Are Ejection Seats Safe?

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Picture this: you’re the pilot of a Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon traveling at supersonic speed when your aircraft becomes badly damaged. You take note of your flight instruments—you’re rapidly losing altitude and airspeed. Soon, you lose control of your plane.

As you plummet towards the ground, you have little time to weigh your options. Your only choice is to eject immediately; hesitation is not an option, but can your ejection seat be trusted? The short answer is yes; read on to learn why.

A Brief History of Ejection

Before the advent of the ejection seat, the only way to escape a debilitated aircraft was to “bail out.” Attempts to bail consistently failed because pilots had difficulty keeping a safe distance from an airplane when bailing.

In the early 1940s, during World War II, Heinkel and SAAB independently developed ejection seats as a safer alternative to bailing.

These ejection seats weren’t without fault—with a survival rate of only 40%. Those who survived suffered severe injuries from the force of the ejection. 

In 2013, the new features and reliability of the Collins Aerospace ACES II ejection seat propelled it to become the standard for most U.S. fighters.

In the early 2020s, Collins Aerospace introduced the ACES 5 ejection seat as a refinement of ACES II.

The ACES 5 seat improves upon its predecessor with optimized flail prevention and sensors which adjust ejection velocity according to the weight of the aircrew.

These and other improved features contribute to a significantly reduced chance of harm. ACES 5 asserts a spinal injury rate of 1% and <5% risk of significant injury.

When Should I Eject?

While ejection should always be a last resort, it’s essential for aircrew to trust the ejection system of their aircraft. A moment of hesitation can mean the difference between life and death.

Fortunately, the reliability of modern ejection seats such as ACES II and ACES 5 instill confidence and trust.

How Does the ACES 5 Ejection Seat Work?

Upon pulling the yellow ejection handle,

· A ballistic signal is sent to the canopy removal system and seat inertia reel. The signal removes the canopy while the seat inertia reel safely restrains the pilot.

· The seat catapult initiates to begin ejection.

· The passive head and neck protection system deploy to stabilize the aircrew’s head.

· Passive arm restraints deploy to prevent arm flail injuries. Passive leg restraints deploy to prevent leg flail injuries.

· Pitots deploy to measure airspeed and altitude. A seat sequencer uses information from the pitots to select a mode of operation. In high-speed or high-altitude ejections, a drogue parachute deploys. (During low altitude, low airspeed ejections, a giant GR7000 parachute deploys.)

· Rockets control the pitch of the seat as it ejects.

· The seat separates from the aircrew, who safely descends to the ground.

An Incredible Miniature

Raytheon Technologies recently exhibited an incredible miniature model of the ACES 5 ejection seat at the 48th Annual Convention held by the National Society of Black Engineers.

PacMin Studios created the model. Raytheon Technologies used the model to inspire a new generation of black students to pursue careers in engineering. With its life-saving ability, the seat demonstrates how impactful engineering can be.

The miniature itself is a marvel of engineering. The creators packed impressive detail into a model one could easily hold within their hands. (The model is 6 x 15 in., or 15 x 38 cm.)

Many model components were designed in CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software and constructed using additive manufacturing.

Being comprised of over twenty 3D-printed parts and several custom elements, the model is remarkably elaborate.

The builders responsible for the project used techniques to give components special effects. For example, the seat was hand-sanded in such a way as to make it look like leather.

Also, the engineers stitched the belts of the seat inertia reel using biasing tape and arranged the passive arm restraints using jewelry wire.

PacMin Studios has created an abundance of detailed aerospace models and promotional products for the aviation industry ranging from model airplanes to unique projects like the ACES 5 Ejection Seat.

Learn more about PacMin Studios’ projects by visiting pacmin.com. You can pick up a premium model from the PacMin Studios Model Shop. To see how PacMin Studios can promote your company’s brand, visit our Aviation Marketing page.