Tuesday 16th May, Nick Tillotson on Ejector Seats

Ex pilot Nick Tillotson delivered a fascinating talk on ejector seats. He explained in detail about the history of this life saving device. In aircraft, an ejection seat or ejector seat is a system designed to rescue the pilot or other crew of an aircraft (usually military) in an emergency. In most designs, the seat is propelled out of the aircraft by an explosive charge or rocket motor, carrying the pilot with it. The concept of an ejectable escape crew capsule has also been tried. Once clear of the aircraft, the ejection seat deploys a parachute. Ejection seats are common on certain types of military aircraft. the only means of escape from an incapacitated aircraft was to jump clear (“bail out”), and in many cases this was difficult due to injury, the difficulty of egress from a confined space, g forces, the airflow past the aircraft, and other factors.

Visitor Bill Talbot, Nick Tillotson, President Harry and Ieuan Isaac

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

After World War II, the need for such systems became pressing, as aircraft speeds were getting ever higher, and it was not long before the sound barrier was broken. Manual escape at such speeds would be impossible. The United States Army Air Forces experimented with downward-ejecting systems operated by a spring, but it was the work of Sir James Martin and his company Martin-Baker that was to prove crucial

Early seats used a solid propellant charge to eject the pilot and seat by igniting the charge inside a telescoping tube attached to the seat. As aircraft speeds increased still further, this method proved inadequate to get the pilot sufficiently clear of the airframe. Increasing the amount of propellant risked damaging the occupant’s spine, so experiments with rocket propulsion began. In 1958, the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger was the first aircraft to be fitted with a rocket-propelled seat. Martin-Baker developed a similar design, using multiple rocket units feeding a single nozzle. The greater thrust from this configuration had the advantage of being able to eject the pilot to a safe height even if the aircraft was on or very near the ground

Early models of the ejection seat were equipped with only an overhead ejection handle which doubled in function by forcing the pilot to assume the right posture and by having him pull a screen down to protect both his face and oxygen mask from the subsequent air blast. Martin Baker added a secondary handle in the front of the seat to allow ejection even when pilots weren’t able to reach upwards because of high g-force. Later (e.g. in Martin Baker’s MK9) the top handle was discarded because the lower handle had proven easier to operate and the technology of helmets had advanced to also protect from the air blast.