During the Korean war Jets and the devices to get you the hell out of them were still immature technology. The early to mid fifties were particularly dangerous years for military aviation. 1955 was the worst year ever for naval aviation and Tom Wolfe includes some chilling statistics in The Right Stuff which set the tone for the book. Someone who intended to make a career as a naval aviator had close to a 1 in 4 chance of not surviving to retirement and nearly half of all career aviators would have an ejection at some point. Chuck Yeager or one of the other test pilots referred to using the early ejection seats as “committing suicide to avoid getting killed.”
It wasn’t my observation that someone who ejected would damage his career. Safety materials always stressed the crew was more valuable than the plane. Posters showing an ejection had captions like “Know when to get out, then get out!” My squadron lost two F-14s when crews ejected, one freak accident on a carrier landing and one engine flameout which put the plane in a flat spin. In both cases the crews were put back on flight status as soon as the flight surgeon said they were healthy.
Fortunately modern ejection seats like the GRU-7 are much better designed than in the old ones. Of the four men who ejected from those two planes the only injury worth noting was a sprained neck that healed quickly. The pilot of the first plane had his head bent forward slightly as he was reaching for the face curtain ejection handle but the RIO had already pulled the crotch cord. One of the sayings I learned after that was “if it says ‘Grumman’ on the rudder pedals it had better say ‘Martin-Baker’ on the seat.”
Hollywood usually does get it wrong. Goose’s ejection into the caonopy of his F-14 is a virtual impossibility. The ejection sequence starts with shielded mild detonatig cord that blows all the hooks holding the canopy rails to the fuselage. Then the canopy is blown off using the same strut that opens it under normal operations using a compressed nitrogen charge. The canopy is plexiglass about an inch thick and the whole thing weighs about 300lbs. 20mm bullets will glance off it so you don’t want a rocket powered chair trying to put your head through it. The canopy is thown back and pulls a cord in the turtledeck of the cockpit area. Only when the canopy is far enough away does the cord release a safety that allows the seat motors to fire. Rear seat motor fires then the front.