The second life of “Ejected people”
Every two years, during the Paris Air Show, a special event called the "Ejection gala" is held, which brings together the fighter pilots who have used their ejector seat to save their life! General William Kurtz, a former fighter pilot, and today CEO of Safran Martin Baker France*, company specialized in the manufacturing of ejection seats, explains how these systems work.
What happens in an ejection?
William Kurtz: It is a progressive process that uses a pyrotechnic system: a cartridge initiates the rocket motors on the sides of the seat, which extract the pilot from the cockpit, in a matter of seconds. In the ejection system, the pyrotechnic system is also connected to the rest of the aircraft. When the pilot pulls the handle, three actions are carried out simultaneously: A harness recoil to push the pilot's shoulders and legs back against the seat, the shattering of the canopy by explosive charges at the base of the glass panels, and at last, the firing of the cartridge that initiates the movement of the seat and lights the rocket motors.
As a former fighter pilot, have you ever had to eject?
W.K.: No, I never needed to eject. The only time I wanted to get out of an aircraft was from a Fouga Magister…, but that type of plane does not have ejection seat!
All fighter pilots think about such events happening all the time, and they are trained to handle it. From the beginning of their training, they are trained for parachute jumps. Then, they have training on the simulator, to assimilate the operations. This is a very important point, as it is this specific position that limits traumas during ejection: sit up straight, the head firmly held in place, the back against the seat and the arms and legs held thigh. On the contrary, there is a risk that arms or legs could be torn off during the ejection! There are now recoil systems both for the arms and legs that protect the body against the violence of the blast at 600 or even 800 kph! It also must be said that a pilot who ejects from an aircraft undergoes a sudden vertical acceleration of up to 18 g (which is that many times his/her own weight), which can cause compression of the spinal column, and reduce their height by several millimeters.
Where this event “the Ejection gala” come from?
W.K.: Ejection is a traumatic event, as it takes place following the loss of control of the aircraft. Recollecting this experience is therefore very comparable to a group therapy: everyone gets together to discuss a common topic. The second vocation of this evening is to enable the manufacturer to meet all of these pilots. It is the feedback from the pilots that allows us to make improvements to the ejection seats. This feedback can be broken down into two categories: the ejection itself that can be improved particularly by better control of the seat's pyrotechnic system, and improving the maintenance of the seat.
Over 7,600 ejections on Martin Baker seats, 707 of which were ejected on Safran Martin Baker France seats, since it was created in 1959.
*A joint company 50/50 between Safran and Martin Baker. Safran Martin Baker France (SMBF) designs, develops and produces ejector seats used on French designed fighter aircraft for more than 30 air forces worldwide. It has around 50 employees.