The Ejection Site

Ejection Anecdotes

Powerful Accident
December 7th,1992, Nellis AFB. F-4G 68-561

Myself and a fellow QA inspector were performing a pre-flight inspection of an F-4G prior to a Functional Check Flight (FCF). A crew chief and his partner were changing a battery on another F-4 only two jets away from us. Now for those of you who remember the F-4 days, you know that a battery change on an F-4 is no easy task, requiring that the seat be in the lowest position, the rudder pedal being folded forward and the #7 circuit breaker panel being removed ( I know that this was not the case in the earlier versions of the F-4, when the rocket motor initiator was located under the seat, attached to a lanyard to the floor of the acft and required that the seat be removed. On the later versions of the seat, a TCTO moved the initiator to the left side of the seat, and the peso did not require removal from the cockpit) Anyway, the battery was inadvertently drained through the night, and the seat was in the up position. As you old timers will know, the F-4 will not accept external power with a dead battery. Egress was called to remove the peso, and the crew chief and his partner pressed on with the battery change. With some time and patience, the battery was R2'd and the crew chief wanted to now lower the seat to make the rest of the battery install go easier. Now for those of you who have not worked the "G" model F-4, the wiring harness to the #7 c/b panel was longer than usual due to the sex change from from "E" to "G" configuration. This allowed the #7 circuit breaker panel to be set on the floor of the acft, while still attached to the cannon plugs attached to it. While sitting in the seat, he had his assistant apply power to the jet with a -60 power unit and lower the seat . Little did he know that he was pinning the c/b panel between the bottom of the seat and the floor. The scene now is that he is sitting on a seat that is on top of a live panel, which then proceeds to torch a hole in the rocket motor package. Needless to say the seat fired after a hole was burned through the rocket motor. When this thing went it scared the wholly living shit out me and my partner. The first thing that we thought was that maybe EOD was blowing up some stuff somewhere on base ( that was a pretty common occurrence at Nellis ). We both looked up to see an ejection seat in the air with the drogue chute just starting to deploy. I thought to myself that I hoped to Christ that no one was in it. The seat was at least as high as the flood lights that light up the flightline of most Air Force bases, at least 100 ft. high. The seat and occupant both came down very rapidly, with the seat landing on the wing of the next acft, and the crew chief on the ground. I and my partner were the first ones on the scene, and after declaring a ground emergency to maintenance control, we realized that there was nothing to do except cordon off the area and wait for the ambulance to arrive. As we all know, almost all ejection seat accidents are always fatal, and this was no exception. The crew chief was killed in this accident. Then entire rear canopy was taken out and broken into several pieces. Once the area was cleared,and egress technicians were on the scene, we had realized what had happened. Prior to this, myself and my QA buddy along with other mechanics, were trying to figure out what had happened. The seat landed on the wing of the next acft. lying on its' side, partially covered by the drogue chute. We counted all of the safety pins and the "D" ring guard was in the up "safe" position. How the hell did this thing go off? Anyway, the investigation had revealed that it was in fact the #7 circuit breaker panel that had burned a hole into the rocket motor pack that caused the seat to fire. I had always heard about ejection seat accidents, but never thought that I would be witness to one. It has really given me a new sense of respect for the ejection system, a system that most of us maintainers take for granted these days. I always do my "seat safe for cockpit entry" prior to getting into the cockpit of any acft.

Story by Brian Kidd, jet engine mechanic in the USAF, who spent 3 years as a Quality assurance (QA) inspector with the 561st fighter squadron at Nellis AFB, Nevada, from August 1992-95.

Spare Part ?!?!?

One night, we were sitting in our shop on the Independence, and I found a blast shield that goes on the back of the Escapac 1G2 seat No one in the shop knew which aircraft it belonged to, and it was curious, since there were no seats out of any of the jets at that time. Panic set in. We didn't want to tell Maintenance Control about it, because all hell would have come down on us. So we quietly sent a couple guys up to the flight deck with flashlights and mirrors (needed a mirror to see behind the seat if installed in aircraft).
We found the aircraft with the seat missing the shield. Then I told Maintenance Control we needed to "down" that aircraft because there was some FOD somewhere in the cockpit. FOD means Foreign Object Damage...something that could jam controls. They gave me the go-ahead to remove the seat. We did so in a matter of minutes, reinstalled the shield, and no one suspected......WHEW!!!!
That was as close as I ever got to being taken to Captain's Mast......

Shortcut or life cut short?

