I'm currently reading "2034: A Novel of the Next World War" and my question may have minor spoilers:

One part of the plot comes into motion, when a F35E (the E is probably fictional) is hacked and maneuvered into a hostile airspace. The pilot wants to escape the inoperable F35 by activating the ejection seat, however, the hacker also made the ejection seat inoperable.

Now I'm wondering if this would be possible. Can ejection seats be deactivated? And if yes, why? I wasn't able to find something about this, which may indicate, that this is a bad idea to begin with. I found this answer and I would conclude, that there are indeed systems which can manipulate the behavior of an ejection seat, but nothing about completely disabling it.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Related: Is it possible to hack an airplane while it's moving (in general)? $\endgroup$
    – ymb1
    May 25 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ An interesting "related" question: Are there any 'smart' ejection seats?. The answer is yes, at least 1, and they had very particular reasons for deciding that it was better to act in an automated manner for that particular aircraft. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    May 26 at 6:46
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    $\begingroup$ That scenario is even less feasible than the jet being taken over by a hacker in the first place. If the jet could be taken over remotely, it'd be a massive design flaw as well as just about the worst possible failure of the test program ever seen. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    May 26 at 9:26
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    $\begingroup$ "So Long Mom (I'm Off To Drop The Bomb, So Don't Wait Up For Me)" - (subtitled "A Song For WW III") - a tune by Tom Lehrer, written as a hit song for WW III. Since WW III would/will/did(?) result in the end of civilization as we know/knew it, it was/is important to write such a song prior to the commencement of the war when it can/did/might still get some airplay - in the "radio" sense rather than the "radioactive" sense... $\endgroup$ May 27 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ In the realm of fiction: In the 2015 novel "Ghost Fleet" F-35s are hacked in a different manner. Some of the onboard electronic components (according to the novel) were produced overseas and at least one secret backdoor was installed. The backdoor was enabled by a coded radio broadcast and turned on a secret transmitter that aided hostile missiles in finding the planes, defeating their stealth and evasive abilities. Given the existence of one backdoor, similar backdoors could plausibly exist in other systems in the plane, such as the ejection seat. $\endgroup$
    – Åsmund
    May 29 at 9:21

I am not familiar with the current F-35 ejection seat, much less what design changes, (real or fictional...) might be made by the year 2034, but of the three ejection seat aircraft I flew in the 1990s, none were electronically actuated such that it might be possible to hack into and disable the seat.

While they are mechanically complex, the means of actuation for most seats is actually fairly simple; relying on springs, firing pins, cartridges, and rocket motors. It would be a very poor design decision in my mind to manufacture a last ditch fail-safe system like an ejection seat that is vulnerable to EMP, or is connected to a hackable network.

  • 16
    $\begingroup$ Ejection seats are the Last Resort rescue devices, actuation must be reliable. $\endgroup$
    – Koyovis
    May 26 at 5:00
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterMortensen mechanical linkages all the way, basically a steel wire that triggers the canopy ejection and (through spring loading to get a delay) the seat ejection a fraction later. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    May 26 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ Or, some seats just blast right through the canopy. $\endgroup$ May 26 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ @johndoe Military applications probably aren't in as much need of that. "Control your ejection seat from this handy mobile app!" isn't a super good business model :p $\endgroup$ May 27 at 2:59
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @johndoe: the F-35 seat is from Martin-Bakers. They would resist that idea rather firmly. $\endgroup$ May 27 at 16:26

I am quite familiar with the US-16E seat (as found on F-35) and quite a few others from the past such as the Mk 7A (found in the UK variant of the F-4).

As with all ejection seats, it is primarily an electro-mechanical system that is completely independent of the aircraft in the control sense. Obviously it is physically attached (or at least the mountings are).

In the more general sense, as with all modern ejection seats, it is a seat attached to a very powerful gun with a rocket pack underneath the seat pan.

This particular seat has an electronic sequencer that is used to determine the optimum crew / seat separation timing, the most critical of which is a 0 0 ejection. This is where the aircraft has zero altitude and 0 speed.

The sequencer is a completely closed system electronically so no remote attacks are possible and employs redundancy in the measurement and decision logic to reduce the potential for failure to extremely low levels.

The power for the electronics is provided by thermal batteries that are ignited when the seat starts to move.

The entire sequence of ejection is actually quite interesting.

Pull handle (there is only one nowadays). This fires the primary cartridge in the seat gun and also ignites the shaped charge in the canopy which blows out a large egress area.

Seat starts to move and power is applied to the sequencer which has a 'sensing window' to determine altitude and speed. Optimal separation time is computed. As soon as the seat starts to move, the drogue gun is fired. This fires a large metal bullet upwards which is attached to a drogue - a small parachute designed to stabilise the seat during descent.

The drogue won't deploy until the cord attached reaches it's limit which will not happen until the seat is well clear of the aircraft.

There are large spikes on each side of the seat above the crewmember's head which will clear any remnants of the canopy that may not have been destroyed by the shaped charge as the seat rises up through the hole in the canopy.

When the bottom of the seat reaches the cockpit sill, the under seat rocket pack fires.

At separation, the seat will cut the seat straps and tip the crew member out by firing EEDs (electro-explosive devices) to release the drogue, pulling the ripcord of the crew member parachute as that happens.

The parachute release mechanism also has a water automatic release system that will automatically release the parachute from the crew member within two seconds of landing in the sea. This is so if the crew member is unconscious, the parachute will not drown the person as it sinks.

There are some other details, but that is the fundamentals of operation.


The ejection seat and sequencing is NOT routed through the various computers. It has to work even in the event of complete aircraft shutdown, or even in the middle of the whole jet coming apart.

So no, it is not hackable remotely.


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