Friday, December 17, 2010 2:07:39 PM
"dont have you have to be several hundred feet in the air for the parachute to fully open and work correctly...?"
Good question. It used to be the case that you did in fact require altitude for the parachute to deploy, however, modern fighters are equipped with "zero-zero ejection seats". The ejection seat is rocket powered, and the parachute is explosively deployed (a bit like an airbag), which means that with zero airspeed and zero altitude, you can still eject and likely survive.
Slow speed and low altitude make for the most challenging flight, so ejection systems were designed to handle that part of the envelope.
(Note that I said "survive". Ejecting from a fighter is *extremely* rough with such high G-loads that you will certainly be much the worse for wear, perhaps even with fractured vertebrae, but injuries can heal. Death tends to be permanent. There's also the chance you will parachute into the fireball...)