One night I went out to remove a seat. The IG2 seat was very easy to remove. So much so, in fact, that the dearm "cards" we carried with us were rarely read aloud; rather they were left in the tool box. If a Quality Assurance-type, or QA came along, we would quickly grab the cards and start reading them aloud. Anyway, I went to disarm the seat. All went well, until I was lifting the seat up the rails, and suddenly realized I had NOT installed the brass safety cover over the upper initiator on the seat rocket!! Fortunately, I regained composure, and slowly lowered the seat to install the cover..... One wrong move, and I would have gone up with the seat. Scary stuff. It showed that complacency was easy to get after doing such a job for so long. In fact, the QA section of my squadron (one bozo in particular who was trying to make Chief) suggested that we pull the seats out EVERY 40 day corrosion inspection!! Totally stupid. So every 40 day inspection (along with every scheduled 210 day) we pulled every seat. Talk about fatigue!!!! The seats were clean and all, but the frequency of removal damn near killed us, and hence the complacency.

Stories by a former AMEC(AW)

Inadvertant Ejection : VA-195 NAS Lemoore CA Circa 1970-1971

The pilot had selected attitude hold on the auto-pilot of his A-7E so that he could raise the radiation thermal shield that had been lowered to simulate instrument conditions. As he attempted to raise the fiberglass shield following laydown release of the mk-106 at 10,000', his elbow inadvertently hit the end of the 6" long canopy release lever and unseated the canopy.

At about 300kts IAS, the wind immediately took the canopy off and the thermal shield impacted his helmet, knocking him unconscious and apparently striking the upper ejection handle. Ejected from the aircraft, he came to just prior to impacting the ground a few miles north of the target at NAS Fallon NEV. The LTjg pilot was shaken but physically unharmed by his adventure.

Unfortunately, his chase safety observer was so busy attempting to spot the bomb hit for scoring purposes that he lost site of the mishap aircraft and missed the whole thing. In the meantime, the aircraft continued northbound with enough fuel on board to make it into Canada and create and international incident.

The a/c was tracked by Oakland Center until it was lost in the shadow of a mountain around Provo Utah. Everyone "assumed" it crashed on the snow-covered mountain. Local skiers and campers in the area all said they heard the aircraft at tree-top level and knew the crash site had to be near by.

Well, weeks went by, then months and the squadron left on an extended combat deployment to SouthEast Asia aboard the USS Kitty Hawk. Over a year later, after they returned from Vietnam, the Aircraft was finally located. It had not crashed into the mountain after all; rather, it had managed to skirt the back side of the mountian and was not reacquired by the radar operator as it continued in attitude hold on a southeasterly course until it ran out of JP and made a relatively soft gear-up, out-of-fuel landing in a remote area in Utah.

Story courtesy CDR. Russ Pearson USN (Ret), Squadron Aviation Safety Officer, VA-195 1971
CDR Pearson was involved in an Underwater Ejection incident in 1969.

Hot Seat on the Hanger deck

One of the most important things a pilot of an aircraft equipped with an ejection seat must do is safe the ejection seat prior to exiting the aircraft. All ejection seats have some form of safety device, usually backed up by a safety pin and flag. On the Martin-Baker seats this is a lever or flap that physically prevents the handle from moving. If the handle is dislodged even slightly, the seat is considered 'Hot' and special care must be taken to disarm it.
An A-4 Skyhawk was respotted to the hanger deck before the seat was found to be hot. The A/C was roped off and personel were warned to stay clear. A team of Aviation Mechanics (AMEs) was dispatched to render the seat safe. The most experienced AME cautiously entered the cockpit and began removing the intiators while a pair of AMEs assisted by handing him tools from either side of the cockpit. What happened next is unknown, but the seat fired. The AME on the seat was hurtled up into the hanger deck ceiling denting it and killing him. The rocket blast killed the other two technicians.
The above stories are courtesy of a former AME from the same ship

Inadvertant Ejection : Mogadishu, Somalia 1990

A young Somali boy was poking around a Somali Air Force hangar shortly after the military had abandoned its base at Mogadishu. Chaos was running rampant in the area, as feuding rebel warlords were fighting for control, starvation was prominent and the UN peacekeeping force had not yet arrived. The curious Somali teenager hopped up into the cockpit of one of the abandoned Mig 15s in the hangar and undoubtably proceeded to fulfill his fantasies as an aspiring fighter pilot. Unfortunately, he encountered more realism than he desired when he pulled the ejection handles and immediately found out that the seat was one item in the dysfunctional aircraft that still worked. He proceeded to get the ride of his life as the seat fired, and a few milliseconds later he was airborne and rapidly heading toward the wild blue yonder. Unfortunately, there was a hangar roof between him and the sky, and he never took the opportunity to strap into the seat as he was playing aspiring fighter pilot. As he approached the hangar roof, his body gradually drifted apart from the seat and achieved sufficient lateral separation to avoid coming to a rapid halt as the seat impacted an overhead 12" steel girder support beam, putting a serious deformation in it. Our flying Somali superboy fared only slightly better, as his body was undoubtably bashed and shredded as it punched a hole through the sheet roof and landed on the tarmac outside the hangar.


