Is there a minimum altitude for ejection seats?

falstro
  • Is there a minimum altitude for ejection seats? falstro

    Is there generally a minimum altitude for ejecting in order for the sequence to function reliably (all the way to opening the chute, and slowing down to a survivable descent rate)? I've seen ejector seats test being done on the ground, don't know if there were actually test pilots in those seats though.

    Low-Leve F-16 Ejection

    I assume all bets are off if you're not wings level (obviously a low-level inverted ejection has a 0% chance of success).

  • It depends on the ejection seat.

    Modern zero-zero ejection seats are designed to be usable at zero speed, zero altitude.

    Older ejection seats had different minimums which varied from model to model.

    On a side note, the early F-104 ejection seats required quite a bit of altitude to deploy properly, since the pilot exited through the bottom of the aircraft. This was done because there was some concern that the pilot would hit the F-104's T-tail with a standard ejection seat.

    EDIT

    It appears that it may actually be possible to eject from an inverted aircraft. According to Wikipedia (bold added for emphasis):

    The minimal ejection altitude for ACES II seat in inverted flight is about 140 feet (43 m) above ground level at 150 KIAS. While the Russian counterpart - K-36DM has the minimal ejection altitude from inverted flight of 100 feet (30 m) AGL. When an aircraft is equipped with the Zvezda K-36DM ejection seat and the pilot is wearing the КО-15 protective gear, he is able to eject at airspeeds from 0 to 1,400 kilometres per hour (870 mph) and altitudes of 0 to 25 km (16 mi or about 82,000 ft). The K-36DM ejection seat features drag chutes and a small shield that rises between the pilot's legs to deflect air around the pilot.

  • Pilots have successfully ejected at negative altitudes in a handful of instances, after being forced to ditch in water.

    Documented evidence exists that pilots of the US and Indian Navies have performed this feat.

    Also: I once read, but cannot now locate, the citation awarded a pilot of the USAF for the world record lowest altitude successful (i.e. the pilot survived) emergency ejection from a stricken aircraft over land: sixteen feet below ground level. Apparently the young pilot was practicing with his T-33 single-engine trainer when the engine flamed out and could not be restarted. The pilot observed the flat desert below, crossed by several paved roads and highways. One road seemed to be completely clear of traffic, so he opted for a gear-down dead-stick landing on it, hoping to minimize damage to the aircraft. He discovered only after touchdown that the paved strip was not a road at all but a flash flood drainage ditch, wide enough for the fuselage but not the wings. The aircraft was seriously damaged and set on fire. The damage prevented the canopy from opening, so the pilot used the ejection seat to escape burning to death. He survived with minor burns, some compression damage to his spine, and two broken ankles.

Related questions and answers
  • Is there generally a minimum altitude for ejecting in order for the sequence to function reliably (all the way to opening the chute, and slowing down to a survivable descent rate)? I've seen ejector seats test being done on the ground, don't know if there were actually test pilots in those seats though. I assume all bets are off if you're not wings level (obviously a low-level inverted ejection has a 0% chance of success).

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