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The ejection seat is a device that is utilized to allow the pilot of an aircraft to exit in the event of an emergency situation when the craft is in flight. In many cases, an aircraft may be equipped with more than one ejection seat, making it possible for several members of the crew to eject before the plane crashes.
While there is some evidence of primitive means of ejection from planes that took place during World War I, the origins of the modern ejection seat are usually traced to Germany during the 1930’s. Refined during the years of World War II, ejection seats propelled pilots from cockpits after plans had been hit. A simple lever device allowed the pilot to open the cockpit, strap on a parachute, and then spring clear of the plane. While the earliest designs relied more on the use of powerful springs, enhancements during the war led to models that functioned with the application of compressed air.
As other countries worked to refine the action of the ejection seat and free the pilot more quickly, other methods were developed. The use of explosives as an ejection tool became more prominent. The process of opening the cockpit was automated, functioning as part of a strictly orchestrated set of steps. Explosive gases would flow into pipes that would pop off the caps and force the seat up and out of the cockpit. Not only did the propulsion allow the pilot to safely clear the cockpit and the plane, but the momentum was usually sufficient to push the pilot a safe distance before the descent began. Those extra few seconds provided additional time for the parachute to deploy.
As aircraft became faster, and the incidence of non-military flight became more common, the need to further enhance the action of ejection seats became necessary. Experiments with an ejectable escape capsule took place. An efficient rocket motor replaced the simple explosive gases, and parachutes that would deploy automatically further cut down on the amount of manual steps in the process.
While the point of an ejection seat has never been to provide a high level of comfort, the fact is that the ejection seat of today is much easier on the body than the models of sixty years ago. Also, the continued refinement of the ejection seat has led to a situation where the pilot has a much better chance of surviving the evacuation from the plane, and being able to parachute safely back to the ground.