Have you ever wondered if the seat of a fighter jet is comfortable? Fighter pilots have to endure the highest G forces there are out there and very long hours inflight.
Seat comfort in a fighter jet will vary from aircraft to aircraft. Does the aircraft have an ejection seat? Do you need to carry your own parachute inside the cockpit? Is the cockpit wide enough for your arms to move freely?
Modern fighter jets have come a long way in terms of comfort for the pilot. Most fighter jets are relatively comfortable compared to what they are designed to do. Flying a fighter jet is sometimes more like a long Ryanair flight rather than a Top Gun scene.
The seats are somewhat okay to sit in, just like an old bus drive. The main issue for pilots are the G-Forces they need to sustain while performing military actions. Flying a fighter jet is nowhere near a Cadillac drive, but a Cadillac can’t fly at 35000 feet either!
What does it feel like to ride in a fighter jet?
The majority (if not all) of fighter jets have ejection seats. Which makes the seat design very tricky. This means that at the bottom of the seat there is no cushion to make it comfortable, but a type of composite material that is quite hard to sit on. There is a skinny layer that helps a little bit, but it is not a pleasant flight if you have to stay long hours flying.
This design is very important for the safety of the pilot. The seat is made very robust and stiff so when there is an ejection, it does not get a running start before hitting the pilot. It could have catastrophic if not deadly consequences on the spine. Some pilots define these seats as sitting on the ground with a hand towel.
Having the seat stiff and robust assures that both the pilot and seat leave the aircraft at the same speed at the same time.
Some fighter jets like the F-111 or F22 do not have ejection seats. In this case, the entire cockpit is separated from the airframe. Because of this, the designers were able to make the cockpit wide and have very comfortable seats.
It makes sense for the F-111 to have a comfortable flight as it was designed for long-range bombing. I can imagine that if you needed to fly for more than 6 hours, you need to be very comfortable and rested at the moment of action.
Moreover, we can’t forget that the pressurisation on fighter jets is much lower than normal commercial aircraft. That is why all pilots have to wear a mask all the time they are flying. The mask provides with oxygen to the pilot so he does not suffer from hypoxia. Hypoxia is a very serious threat to the pilot and can render him unconscious very quickly without him realizing it.
How do Jet Fighters not Pass Out?
Between Air Force pilots, it is well known that sometimes they refer to it as “chair force” because of the many G-Forces that pilot has to sustain during flight. In fact, all the physical training that a pilot does is mainly directed to help with this.
G-Forces are acceleration forces that a pilot has to sustain during flight. It is the acceleration that gravity generates on our bodies. 1 G-Force means 1 unit of earth gravity, and 1 unit of gravity is around 9.8 m/s2.
One misconception of G-Forces is that it is directly related to speed. If this was the case, just by driving at high speed on the motorway we would feel the same G-Forces. This is not true. That’s why we feel more force when we are on a rollercoaster and we go through tight corners or sudden changes of direction.
Fighter pilots can sustain much heavier G-Forces than any normal human. In fact, they categorized them into two: head-to-toe and toe-to-head. Head-to-toe forces are when the aircraft is “going up” and you feel like you are being compressed against the floor. Toe-to-head forces are the contrary, it is when the aircraft is “going down” and you feel like you are leaving the floor.
Usually, pilots are fitted with what are called anti-G suits. These suits help compress the body of the pilot whenever there are high G-forces in the aircraft. Thanks to these suits and proper physical fitness, the pilots can sustain up to 9Gs of head-to-toe forces. This is like holding 9 times your weight over your head!
On the other hand, pilots can only sustain around 3Gs of toe-to-head forces. This is because even with anti-g suits, much more blood gets to the brain which causes blackouts and consciousness loss.
As I said before, good physical training is key for fighter pilots to sustain these forces. They can have training in what is called “centrifuges” and learn new techniques of breathing that can help enormously.
But make no mistake, the duration of these G-Forces is critical. Pilots can sustain 9Gs but for a short time during a dogfight. They have clear instructions on how to operate when they feel they are going to blackout. Humans are actually able to sustain much higher G forces for brief moments of time. If you have a car accident while wearing a seatbelt you can feel an instantaneous 35Gs on your body and it wouldn’t be deadly.
Is it hot in a fighter jet?
Another factor that contributes to comfort is the cockpit dimension and “amenities”. I have talked above about the pressurization of the cockpit makes the pilots wear a mask all the time.
Another aspect is the air-conditioning of the area of the cockpit. Yes, fighter jets do have air conditioning and it is a very important part of the comfort and safety of the pilot.
The air conditioning system keeps the cockpit area at an acceptable temperature for the pilot, not too hot, not too cold. When fighter jets are flying at 35,000 feet at a speed of Mach 2, the air friction is very high which can make the cockpit easily get hot.
It is not only for the pilots’ comfort but also for the avionics inside the aircraft. The avionics have a range of temperatures in which they work correctly. This needs to be correctly maintained or it could affect heavily the flight controls and create a catastrophic situation.
But make no mistake, after a flight, pilots suffer heavily inside the cockpit. Some pilots say that returning from a flight is like coming back from a football match all sweaty and tired.
All in all, I believe that comfort in a fighter jet is relative. Their main objective is to fight and perform very fast manoeuvres, this makes comfort a second or even a third priority. When flying in normal conditions, the fighter jets are more or less comfortable, this is until you are in a dogfight or mission manoeuvres, in which case becomes a very stressful uncomfortable ride.