We are all familiar with the scene from the movie Top Gun, the one where Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and Nick “Goose” Bradshaw enter an unrecoverable flat spin and have to eject.
But what actually happened to Goose during the ejection? Why does he collide with the canopy whereas Maverick does not?
‘Upon ejection, the crew is ejected not simultaneously but with a short interval. Moreover, they are ejected at slightly different angles,’ explains John Chesire, former US Navy F-14A Tomcat pilot on Quora.
According to the F-14 Tomcat Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) flight manual:
“The aircraft is equipped with an automatic electronically sequenced command escape system incorporating two Navy aircrew common ejection seat (SJU-17(V) 3/A (pilot) and SJU-17(V) 4/A (RIO)) rocket-assisted ejection seats.
“Both seats are identical in operation and differ only in nozzle direction of their lateral thrust motors, which provide a divergent ejection trajectory away from the aircraft path.
“When either crewmember initiates the command escape system, the canopy is ballistically jettisoned and each crewmember is ejected in a preset-time sequence. The RIO is ejected to the left and the pilot to the right.
“Safe escape is provided for most combinations of aircraft altitude, speed, attitude and flightpath within an envelope from zero airspeed, zero altitude in a substantially level attitude to a maximum speed of 600 KCAS.”
‘Normally, within the ejection sequence, the canopy will automatically be blown off before the crews ejection seats fire. With forward airspeed, the canopy will always be well behind the aircraft when the RIO’s ejection seat fires.
‘However a flat spin provides a peculiar problem. Because there is no significant forward airspeed in the spin, the canopy is not blown behind the aircraft. Worse, there exists a partial vacuum just above a flat spin aircraft that can capture and hold a canopy in place above the aircraft. So when the RIO ejects, there is a strong chance he will impact the canopy hovering above. This has actually happened in real life.
‘To solve this problem, aircrews were advised to jettison the canopy early, and not wait for it in the ejection sequence. This would give a little more time for the canopy to move beyond the aircraft. There was a handle if pulled, would automatically jettison the canopy. This was totally separate from the seat ejection system.’
Also there was a real life Goose RIO who was killed during an ejection accident too.
‘But that real life Goose died upon ejection from a different cause,’ Chesire recalls.
‘The real RIO in question was Lt. David J. “Goose” Lortscher. His callsign Goose later became part of the movie.
‘I knew him in the F-14 RAG, VF-124 although I don’t think I ever flew with him. He already had a couple of ejections and we used to laugh that we did not want to fly with him because he was, “bad luck”.
‘Nevertheless, he was a highly respected officer and RIO, and no one actually avoided flying with him. He was a big guy, and easy going.’
‘He ended up with five total ejections, the last one proved to be fatal. But that last one was different than the movie.’
Photo credit: Paramount
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