The first ejection seats were developed independently during World War II by Heinkel and SAAB. Early models were powered by compressed air and the first aircraft to be fitted with such a system was the Heinkel He 280 prototype jet-engined fighter in 1940.
They were were imperfect – pilots broke the arms and legs, split head and tore the inside of the air flow. Literally every improvement in ejection seats paid for someone’s life and health: Fixing clamps for hands, feet and head, catapulting through the glass canopy, etc.
The purpose of an ejection seat is pilot survival. The pilot typically experiences an acceleration of about 12–14 g (117–137 m/s2). Western seats usually impose lighter loads on the pilots; 1960s-70s era Soviet technology often goes up to 20–22 g (with SM-1 and KM-1 gunbarrel-type ejection seats). Compression fractures of vertebrae are a recurrent side effect of ejection.
The “standard” ejection system operates in two stages. First, the entire canopy or hatch above the aviator is opened, shattered, or jettisoned, and the seat and occupant are launched through the opening. In most earlier aircraft this required two separate actions by the aviator, while later egress system designs, such as the Advanced
Concept Ejection Seat model 2 (ACES II), perform both functions as a single action.
The ACES II ejection seat is used in most American-built fighters. The A-10 uses connected firing handles that activate both the canopy jettison systems, followed by the seat ejection. The F-15 has the same connected system as the A-10 seat. Both handles accomplish the same task, so pulling either one suffices. The F-16 has only one handle located between the pilot’s knees, since the cockpit is too narrow for side-mounted handles.
Non-standard egress systems include Downward Track (used for some crew positions in bomber aircraft, including the B-52 Stratofortress), Canopy Destruct (CD) and Through-Canopy Penetration (TCP), Drag Extraction, Encapsulated Seat, and even Crew Capsule.
A zero-zero ejection seat is designed to safely extract upward and land its occupant from a grounded stationary position (i.e., zero altitude and zero airspeed), specifically from aircraft cockpits. The zero-zero capability was developed to help aircrews escape upward from unrecoverable emergencies during low-altitude and/or low-speed flight, as well as ground mishaps. Parachutes require a minimum altitude for opening, to give time for deceleration to a safe landing speed. Thus, prior to the introduction of zero-zero capability, ejections could only be performed above minimum altitudes and airspeeds. If the seat was to work from zero (aircraft) altitude, the seat would have to lift itself to a sufficient altitude.
These early seats fired the seat from the aircraft with a cannon, providing the high impulse needed over the very short length on the cannon barrel within the seat. This limited the total energy, and thus the additional height possible, as otherwise the high forces needed would crush the pilot.
Zero-zero technology uses small rockets to propel the seat upward to an adequate altitude and a small explosive charge to open the parachute canopy quickly for a successful parachute descent, so that proper deployment of the parachute no longer relies on airspeed and altitude. The seat cannon clears the seat from the aircraft, then the under-seat rocket pack fires to lift the seat to altitude. As the rockets fire for longer than the cannon, they do not require the same high forces. Zero-zero rocket seats also reduced forces on the pilot during any ejection, reducing injuries and spinal compression.
And yet, the pilots continue to die, and often for one reason – trying to save the favorite plane, delayed the decision to “exit with an umbrella.”
Parachutes and catapults in aviation has always been disliked …
Since the creation of the first model in 1909 (The U.S. Army Signal Corps purchased a Wright Model A) , military aviation is rapidly progressing. Incremental improvements are made in many areas, especially powerplants, aerodynamics, structures, weapons, electronic warfare, weather reconnaissance, flying lifeboats….
Today we’re witnessing that some of these planes may be faster than sound.
Here are, some of the fastest military planes of today (some of them are still experimental) :
1. North American X-15
The North American X-15 was a hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft operated by the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as part of the X-plane series of experimental aircraft. It could reach a top speed of 4,520 miles per hour (7,274 km/h), or Mach 6.72
2. Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
The Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” is a long-range, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft that was operated by the United States Air Force. Maximum speed mach 3.3 (2,200+ mph, 3,540+ km/h, 1,910+ knots)
3. Lockheed YF-12
The Lockheed YF-12 was an American prototype interceptor aircraft evaluated by the United States Air Force. The YF-12 was a twin-seat version of the secret single-seat Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraftThe YF-12 set and held speed and altitude world records of over 2,000 mph and over 80,000 ft (later surpassed by the SR-71), and is the world’s largest manned interceptor to date
4. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 (Russian: Микоян и Гуревич МиГ-25) (NATO reporting name: Foxbat) is a supersonic interceptor and reconnaissance aircraft that was among the fastest military aircraft to enter service. It has an operational top speed of Mach 2.83 (Mach 3.2 is possible but at risk of significant damage to the engines), and features a powerful radar and four air-to-air missiles.
5. Bell X-2
The X-2 was a rocket-powered, swept-wing research aircraft developed jointly in 1945 by Bell Aircraft Corporation, the U.S. Air Force and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) to explore aerodynamic problems of supersonic flight and to expand the speed and altitude regimes obtained with the earlier X-1 series of research aircraft. Maximum speed: Mach 3.196 (2,094 mph, 3,370 km/h)
6. North American XB-70 Valkyrie
The North American Aviation XB-70 Valkyrie is the prototype of the B-70 nuclear-armed, deep-penetration strategic bomber for the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command. In the late 1950s North American Aviation designed the Valkyrie bomber as a large, six-engined aircraft capable of reaching Mach 3+ while flying at 70,000 feet (21,000 m).
7. Mikoyan MiG-31
The Mikoyan MiG-31 (Russian: Микоян МиГ-31; NATO reporting name: Foxhound) is a supersonic interceptor aircraft developed for use by the Soviet Air Forces. The aircraft was designed by the Mikoyan design bureau as a replacement for the earlier MiG-25 “Foxbat”; the MiG-31 is based on, and shares design elements with the MiG-25. The MiG-31 has the distinction of being one of the fastest combat jets in the world. Maximum speed Mach 2.83 (3,000 km/h, 1,860 mp)
8. McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle
The McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle is an American twin-engine, all-weather tactical fighter aircraft designed by McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) to gain and maintain air supremacy in aerial combat. Maximum speed Mach 2.5+ (1,650+ mph, 2,665+ km/h)
9. General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark
The General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark was a supersonic, medium-range interdictor and tactical attack aircraft that also filled the roles of strategic nuclear bomber, aerial reconnaissance, and electronic-warfare aircraft in its various versions. Maximum speed Mach 2.5 (1,650 mph, 2,655 km/h)
10. Sukhoi Su-27
The Sukhoi Su-27 (Russian: Сухой Су-27) (NATO reporting name: Flanker) is a twin-engine supermaneuverable fighter aircraft designed by Sukhoi. It was intended as a direct competitor for the large United States fourth-generation fighters such as the Grumman F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle, with 3,530-kilometre (1,910 nmi) range, heavy aircraft ordnance, sophisticated avionics and high maneuverability. The Su-27 was designed for air superiority missions, and subsequent variants are able to perform almost all aerial warfare operations. It was designed with the Mikoyan MiG-29 as its complement (The role of the MiG-29 is tactical air superiority over the battlefield, engaging NATO fighters and strike aircraft). Maximum speed Mach 2.35 (2,500 km/h, 1,550 mph)