Procurement: Ejection Seats

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June 9, 2007: The U.S. Navy is buying 172 pilot ejection systems, for $231,000 each, from the premier manufacturer of these system, Martin-Baker, a British firm that pioneered the design and manufacture of this device. In the last 55 years, the Martin-Baker ejection systems have saved the lives of over 7,190 pilots. So far this year, fourteen pilots have ejected using a Martin-Baker system. Nearly eleven percent of the ejection seats installed, eventually gets used. Most ejection seats weigh about half a ton, and are complex bits of technology.

Ejection seats became essential as military aircraft became so fast, that a pilot could not safely climb out of the cockpit and jump. With the higher speed, there was the danger of hitting the tail. Also, escaping pilots were often injured or stunned, and unable to get out quickly enough. The first ejection seat design was developed in Germany, and the Germans were the first to install such seats, in their He 219 night fighters, in 1943. These used compressed air. A year later, rocket propelled seats were installed in the He-162 jet fighter. By the end of the war, all of Germanys jets were equipped with rocket propelled ejection seats. While the Swedish firm SAAB had also developed a rocket propelled ejection seat, it was British firm Martin-Baker that jumped in and created a design that quickly filled the needs of most Western air forces. The U.S. Air Force insisted on an American made ejection system, but the U.S. Navy stayed with Martin-Baker, because the American ejection seat did not function as well at very low altitudes (where a lot of naval aviators have to eject during carrier operations). Martin-Baker supplies about two-thirds of the ejection seats for Western fighter aircraft. The Soviet Union produced their own ejection seats, which have also saved thousands of lives, and have the potential to give Martin-Baker, with customers in 92 different air forces, some serious competition in the future.

For more complete stats on ejection seat use, see; www.ejection-history.org.uk

 


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