When your life depends on a seat
"I said to myself, this is the day that I die", recalls pilot-in-command Max Moutoussamy in a calm voice. It was in March 1991, as he was preparing to land, his port wing caught fire. After several manoeuvres to try and land his aircraft, Max Moutoussamy knew there was only one way to save his life: eject. "Thanks to my ejection seat, I was down on the ground just seven seconds after pulling the ejection handle. My training sessions in the ejection simulator were also a great help."
As the company turns fifty, SEM MB, a subsidiary owned 50/50 by Safran and Martin Baker, can be proud of its record. Out of the 5,350 ejection seats it has manufactured, more than 12% have been activated, saving 658 lives. "Our equipment has to be flawless", points out Jean-Pierre Ledey, president of SEM MB, "because you only know if it works when you need to use it. That's why we are constantly vigilant regarding the reliability of our products and are particularly attentive when it comes to maintenance operations. To keep our technical expertise sharp, we listen to what pilots have to say and the feedback they give us."
From the Mirage III to the Rafale
Over fifty years, French aircraft have changed radically and so have their ejection seats. Unlike the MK4 model of the Mirage III, which is still fitted in certain aircraft but is currently being replaced on Alpha Jets, the MK10 of the Mirage 2000, fitted with a rocket motor, enables zero/zero ejection (aircraft altitude and speed of zero). The seat fitted in the Rafale, the latest generation MK16, is enabled for flight condition adjustment (speed, altitude) at the moment of ejection; it also has an automatic survival pack deployment system (SLA) and a passive leg and arm restraint system. Some seats are even capable of taking into account the pilot's physiological details (height, weight). The single-minded objective is to make ejection safer and ensure a less violent effect on the body, particularly the head and neck.