The Ejection Site

Ejection Without a Chute

Can you have a successful ejection without a parachute? That simple question came into my email one day and led to me putting together this story. I answered truthfully, based on the technical definition of successful, yes, although it is quite rare. The person who had asked was thrilled with that answer. He had been one of the few survivors of an ejection without a parachute...

Flt. Lt. Topaz's drogue parachute and main pack where he landed
in relation to the main wreckage of the Canberra

3 May 1966 was a sunny morning as the crew of Canberra B2, WH857 was flying on an Electronic Counter Measures Training flight. Soon after launch a piece of mission required equipment failed rendering the mission incomplete. To get some value out of the flight, the pilot decided to carry out a simulated engine out approach. They began the radar controlled letdown and were soon approaching the field. Flt. LT. Ken Topaz, the Air Electronics officer on board picks up the story:

Once we had settled down onto the radar approach I busied myself with my pre-landing checks, making sure that all my equipment was shut down correctly, this procedure which also entailed my tightening my harness for landing usually took about a couple of minutes.

I heard the radar controller announce "you are one mile from touch down, look ahead and land" this was standard patter. At this point the navigator who was sitting close by on my left drew my attention to the air speed indicator which was reading 85 knots and falling rapidly (at this weight we should have been doing about 110 knots. Nothing was said because at the same time the pilot applied full power to both engines very rapidly, I was looking forward and saw the RPM gauges winding up, but the starboard engine (which had been set to zero thrust for the asymmetric practice) must have flamed out as the RPM unwound. The aircraft, which was very low by this time, rolled very rapidly to starboard and then flicked back to port, the port wingtip struck the ground as the aircraft rolled almost vertical, cartwheeled and destroyed itself just to the left of the main runway.

Between the time that the wingtip hit and the nose of the Canberra struck the ground, both the navigator and I ejected (again not a word was said!) As the ejector seats in the rear of the Canberra are side by side the seats are angled slightly to ensure that the seats separate as they leave the aircraft. The navigator being on the port side effectively ejected into the ground and died shortly after. Myself, being on the starboard had a degree of upward motion and separated from the seat (at what height no one knows but speculation is about 20 feet) Although not fully conscious due to the acceleration of the seat, I was immediately fully aware as I hit the ground. It would appear that I landed on my feet with absolutely no forward motion whatsoever as I was able to stop myself toppling with just one hand on the ground on which I now found myself sitting, or rather on my still fully packed parachute.

The precise time of impact was 10:44 as the first thing I did was look at my watch, seems strange but it seemed important at the time.

The first person on the scene was my Squadron Commander who appeared out of the smoke, he paused for a moment and then ran past me, I didn't realise that the Navigator was just behind me and obviously looking a lot worse than I did. The next person was the Station Dentist, who had been driving around the peri track, he appeared on the scene waving a knife with which, despite my protestations about the destruction of government property,he proceeded to use to cut me out of my harness. "I've been carrying this thing for years," he said, "and am determined to use it now!" As you can see from the cut cords on the parachute he did a good job.

I suppose I must have been in shock,but at no time did I feel any pain and the worst part of the incident was the ride in a rather bumpy ambulance to the R.A.F.Hospital at Ely,it seemed to take an awfully long time.

The pilot had stayed with the aircraft and was killed instantly in the wreck.

I sustained two broken ankles, a broken right hip joint, a fractured pelvis and minor damage to my spine. After about 18 months of hospitalisation and rehabilitation I returned to flying, albeit I was banned from further aircraft fitted with ejector seats.

So, in this case the Martin-Baker Mk. 1CN ejection seat did function far beyond what it was designed for, which was a minimum ejection altitude of 1000 feet and a minimum airspeed of 125 knots. It gave Flt. LT. Ken Topaz a chance at life. These cases are extremely rare, and rarer still are the ones without injury. The case for the Navigator was complicated by his drogue chute becoming entangled with the jettisoned hatch cover. In Flt. LT. Topaz's case, the majority of his forward velocity was canceled by the catapult stroke of the seat. The impact of the seat bucket on the ground further absorbed the impact as can be seen by the condition of his seat in the picture described below.

The Mk. 1CN seat is a version of the Mk. 1C seat with an upgraded catapult to be able to exit the aircraft through the frangible hatch over the two aft seats. Another version for high altitude Canberra aircraft was the Mk. 1CT seat which had an extended overhead firing handle to allow the crew to reach it over the larger helmet used with a pressure suit.

This narration and the photos are courtesy of Ken Topaz, who lives in England yet. This ejection was described in Bryan Philpott's book "Eject! Eject!". Later work to improve the Martin-Baker series of seats may well have been influenced by Ken's survival as it was remarked on by Sir James Martin himself.

Out of respect for the crew members who passed away, I am not naming them.

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

Seat Gallery
Ejection Seat

Ejection Anecdotes
Zero-Zero Ejection
The Weber F-106 & Project 90
NASA ejection seats
Remembering the Pioneers Some Ejection Seat Links
Send email to Kevin

A Man's virtual home is his virtual castle