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Most of us have probably heard about how ejecting from a military aircraft is dangerous in and of itself, and that ejection is not a get out of jail free card.

The most common dangers seem to be:

There exist a number of openly-available reports on the topic, from several different countries and time periods that could serve as a starting point.

I have multiple closely-related questions, so I hope it will be self-evident why I chose not to split them up, but feel free to focus only on the first one:

  • What are the odds of surviving an ejection from a military aircraft? We can presuppose a fit crew member, but make no further assumptions about the particular case.
  • How likely is the crew member to sustain injuries?
  • Are there any significant trends in the data, e.g. introduction of 0-0 seats, survival procedures, sub- vs. supersonic ejection?
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    $\begingroup$ Its been 33 years, and this still brings back sad memories of Goose :( $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Sep 9 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ smh.com.au/education/… $\endgroup$ – Adam Sep 9 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ I don't have any data to cite in answering your question, but there are a significant number of spinal injuries from ejection. For that reason it is crucial to be in a proper position to reduce the risk. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Sep 9 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ Yes spinal compression problems are the main injury risk of an ejection. The newer seats are a bit more gentle though so it's supposed to be not so bad. $\endgroup$ – John K Sep 9 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Note that focusing on American statistics means you miss out on the Russian Kamov Ka-50 "Black Shark", an attack helicopter with ejection seats. $\endgroup$ – Roger Sep 18 at 21:10
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Survival outcomes in low level ejections from high performance aircraft is a 2013 consolidation of ten separate studies of ejections from 1952-1997, focused on comparing low level to high level ejections. It doesn't state that these were military (though likely) and only considered those where altitude was known. From the abstract:

There were 562 low-level ejections identified. Out of this number, there were 274 fatalities, giving a low-level ejection survival rate of 51.2%. There were 2607 ejections that occurred above 500 ft (152 m), with a survival rate of 91.4%. There was a significant difference between ejection survival rates below and above 500 ft (152 m). Low-level ejections have a significantly increased risk of a fatal outcome (Odds Ratio 10.07).

So overall the odds of surviving an ejection are 84%.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ouch! 90% chance of survival is much lower than I like; 50:50 sounds like really bad odds. You clearly don't want to eject unless the alternative is worse. $\endgroup$ – Martin Bonner supports Monica Sep 18 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for taking the time to write this up, after agonizing over the choice a bit I decided to give this answer the tick and Jpe61 the bounty, as a way of rewarding you both for the effort. $\endgroup$ – AEhere supports Monica Sep 18 at 21:03
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The abstract of the USAF take-off and landing ejections, 1973-85. gives an answer to two of your questions, leaving room for speculation as for the impact of 0-0 ejection seats (pun intended).

Direct quote, emphasis mine:

"...This review included only ejections clearly requiring a decision between ground egress and ejection. There were 15 aircraft with 25 crewmembers identified; 22 of them had ejected. Ejection systems performed as designed 91% of the time. Three crewmembers were killed during ejection, yielding a survival rate of 86%. Four ejectees suffered spinal compression fractures from ejection force. Two of these also fractured other vertebrae during the parachute landing fall, for a major injury rate of 21%. In only 33% was ground egress probable. Survival and injury rates for ejection on the ground did not differ significantly from those above 500 ft (p less than 0.05). Ejection during take-off and landing phases is as safe as ejection above 500 ft. safer than other ejections below 500 ft, and does not result in excess injury rates. Ejection systems are sometimes damaged by impact or fire. In the emergencies considered, ejection offered greatly increased chances for survival over ground egress."

So, the statistics given by this study apply for ejection during take-off and landing phase and ejections above 500ft.

As for the trends after the introduction of 0-0 ejection seats, a non scientific concusion could be drawn comparing statistics produced by the study above, and the one presented by @Pilothead in his answer. In the 1973-85 study the survival rate was 86%. In th 1952-1997 study the low level ejection survival rate was only 51.2% The higher survival rate of the 1973-85 study can partially be explained by the fact that some of the ejections in the 1952-1997 study were performed with a non 0-0 seat, since they were developed during the 1960's. The 1973-85 study does, however state that "Ejection during take-off ...[is]... safer than other ejections below 500 ft.", so a fully conclusive deduction cannot be made.

Unfortunately no studies on this subject are fully accessible to general public, so answers provided by @Pilothead and me are pretty much as good as it gets. :(

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for taking the time to write this up, after agonizing over the choice a bit I decided to give this answer the bounty and accept Pilothead's, as a way of rewarding you both for the effort. $\endgroup$ – AEhere supports Monica Sep 18 at 21:03

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