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

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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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$
    – waiwai933
    Commented May 4, 2014 at 5:31
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Commented May 4, 2014 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 6:22
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    $\begingroup$ If you are in a situation where you have to eject, you aren't expecting to come out without injuries. $\endgroup$
    – Bassinator
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Firee No. The problem isn't that the pilot is suddenly exposed to high-speed winds in their face. The problem is that it is necessary to accelerate the seat vertically extremely hard to avoid the seat being struck by the rest of the plane. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 8:16

4 Answers 4


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.

  • $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ Cons: broken ribs, broken ankles. Pros: not exploding in a jet fueled inferno. $\endgroup$
    – corsiKa
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 15:18

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.

Ejection seat test rig in action

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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    $\begingroup$ 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) $\endgroup$
    – cpast
    Commented May 11, 2014 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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    $\begingroup$ An SR-71 pilot survived an ejection during a mid-air breakup at 2000mph $\endgroup$
    – ptgflyer
    Commented Dec 25, 2014 at 23:21

There are ejection seat trainers, most concentrate of the required procedure before ejection and upon successful completion do a short 10 cm hitch upward, only a jolt to indicate end of procedure.

enter image description here

Some air forces do have trainers that give more of a ride. I got a demo ride in the sim in the picture, since I was involved in supplying some of the hardware. It was a severely toned down ride with much lower accelerations than pilots experience for real, but still too much for my blood pressure: one moment I was giving the all clear to the instructor, the next moment I was 3 metres in the air with an aching neck. I have no recollection of what happened in between.


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