Broken Launch Bar Linkage

The USS Forrestal (CV-59) was on its last operational cruise in the Med in 1990. We were conducting night flight ops off the coast of Turkey in support of Operation Provide Comfort. I had just shutdown my aircraft and was walking across the flight deck when the sound of snapping metal amidst a Tomcat launch off the port waist cat caught my attention. I turned to see the F-14 sliding sideways towards the edge of the flight deck. Apparently a component of the launch bar had snapped midway through the catapult stroke sequence, giving the Tomcat only a gentle push (approx. 20-30 knots) instead of the huge kick in the butt required to get the aircraft up to flying speed. The pilot had immediately realized something was wrong, and in a split second reacted to attempt to hit the brakes and stop prior to falling off the edge into the ocean 80 feet below. As they approached the edge, a tire blew sending the F-14 sliding sideways, and the pilot judged they wouldn't stop in time and initiated ejection. As the pilot and RIO rode the seat rails up into the night, one of the F-14s main landing gear jumped the deck edge rail but miraculously stuck just over the edge, and the aircraft remained perched precariously partially over the deck edge. The RIO was soon sighted landing further aft on the flight deck, and although he received some bumps, bruises and scrapes from his ejection and rough landing on the flight deck, he was was happy to walk away from it with a good story to tell that night over midrats. Meanwhile, a full scale search was underway for the pilot. The airborne SAR helicopter had witnessed the ejection and was on the scene so rapidly that the image of the RIO floating down in his parachute canopy nearly filled their windscreen as they whipped across the fantail. They quickly set up for an approach to the datum, and commenced a hover search. Flight operations were suspended and all airborne aircraft were given instructions to hold overhead (or expeditiously recovered if low on fuel). Fifteen minutes later there was still no sign of the pilot. As the search proceeded with additional helicopters and ships in the area, the flight deck began to quiet down. An alert deck hand thought he heard a faint cry for help, but didn't see anything over the deck edge. The sound of yelling for help persisted, and suddenly the deck hand looked up, and with the aid of his flashlight, was able to make out the shape of the pilot hanging from his parachute 100 feet above him in the radio antennaes and masts at the top of the carrier's superstructure. Although the recovery of the pilot took an additional half hour, he was recovered uninjured.

The above two stories are courtesy of a Naval Aviator

YF-14 1st Flight Hydraulic Failure 1970

The YF-14 was returning from a successful maiden flight when on final approach, the pilot's voice suddenly burst out of the radio speakers: "Whoops, flight controls... Eject! Eject!" The canopy blasted off and tumbled aft of the ship. The aft seat fired, followed a split second later by the forward seat. Simultaniously, the plane began its terminal descent. As the chutes blossomed above, the fireball blossomed below. The pilot and RIO were observed descending into the black smoke.

Suddenly, slightly higher and to the side of where they disappeared the chute appeared out of the smoke. Both crewmembers, William Miller (pilot) and Robert K. Smyth, descended to safe landings in the trees with no significant injuries.

The pilot reported and the evidence indicated that the aircraft was suddenly losing all hydraulic pressure and the pilot had made the immediate descision to eject. In the ten to fifteen seconds from the pilot's noticing the pressure drop until the seats cleared the fuselage, the lack of positive control was visible from the chase plane view. The crew's parachutes had descended straight toward the flaming debris, with obvious dire possibilities when the hot air from the flame was caught by the parachute canopies and lifted them in the same manner as a hot air balloon. The 20kt wind was enough to push the chutes 100 yards downwind of the fire.

An odd sidebar to this story is that the wingbox frame of the F-14 is a giant piece of titanium, and the one from this a/c was recovered from the debris. It is rumored that it was used in a later aircraft to save time and money for the flight test program.

S-3 Viking Stuck Wheel

It had been a long night, and now it was getting longer. The Viking was on a night training flight with only the pilot and navigator. While preparing for landing, the nose gear failed to extend. After following all standard NATOPS procedures to no avail, it was decided to try a hard bounce on the main gear to try to knock the nose gear loose. The pilot brought the plane in and struck the deck a little harder than planned, the nose rotated down and struck the deck. With precious airspeed being bled off in a trail of sparks across the deck, the pilot initiated ejection. The flight deck crews watched the night being torn by sparks and rockets for a few brilliant seconds and then the plane was gone off the angle deck. The flight deck crew raced into action to recover the parachuting personel (who also included two extra 'Fritz' crewmembers, weights attatched to the unused ejection seats to give the empty seats the correct trajectory as they fired). "705 to Air Boss" rattled out of the speakers in Pri-Fly. "Stand by 705, we have an emergency!" replied the Air Boss gruffly.

"No sir, you don't understand" the speakers rattled again " I AM your emergency!!" The voice belonged to the pilot of the Viking who had been quite surprised to see all the other seats in the Viking eject without him! As the plane fell off the angle deck he had managed to get the plane under control and headed away from the carrier, but in the confusion of the ejections nobody had noticed the plane hadn't crashed. He later managed to get the plane safely down on the deck.

The above story is courtesy of a fellow Viking pilot

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Ejection Anecdotes
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