Eject! Eject! Eject!
August 28, 2006 12:45 AM   Subscribe

Eject! Eject! Eject! Whether used in the air, on land, at sea (and under it), or on the way to the Moon, ejection seats and capsules have saved thousands of aviators worldwide. The basic concept was first tested in 1912, developed by the Germans in WWII, and became standard safety equipment in high-speed, high-altitude jet and rocket aircraft. (Although ejection seats were in Gemini spacecraft, they were only in early Space Shuttle flights.) Much happens very quickly during ejection, and harrowing accidents and pilot deaths still occur. The decision not to eject right away may be heroic, but even pilots who wait may live while innocent bystanders^ die. However, the efforts of dedicated researchers and rocket sled testing by seat manufacturers keep adding new members to the unique club of men and women who survive to fly again.
posted by cenoxo (21 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Nice juicy post.
Good work, cenoxo
posted by squidfartz at 7:26 AM on August 28, 2006

Back when the USAF used the Martin-Baker ejection seat, flight crews didn't have utmost confidence in it: It was known as the "Martin-Baker widow maker."
posted by pax digita at 7:36 AM on August 28, 2006

Way cool. I love the underwater ejection story. And the self sacrifice of test pilots like John Paul Stapp is inspiring. Thanks cenexo.
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:37 AM on August 28, 2006

Wow, thanks a lot for that great post. I still have a few more links to read, but as an avid aviation enthusiast, these are all really interesting!
posted by kurmbox at 9:27 AM on August 28, 2006

Fantastic post. Thanks.
posted by chris24 at 9:30 AM on August 28, 2006

posted by killdevil at 9:40 AM on August 28, 2006

Now I can't stop thinking of the song Ejection from the Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters album.

Very cool post.
posted by lordrunningclam at 9:53 AM on August 28, 2006

Pax digita said: ...flight crews didn't have utmost confidence in it...

Speaking of building the confidence of the crew, a helicopter ejection seat might seem like an inverted Cuisinart. However, the Russian Kamov KA-50 'Black Shark' and KA-52 'Alligator' attack helicopters are equipped with Zvezda K-37 extraction systems. The copter's rotors are first blown away by explosive charges, then a tractor rocket pulls the the seat out ā€” more details here [bottom of page].
posted by cenoxo at 10:31 AM on August 28, 2006

First of all, fantastic post. I particularly liked the link about the Gemini ejection system, I had no idea.

Incidentally, I was present at the incident shown in the second link (two Mig-29s colliding). It was at an airshow at RAF Fairford in 1993 - my parents had taken me there for my 13th birthday. When the two planes clipped, there was a second or two where the crowd wondered whether it was part of the display. Then the sight (then sound) of an explosion. It was very odd hearing the collective "huh" - best word I can find to describe the shocked noise the crowd made. Then we saw one chute bloom, then just afterwards another. I remember handing in my camera film to the organisers for the incident investigation that followed, then feeling extremely flat and depressed, even though by that stage it was clear both pilots had survived. It has stuck in the mind as a birthday to remember, though.
posted by greycap at 10:38 AM on August 28, 2006

Those still reading might also be interested in the Caterpillar Club.
posted by greycap at 10:40 AM on August 28, 2006

But it was the ejector seat that killed Goose!
posted by sayitwithpie at 10:41 AM on August 28, 2006

Great post, cenoxo. Very interesting stuff.
posted by CodeBaloo at 10:45 AM on August 28, 2006

Thanks cenoxo, excellent stuff to be had here.
posted by econous at 11:04 AM on August 28, 2006

