GEAR & TECH
(USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III, U.S. Air Force)

How the military taught fighter pilots when to eject

The recent, fatal crash of a F-16 Fighting Falcon at Nellis Air Force Base that claimed the life of a Thunderbirds pilot is the latest in a string of accidents. We all know that flying high-performance jets comes with an element of risk — but many don't realize just how dangerous these powerful vessels truly are.

The same people who denigrate former President George W. Bush's service with the Texas Air National Guard forget that of the 875 F-102 jets produced, 259 crashed, leading to 70 pilot fatalities. No matter the conditions, flying these high-powered war-fighting tools comes with a great deal of risk.


You might wonder how pilots get killed, especially when they have ejection seats. Well, in some cases, pilots will choose to ride a plane in to avoid dropping several tons of steel out of the sky, potentially harming people on the ground. But when the crew does punch out, even modern ejection seats, like the ACES II, offer no guarantee of safety.

In Top Gun, Goose was killed despite hitting the loud handle in his F-14. Why is that? For the answer, let's take a look at how ejection seats work. In essence, after the hatch or canopy is blown open, a catapult fires the seat away from the plane. Then, a rocket ignites, further propelling the seat. Then, if all goes well (which can be a big "if"), the seat then separates from the pilot, the chute opens, and the pilot drifts safely down.

An ejection seat saves Lieutenant (Junior Grade) William Belden after the brakes on his A-4 Skyhawk failed.

(U.S. Navy photo series)

Ejection seats have limits

So, why are some pilots still killed in crashes? In some cases, the ejection simply doesn't go well — as was the case with Goose. Other times, though, it's a different problem entirely. Ejection seats, like planes, have envelopes. A plane can be going too fast for a seat to reliably work (one F-15 pilot survived ejecting at Mach 1.4 and later returned to flight status). The fact is, it takes a lot of force to get a pilot out of a high-performance fighter, like the F-15, safely.

Other times, pilots are determined to save their plane. Such was the case recently for the crew of an EA-18G, and their superb skills resulted in earning Air Medals for acts of non-combat heroism. Sometimes, however, pilots will try to save their vessel for too long and, by the time the ejection seats get the pilot out, they're badly injured or even killed.

Timing matters when you punch out

To avoid this, it's become very important to train pilots on when they should pull the handle. Timing matters — and even a perfect ejection can compress a pilot's spine.

To find out how pilots learn when to leave a disabled aircraft, watch the video below.

GEAR & TECH

6 of the most notable pre-M16 military guns

Throughout history, the U.S. Military has used a wide variety of guns to win its battles. Prior to the M16, there were several weapons used across the service throughout some of the most devastating wars the world has ever seen.

Here are some of those weapons:

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
International

China and the US could end up in a war – here's what would happen

It's unlikely that the U.S.-China trade dispute is going to escalate to a full-scale war any time soon — but it's not impossible. Neither side is inclined to go to war with the other, but a war of that scale is what both plan to fight. All it would take is one bungled crisis, one itchy trigger finger, one malfunctioning automated defense system and the entire region could become a war zone.

Keep reading... Show less
Lists

Here are the best military photos for the week of April 20th

The military is always evolving and new things happen every day. With each changes comes a new set of challenges and new opportunities to succeed. Thankfully, there are many talented photographers in the community that capture these struggles and triumphs.

Keep reading... Show less
History

5 ways troops accidentally 'blue falcon' the rest of the platoon

Every now and then, the pricks known as 'Blue Falcons' come and ruin things for everyone else. They break the rules and make everyone else suffer. They rat out their brothers- and sisters-in-arms. They even damage the reputation of others to make themselves look better.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

Why I'm thrilled Brie Larson will play Captain Marvel

Look, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is really lighting my fires when it comes to their female superheroes.

When Marvel Studios announced they would be bringing Captain Marvel to the big screen, I was thrilled. I was also immediately invested and my expectations shot through the roof.

Keep reading... Show less
History

This is how American pilots used drop tanks as bombs during WWII

If you pay attention, you might sometimes see long, cigar-shaped pods firmly attached to the undersides of classic fighter and attack aircraft, sometimes with unit markings on them.

Known as "drop tanks," these simple devices extend the range of the aircraft they're hooked up to by carrying extra usable fuel. Back during World War II, however, attack pilots found a secondary use for drop tanks as improvised bombs, used to bombard enemy ground positions.

Keep reading... Show less

The hilarious ways Chinese police are combating jaywalkers

China is so desperate to stop jaywalkers it has turned to spraying them with water.

In Daye, in the central Hubei province, one pedestrian crossing has had a number of bright yellow bollards installed that spray wayward pedestrians' feet with water mist.

Keep reading... Show less