In Bridge of Spies a spy plane pilot is shot down over Russian airspace. At the start of that sequence the pilot decides to unbuckle his harness, even though he is being jostled around in the cockpit, and the canopy is cracking.

This decision ultimately prevents him from initiating the self destruct sequence. Earlier in the movie there was a briefing that highlighted the critical importance of destroying the aircraft if this exact scenario happened. It was also mentioned as an aside that the pilot would still be able to eject after the self destruct sequence was initiated.

So the question remains... Why would a trained elite pilot remove the safety gear that allows him to stay in the cockpit even if he is jostled around and the canopy breaks? Was it just to add some suspense?

2 Answers 2


It is dangerous, or outright impossible to eject from a supersonic jet flying at top speed. Not only would the Applied G's knock the pilot unconscious (and possibly result in brain trauma), but he would likely collide with the airframe as part of the ejection.

The fact the plane was spinning exacerbates this threat, as the ejector mechanism would have to propel powers and his seat upwards at a speed faster than both it's Mach 1.2 propulsion and it's flat spin.

Powers did exactly the right thing (with the exception of initiating his self destruct first). He was not attempting to Eject, he was attempting to bail out; which is a different process.

IRL: The reason Powers failed to self destruct, is because as part of the bailout process you should always ensure your escape route is clear first. For powers, this meant opening the canopy and removing his Seatbelt, and because of the speed the U2 was travelling this sucked him half out of the cockpit, where he could no longer reach the controls.

  • Forgive me if I'm making some silly mistake, but.... Wouldn't bailing guarantee that he would hit the airframe, and hit the airframe without the protection of the ejection seat?
    – Erik
    Oct 5, 2017 at 19:01
  • Yes, you're halfway right.. there is a chance of collision. Probably significantly less than the chance of having your legs ripped off by the canopy if trying to eject though. When in a high G stall, the last thing you want to do is introduce more G force into the equation! Oct 6, 2017 at 6:45

In universe explanation :

He might be trained but he is still a man stuck in a crashing plane after getting hit by a missile miles above enemy ground. I think he had a couple reasons to panic and desperately try to save himself.

Out of universe explanation :

If he exploded the plane, there wouldn't be any movie to watch as the Russians wouldn't have any plane to question him about.


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