Suppose an incident like this:

An airplane equipped with an ejection seat suffers a problem severe enough that the pilot decides to eject. As he pulls the handle... nothing happens. The ejection system completely fails to function.

Upon realizing that he's either going to land the stricken plane or go down with it, the pilot somehow manages to maintain control and bring the aircraft into a successful landing ("successful" meaning non-fatal for the pilot, if not for the aircraft). On the ground, the emergency crew rushes to release the pilot from the cockpit.

Now, one would suppose that a failed ejection seat system presents both the ground crew and the pilot a similar kind of a hazard that a dud ammunition would: firing has been attempted but it has not commenced for an unknown reason, and the system with all the explosives in it is now in a potentially unstable state, unsafe to approach or access.

How is such a situation handled? Are there any standardized procedures to disarm and secure a failed ejection system from the outside as part of the rescue effort?

Have there been incidents like this in real life?

  • $\begingroup$ This depends on the design of the seat, which is not so much an "accessory" but a "deeply built in" part of the aircraft system. A couple of things... The pilot normally stows their own seat safety pins onboard prior to taxi, so the person "safetying" the seat on landing will be the pilot. Remember also that the ejection is a sequence of several events including canopy ejection or breaching, limb pre-tensioners, etc. So the pilot does know how far into the sequence the seat got before failing. This leads to the appropriate checklist upon landing for both the pilot and ground crew. $\endgroup$
    – Max R
    Aug 28, 2022 at 0:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Max, maybe, but probably not. The sequence is extremely fast. And if the seat fails 99% of the time time pilot will be dead. $\endgroup$ Aug 28, 2022 at 1:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Max: at what point in the sequence does the limb tensioning happen? I'd imagine it is pretty early, so essentially, as soon as the pilot pulls the handle, they will be "handcuffed" to the seat, unable to reach the flight controls, will they not? This whole scenario seems extremely contrived. Both the aircraft and the seat are so critically damaged that the pilot choses to eject and the ejection fails, but then magically the aircraft becomes completely fixed and flyable again? $\endgroup$ Aug 28, 2022 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag These are interesting questions, a lot of things are happening in sequence, many of which are external to the seat, and I don't know the specific sequence. Even more complicated is sequenced multiple crew ejections. $\endgroup$
    – Max R
    Aug 28, 2022 at 22:49

1 Answer 1


Chain of events:

Aircraft in flight

Becomes uncontrollable

Pilot eventually comes to the conclusion of "I have to get out"

EJECT EJECT EJECT (pulls the relevant handles)

The ejection fails (is the canopy still on?)

Aircraft magically becomes controllable.

Pilot declares IFE (In Flight Emergency)

Pilot lands.

I expect it would be met with all manner of emergency personnel. Crewchief, Asst crewchief. Fire, EOD, WPNS ...

First order of business, get the pilot out of the seat.

Then, carefully safe the seat (reinsert pins) or whatever is needed for this singularly weird condition that has probably never happened before.

After Crewchief, life support, EOD, possibly Weapons all get to the point of "safe"...take the thing apart and start the major investigation in conjunction with MartinBaker.

  • $\begingroup$ The aircrew have their own pins in their possession in the aircraft. Many cockpits have a dedicated pin stowage pouch. The pins MUST be inserted by the pilot before he/she gets out of the seat, not after. $\endgroup$
    – Max R
    Aug 28, 2022 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Max - In a normal 'getting out of the aircraft' sequence, sure. Pilot puts the pins an and then gets out. But, after a failed ejection sequence? Not so sure that would be a "MUST" condition. $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Aug 28, 2022 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ You can't pin the seat while you are sitting in it, you can only safe the top and bottom handles. There are 7 or so pins in all kinds of different places, all impossible to reach while sitting. $\endgroup$ Aug 28, 2022 at 1:36
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    $\begingroup$ @WPNSGuy I am not an expert on this, I have been around ejection seats but have never maintained or operated them. Michael may have more domain experience here. My point is that the pilot is in their "point of maximum safety" while still strapped in the seat. If the seat motor fires on the ground, then they ride the seat up and deploy, with all the same risks of any ground ejection. But once they unstrap, they now move into the situation of "infinite risk," if the seat fires they will have little chance of survival. I'd stay strapped in ALL DAY until it was "safed." $\endgroup$
    – Max R
    Aug 28, 2022 at 22:45

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