I like this ejector seat story from The Right Stuff:
Then you had men like Dave Scott and Mike Adams, who were two of Yeager's ARPS students. They were practicing low lift-over-drag landings one day in an F-104. In this maneuver, which simulated an X-15 landing, you gunned the afterburner for speed (and stability) and flared the flaps and tried to grease the ship onto the runway at 200 knots. As Scott and Adams neared the ground, the "eyelids" on the afterburner malfunctioned, opening too wide, cutting the thrust down to 20 or 30 percent of maximum. Visually they could tell that the ship was sinking too fast. Scott, who had the controls, gunned it but got very little response. They were dropping like a brick. Adams, in back, knew that the tail would hit the runway first, due to the angle of attack they were in, if Scott couldn't regain power. He told Scott over the radio circuit that if they tail hit he was ejecting. The tail hit, and in that moment he pulled his cinch ring and ejected at zero altitude. Scott elected to stay with the ship. The belly smashed onto the runway and the ship went careening down it and off into the mesquite. When the beast finally came to a stop, Scott looked back, and the engine was jammed up into the space where Adams used to be. Both men had made the right decision. Adams had been exploded up into the air and had come down safely by parachute. Scott's ejection mechanism had been broken in the torque of the initial impact and he would have been killed had he pulled the cinch ring, either by the nitroglycerine explosion or by a partial ejection.

Yeager was tremendously impressed by these two decisions by two men in the very mouth of the Gulp. There you had it, with the ante doubled: the right stuff.
Mike Adams was killed in a 1967 X-15 accident. Adams was the first American astronaut to die during a space mission. He was posthumously awarded astronaut wings (for flying 50 miles above the Earth's surface on his final flight).

Chuck Yeager had to eject from an F-104, and the propellant from the ejector seat set his face on fire.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:11 PM on August 28, 2006

Underwater ejection? Who knew... thanks cenexo.

It amazes me that inside the complicated machine of jet aircraft lays yet another quite complicated (at least more than I knew) machine designed solely to get the pilot out of said machine.

Beyond military, looks like they were thinking about using them for air racing a few years back...
posted by SoFlo1 at 5:19 PM on August 28, 2006

Years ago I read a Reader's Digest story about a guy who ejected in the middle of a thunderstorm and ended up parachuting like, 5 states away. Anyone remember that, or have a link? I can't seem to dig it up.
posted by drinkcoffee at 5:37 PM on August 28, 2006

drinkcoffee, I tried to find that same RD story for this fpp without success. The terrific updrafts and downdrafts within the storm system took the pilot on a long roller coaster ride, and kept him aloft long after he ejected. Still looking...
posted by cenoxo at 12:09 AM on August 29, 2006

Too late for Col. Steve Austin.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:48 PM on August 29, 2006

Too late for Col. Steve Austin...

That Six Million Dollar Man opening sequence was an actual crash of the unpowered Northrop M2-F2 Lifting Body on May 10, 1967. The pilot, Bruce Peterson, had no opportunity to eject ā€” he survived but later lost an eye. More info at the Space Cowboy Saloon:
In reality, the crash happened on May 10, 1967, at Edwards AFB. Pilot Bruce Peterson was making the plane's 16th unpowered flight when he encountered a Pilot-Induced Oscillation (PIO) which cased the M2-F2 to roll wildly from side-to-side. The PIO had been encountered by Milt Thompson during the first flight, and intentionally researched on two other flights. The M2-F2 was turning out to be the least-stable of all the Lifting Bodies. So this was not an entirely unexpected situation for Bruce Peterson. He recovered, but was distracted by a rescue helicopter that strayed too close, and delayed just a split second or so before lowering the landing gear.

The M2-F2 hit the ground with the gear only partially down, and flipped six times, coming to rest upside-down. Two men pulled Bruce from the wreckage (that's his helmet on the ground just in front of the nose), and he was severely injured. He was flown to UCLA Medical Center. Peterson had a long road to recovery but nonetheless lived to fly again, despite losing vision in his right eye due to a staph infection. As for the M2-F2, it was taken back to the Northrop plant in Hawthorne, CA, rebuilt (for $700,000) and redesignated the M2-F3. Meanwhile, while the M2-F3 was laid up at the plant, the HL-10 and X-24A programs continued. In its original configuration, the M2-F2 made a total of 16 flights.
More M2-F2 pix here.
posted by cenoxo at 10:49 PM on August 29, 2006

...Peterson died in May 2006 at the age of 72.
posted by cenoxo at 10:55 PM on August 29, 2006

Thanks cenoxo!
posted by Smedleyman at 5:23 PM on September 5, 2006

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