The Ejection Site

Ejection Seat and Egress Systems Trivia

The following is a list of items that in my opinion are the top items in each catagory.

Highest Bailout: 102,000 feet - Captain Joseph Kittinger bailed out of a baloon wearing a MC-3 partial pressure suit and heated socks and gloves along with a parka for an experimental project (Project Excelsior) to see the physiological effects of extreme high altitude air/space craft egress. His first attempt was nearly fatal due to the rapid spin he developed during his three minute freefall. His chute had prematurely deployed and wrapped around his neck. He found himself close to blacking out from the g-forces generated by the centripital force of his spin. Amazingly enough, when it was determined that more information was required, he volunteered to do it again! His later jumps were much more stable, and with a functioning 6 foot drogue, he achieved a terminal velocity of 702 MPH! He is still the holder of several world records, including longest (4.5 minutes) and highest freefall (81,000 feet) as well as highest bailout. Note 1
Lowest Altitude Ejection: Submerged 10-20 feet - A British navy flyer, LT. Bruce Mackfarlane had an engine failure on takeoff, leading to an immediate ditching off the carrier HMS Albion. Surprisingly, he survived the water impact and was coherent enough to clearly recall seeing the water close over the canopy, and begin to darken as the aircraft began to decend into the depths. His training instincts took over and he yanked the canopy jetison handle with his left hand, and immediatly fired the seat with his right. At this point, his memory becomes understandibly blurred, but he recalls tumbling free of the seat, still underwater. He had the presence of mind to release his chute and activate his life vest. (He surfaced aft of the carrier, almost directly under the 'Angel' rescue helo, which had moved into a hover over the disturbance in the water from his aircraft splash. The helo crew reported seeing his aircraft pass in two pieces along either side of the hull of the carrier. This indicates that if the pilot had delayed his attempt to escape a few seconds, he would likely have been killed when the bow of the ship sliced his bird in half. LT Mackfarlane is not the only aviator to have such an experience, click here to read the amazing story of an A-7A drivers increadable escape... Note 2
Oddest Proposed Ejection System: The Gyro Copter Ejection Seat - aka SAVER (Stowable Aircrew Vehicle Escape Rotoseat) During the Vietnam War, many pilots were forced to eject over enemy territory, even with safe areas in sight. This led to a large number of POWs, and a great effort to find a safe method of allowing pilots a chance to reach safe landing areas. One of these attempts that was pursued was an ejection seat that deployed a set of non-powered rotors overhead and a small gas powered engine on the back for forward propulsion. As the seat moved forward the relative motion would cause the rotors to spin and produce lift. This ungainly contraption would hopefully allow a pilot to fly to an area that would allow for safe retrieval. Note 3
Most Spectacular Ejection at an Airshow: Tie: The two most spectacular ejections at airshows were both Russian K36 seats being demonstrated first at the 1989 Paris International Airshow when a Mig 29 lost an engine during a low altitude knife edge pass. The pilot ejected at an altitude of less than 200 feet with his aircraft in a vertical nosedive. His parachute fully opened at about the same time his feet hit the dirt.
Several years later, a pair of MIG-29s collided at the International Air Tattoo, Fairford, 1993. Both pilots ejected safely, including the fastest reaction time I've ever seen. The planes were executing an opposing loop when at the bottom of the loop they collided. In the rapidly expanding debris cloud from the collision you can just make out the shape of the seated pilot. Note 4
Most Miraculous Ejection: This one goes to an Israeli pilot flying an A4 Skyhawk at low level approx. 350 kts. The pilot reports he was flying straight and level, then he was lying on his back on the valley floor with a massive headache. Israeli analysis of his damaged helmet and the debris of the aircraft detected traces of bird blood and a single feather as well as fragments of HUD glass in his face. Apparently he was the victim of a bird strike directly to the front wind screen. The bird continued thru the canopy, demolished the HUD and smashed the visor on the pilots helmet, knocking him unconcious. How did he eject? Answer: enough of the birds corpse deflected upward off his helmet to strike the upper ejection handles and fire the seat!!! Note 5
Most Tragic, Successful Ejection: A British Harrier Pilot was executing a hover demonstration at an airshow when he was asked by the control tower if he was aware that the aircraft was on fire. Replying in the negative, he elected to decend to a safe landing. Upon setting down on the field, he determined that the fire had spread too rapidly for a normal exit. Activating the handles he ejected cleanly, getting a good chute. His landing was uneventful, albeit unfortunatly the seats landing was not. A spectator in the crowd was hit and killed by the decending seat.
Coolest Ejection seat This catagory could go many ways, but since I've seen both pictures and video of this one (and I have a link to a picture...) It goes to the Verticle Seeking Seat tested at China Lake Naval Weapons testing area. The seat was capable of righting itself from a bank angle of 180 degrees at 50 feet of altitude! Note 6

Note 1:
A first hand account of his early test jumps can be found in :
Physchophysiological Aspects of Space Flight
Columbia University Press, 1961
Library of Congress 60-15809

Note 2:
I heard of this one years ago in an article in MilTech Magazine
(around 1984) entitled Eject! Eject! and later found more details
in a wonderful book for the afficianado:
Eject! Eject!
Brian Philpott
Motorbooks International, 1989
ISBN 0 7110 1804 9

Oddly enough Martin-Baker was so intregued by this ejection that
they developed a compressed air system that can automatically sense
the seat is sinking under water and will intiate ejection by itself.

Note 3:
Also from the book Eject! Eject!

Note 4:
Aviation Week Video of the 1989 Paris Airshow has excellent footage
of the first crash. There are some pictures of both crashes at
Rivets R Us

Note 5:
This one was in an article on tracking bird migration to determine
the seasons when the risk of bird strike is highest to limit the
number of aircraft accidents. New York Times circa 1985

Note 6:
There is some decent quality video available on the tape Eject! Eject!
available from US Fighter Squadrons (some
good footage, some terrible- overall worth it to an obsessed maniac
like me.)

Ejection Seat Trivia Underwater Ejection
Fascinating Ejection Seat Facts An Ejection Seat Warning
Ejection from an OV-1 Mohawk
(Animated GIF)

Seat Gallery
Remembering the Pioneers Ejection Anecdotes
Zero-Zero Ejection
The Weber F-106 & Project 90
Coming soon... The Ejection Descision
Some Ejection Seat Links
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