Fighter pilots have a reputation for playing very hard — and there's a bit of a reason for that. They risk their lives every time they're airborne, as the recent, tragic crash of an F/A-18F Super Hornet off Key West shows.


In the event of an emergency, the crew usually tries to eject but, sometimes, that simply isn't possible. The only option is to try and bring back a damaged plane. The problem is, when a plane is damaged, it may be leaking extremely flammable liquids. The military has specially trained firefighters on hand ready to react to these crashes, to put out fires, and to recover the most important things in the plane: the crew. The good news for those brave personnel who race into action, risking their lives to extract crews from crashed planes is that combat airframes are typically built with some type of escape mechanism.

The head of the pilot boarding this F-35A Lightning slightly obscures the instructions for operating a rescue handle. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Sutton)

The techniques for getting crews out of different types of planes can vary — what works to extricate an F-15 pilot might not be a good idea for a B-1B crew. Watch the video below to see how ground personnel are trained to rescue the crew of an F-4 Phantom.