56% of the world's ejector seats, including the one photographed above, are made by a British company named Martin-Baker. They are remarkably complex, precise machines that designed to keep pilots alive under extreme conditions. According to Popular Science, so much happens in 1.35 seconds after pulling the lever:
Pulling the handle fires the ejection gun for .2 seconds, starting the ejection at 50-55 feet per second. Simultaneously the aircraft’s glass canopy either shatters, is blown off, or the seat breaks through it, depending on the aircraft model. The rocket motor then fires for .2 seconds with a 5,000 pound thrust, and then a top-mounted side rocket fires for .05 seconds at a thrust of 584 pounds. This side rocket (located to the left of the front seat, and the right of the back one for aircraft with two crew members) ensures the two ejectees hurtle different directions with the person in the back seat always ejecting first, to avoid being burned by the front seat rocket.
Straps tighten around the pilots' arms and legs and an emergency oxygen supply is released. Then a drogue parachute at the back of the 214-pound seat opens. At the same time two small panels about 16 inches long and 8 inches wide open up on either side of the seat to keep it straight.
Then the parachutes deploy:
Then the small box at the top of the seat, which contains the main parachute (harnessed to the pilot) lifts away from the seat, the drogue parachute drops off and, as the main parachute opens, the pilot and the seat shell part company—apart from a section under the butt that contains the survival kit and a raft, which automatically inflates in water. These hang underneath the ejectee, deploying just 5.5 seconds after they’ve pulled the ejection handle.
The forces at work are brutal on the pilot and usually result in injuries:
“It was inconvenient,” one ejectee says, dryly. He was in the backseat of a plane when it collided with a bird in June 1999. “The overhead canopy was smashed and there was blood and gore everywhere,” he recounts. “I didn't realize it was the bird—I thought it was the pilot and when I looked in front he wasn't there, so I ejected. I broke five vertebrae and so lost a few centimeters,” he says wryly. In fact the pilot was there, just bent over checking for damage, and later able to land the plane.
On the upside, people who survive after ejecting with a Martin-Baker seat receive a complimentary necktie:
Ejectees whose lives have been saved by Martin-Baker seats automatically become members of the Ejection Tie Club.
-via Ace of Spades HQ | Photo: Martin-Baker, The Ejection Tie Club