When a fighter pilot's plane is hit by enemy fire, he or she may have only seconds to escape the doomed craft. Similar situations can arise in peacetime because fighters are designed to operate at extremes of speed and maneuverability, so training accidents are a hazard of the profession.
Ejection seats are designed to get the pilot clear from the plane fast. Using rockets or explosive charges, they expel the pilot and the protective seat from the cockpit of the plane, and then deploy parachutes to safely reach the ground. The U.S. Air Force has been equipping its combat aircraft with ejection seats since the 1960s.