The ejection seat

In aircraft, an ejection seat is a system designed to rescue the pilot or other crew of an aircraft in an emergency. In most designs, the aircraft canopy comes off and the seat is propelled out of the aircraft by an explosive charge or rocket motor, carrying the pilot with it. Once clear of the aircraft, the ejection seat deploys a parachute. In two seat aircraft, the seats are ejected at different angles to avoid a collision.

Before ejection seats, pilots would have to remove the aircraft canopy manually to climb and jump out.

Ejection seats can save lives.

Nevertheless, not all military aircraft have ejection seats.

Russel Cole, former USAF C-130 pilot, explains on Quora;

‘This is the cockpit of a C-130. Imagine trying to clamber over all those obstacles if the airplane were not flyable and had to be abandoned!

C-130 crew members explain why they didn’t carry parachutes to abandon the Hercules in flight
Colombian Air Force Col. Danysh Forero Camacho, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Colombian foreign liaison officer, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jeremy Mickelson, 514th Flight Test Squadron C-130 pilot, and U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Barry Cornish, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) commander, sit on the flight deck of a regenerated C-130E Hercules prior to a its departure for Colombia at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Sep. 14, 2020.

C-130 crew members didn’t carry parachutes

‘In the time I flew C-130’s (both A and H models) I never heard of a case of a crew abandoning an aircraft in flight and, in fact, most of the time we didn’t carry parachutes at all, except for the loadmasters who naturally had them on while working around open cargo doors.

‘When we did have parachutes on board, they were usually hung on the starboard side of the cargo compartment somewhere near where the stanchions for med evac litters were stowed. I have been in situations where we wore flak jackets but never parachutes.

‘As a pilot, the procedure was little more than to hope the airplane was still controllable long enough to leave the flight deck, scramble back to the cargo compartment and struggle into a parachute. The crew entry door could be jettisoned and by then some other crew member would hopefully have pulled the handle for that and it would be a matter of diving out that gaping hole all the while hoping that you didn’t whack into some part of the airplane after going out.’

Going down with the ship

AC-130U Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. AC-130U Spooky II 1st SOW, 4th SOS, 88-0163

Cole concludes;

‘All this presupposes that the airplane is both crippled enough that it must be abandoned yet flyable enough to remain stable long enough for the pilots to do all that and jump out. As aircraft commander, I always figured that in a case of a fatally crippled airplane that I’d fly it as best I was able while the rest of the crew got out but by that point the moment I released the controls it would very likely be impossible to escape what in all probability was, by then, burning flying trash.’

Robert Klaus, retired USAF C-130 Flight Engineer, Electronics and Optics Tech, echoes Cole;

‘That was my feeling as well. I was a Flight Engineer on E models, ’90 to ‘97. We figured the loads might get out if we were hit while making a drop. The rest of us would have had a difficult time at best, and the pilot would have the honor of going down with the ship.

‘If the aircraft was in good enough shape that the pilot could release the controls and make it to an exit then we wouldn’t be leaving anyway.’

AC-130 model
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Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Angela Ruiz / U.S. Air Force