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I'm wondering if a modern fighter jet (Eurofighter, JAS Gripen, F-35 etc.) is allowed to fly when the ejection seats are known not to be in working order.

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    $\begingroup$ As a side note, ejection seats are very, very dangerous things, so it would almost certainly depend on what isn't working about it. $\endgroup$ – cpast Jul 11 '14 at 4:34
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That will vary very much from country to country. While civil aviation regulations are very much standardised across the globe through ICAO (of course with local exceptions) and manufacturer's guidance, military aviation is very much the domain of national regulations.

Technically a military jet will be able to fly with an unserviceable ejection seat, so I imagine that some countries under some circumstances allow flying when they don't work.

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    $\begingroup$ you are right. I would further add that the military also differentiates between peacetime missions and combat missions. Even back in WWII engines had a "War Emergency Power" setting, primarily relating to the boost pressure on turbo- or superchargers. $\endgroup$ – Skip Miller Jul 10 '14 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ @skip, is this the origin of the "set it to 11" joke on This is Spinal tap? $\endgroup$ – RoboKaren Jul 12 '14 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ @RoboKaren I have to leave that question to others. I never got into Spinal Tap. $\endgroup$ – Skip Miller Jul 12 '14 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ @RoboKaren I always assumed that joke was just poking fun at people not understanding how units (and the lack thereof) work. Also, obligatory xkcd. $\endgroup$ – reirab Jan 24 '17 at 6:26
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Summary

If the ejection seat is inoperable on a US military aircraft, the aircraft will be grounded 100% of the time. I'm sure you could come up with some weird hypothetical "end-of-the-world" scenario where you'd still take off, but that isn't reality today.

F/A 18 E/F Checklist Procedures

Interior Checklist

After strapping into the jet, the ejection seat is the first thing you check:

  1. Leads, leg restraints, and harness - SECURE/ADJUST
  2. Ejection control handle - CLEAR
  3. Ejection control handle pin - VERIFY REMOVED

There's no point in removing the pin and checking the handle if you do not intend to arm the seats. This is further confirmed later in the checklist.

Before Takeoff Checklist

  • [...]
  • Harness - ATTACHED 8 POINTS
  • [...]
  • Seats - ARMED IN THE FRONT
  • (2 seater) EJECT SEL - ARMED, AFT INITIATE

If the seats aren't armed, then the jet is never leaving the ground. It is potentially suicidal for fighter aircraft to takeoff without ejection seats. Fighters don't glide well (they fly to the scene of the crash), they can't fly in a total electrical failure, some can't fly without computer guidance, they can't fly with hydraulic failures, and they fly in very adverse flight conditions. There are a lot of things, that if totally failed, would turn a fighter into a flying coffin, sans ejection seat. Fortunately these systems are very redundant, but its usually not worth staking your life on it.

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    $\begingroup$ This is my exact experience with ejection seat aircraft. Especially when regs prevent you from just putting it down on a highway (ie eject over ditching). I'm 100% confident the jets wouldn't fly. Even with just the four lines reversed, I HIGHLY doubt the jets would fly. This should be the answer... $\endgroup$ – user3309 Nov 18 '14 at 5:36
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I asked some of the fighter pilots that I know, and they couldn't give me a concrete answer (for the USAF), and I couldn't find a regulation that states it is grounding. However, I'm sure it would ground the aircraft.

In this instance, fighter jets (F-35s) were grounded for a "relatively" minor issue with the seat:

Fifteen F-35 Joint Strike Fighters will remain grounded for at least five more days because their ejection seat parachutes were installed backwards

...

Even though the parachute was packed backwards, it still would have deployed, but the steering levels on the parachute would have been reversed, making it confusing for a pilot to steer

Key note there is confusing for the pilot. The ejection seat was functional, but the fact that it was confusing was enough for it to be grounding. Possibly in wartime it would have been different, but I doubt it.

And even in the case that it wasn't grounding, there's no way I (or any of the pilots I talked to) would take that aircraft. It's not worth it.

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    $\begingroup$ It makes good sense to ground the planes in that situation during peacetime. On the other hand, one assumes a different attitude would have been taken if the US was at war and a squadron of enemy bombers heading straight for DC. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Jul 12 '14 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ It would obviously depend on the situation, but the probability of there being few fighter jets not grounded in the region around DC where they would need this one jet without the ejection seat is pretty low. There are lots of jets there, not to mention air to air missiles. And there would probably be plenty of warning - they can change out a whole ejection seat pretty quick. $\endgroup$ – SSumner Jul 12 '14 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ And I can fully imagine the aircraft being ferried to a central repair/maintenance facility for repairs rather than a team with their gear being shipped out to a forward base, especially if it's a single aircraft and the repairs would require a lot of people or equipment. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Jul 14 '14 at 9:26
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe in rare cases. But I've seen them change out the seats. A new seat only requires some simple tools and a small hoist to get it into the plane-all of that gear could fold up and be carried in one medium sized truck, or two humvees $\endgroup$ – SSumner Jul 14 '14 at 13:41

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