatically while the possibility of escape remains.

Synopsis of Lecture to RAeS Loughborough Branch - Martin-Baker: the JSF story so far 08 Mar 2011 Steve Roberts, JSG IPT Lead, Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Ltd

  • “...The ejection seat was required to be common to all three aircraft variants. It was also required to have superior ejection performance to all previous seats, meet new neck injury criteria and provide an auto-ejection capability when used in the F-35B (STOVL) aircraft. The last requirement demanded early firing of the ejection seat in the event of an aircraft malfunction in a manner similar to that used in the Russian YAK 36, 38 and 141 aircraft....

  • ...Neck protection is provided by means of a “Catcher’s Mitt” inflatable device which supports both sides of the pilot’s helmet and also provides support to the top and /back of the helmet. This device is also held in a container located behind the pilot’s head. The device is vented before the parachute is deployed. The device has been tested & proved to inflate under simulated 50,000 ft altitude conditions....

  • ...The F-35-B (STOVL) aircraft has additional failure modes associated with Lift Fan, Vane Box, Lift Fan Drive Shaft, Roll Duct and Turbine failures. A typical pilot takes two seconds to react to the ejection klaxon or one second if warned in advance of a likely failure. In the case of a STOVL related failure, ejection must take place within 0.6 seconds. Hence it was necessary to install smart failure sensors on the aircraft to automatically fire the ejection circuit mounted in the back of the seat....”


Material below re SU27 is retained only to allow prior comments to make sense. The Su27 does NOT have autoeject capability.

________________________________________

INTEREST ONLY MATERIAL BELOW HERE:

Added: This answer was based on advice I received that the SU27 had auto-ejection capability.

In a comment xxx states that the SU27 does not have auto-eject capability.
I have not yet obtained supporting factual references for either point of view. I will update this answer when I know more.

If the SU27 does NOT have auto eject capability then the crew members were extremely brave, regardless of what responsibility they did or did not have for the crash. I viewed a video of the crash and did a frame by frame examination from 1st contact with the ground by a wing until ejection.
The video speed was 25 frames per second.

The video was never "super clear" and became increasingly less so as the crash progressed (apparently due to the videographer attempting to not die).
From the time the wing 1st touched ground 4 frames (0.16S) elapsed until certain canopy motion was observable. It may have been starting to move for 1 to 2 frames before this. The canopy was well clear by frame 8 (0.32 seconds post contact) and one crew member ejected at frame 11 (0.44 s post contact). The aircraft was moving out of frame but it appeared essentially certain that a prior ejection had not occurred so the 2nd ejection probably occurred some time after frame 11 (after 0.44s post contact).

While ejection initiation would have occurred at some time before frame 4 when canopy motion was first noticeable it would almost certainly have been a very short period prior, so it is very likely that the aircraft wing had touched the ground at or before ejection initiation.

That's brave.
Also stupid, if you want to live.
But very brave.

_______ End of addition. ______________________________________

Yes.

This is a frame grab from a video about a Ukrainian airshow disaster when an SU27 crashed into the crowd with many fatalities. Both crew members ejected essentially "on impact" and I'm told that the ejections were automatically triggered. Both survived.

The ejection shown here obviously had to be preceded by a trigger, canopy eject, fire, ... sequence which I'd expect to last at least some "tenths of a second", so the actual decision point is uncertain.

enter image description here

$\endgroup$
3
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nope. They ejected manually. Su-27 doesn't have an automatic ejection system. There were quite a few airshow crashes involving Su-27 and MiG-29 with last-second ejections, esp. in 1990s, all triggered manually. $\endgroup$
    – Zeus
    Apr 24, 2019 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Zeus See the addition to my answer. Have you any references to this - I'm happy either way. Something definitive would be nice to have. If it was manual eject then they were extremely brave (regardless of any culpability for the crash). $\endgroup$ Apr 24, 2019 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ It would be a bit hard to prove an absence; perhaps you'll need to read the whole manual for Su-27 and/or K-36 (the ejection seat). I studied it well enough to know. The only Soviet (if not worldwide) operational aircraft to have automatic ejection was Yak-38. $\endgroup$
    – Zeus
    Apr 25, 2019 at 11:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .