Ejecting from an aircraft is a dangerous business as Jim Ginn, whose father flew the F-4 Phantom II in the US Navy, recalls.
In a military aircraft, an ejection seat is a system designed to rescue the pilot or other crew of an aircraft in an emergency. In most designs, the aircraft canopy comes off and the seat is propelled out of the aircraft by an explosive charge or rocket motor, carrying the pilot with it. Once clear of the aircraft, the ejection seat deploys a parachute. In two seat aircraft, the seats are ejected at different angles to avoid a collision.
Before ejection seats, pilots would have to remove the aircraft canopy manually to climb and jump out.
Ejection seats can save lives.
‘My dad ejected from an F-4 Phantom over the Chocolate Mountain Gunnery Range in the Southern California desert, kind of near Glamis, El Centro, Yuma AZ. Jan-1969.
‘He wasn’t punished upon the ejection, but he was punished upon landing. The parachutes were just the “Round” type where the rider has very little control over the direction of the chute. Mostly, it just goes down. He was landing on a mountainside and hit the side of a large rock. Granite boulders in California can be huge! This slowed his motion enough so that his chute deflated. However, he bounced off the boulder and fell another 20-ish feet straight down without any help from the deflated chute. His right leg snapped, breaking both bones in his shin.
‘His RIO landed a couple miles away and they did not re-unite until later at the hospital.
‘During his extended stay at Balboa (where they had to re-break his leg because Doctor number one didn’t set it right) he was visited by a couple investigators to determine cause of the crash. […] He suffered a catastrophic hydraulic leak in all systems. Since the control surfaces are hydraulically actuated, that is considered to be sub-optimal. They bailed out and he was cleared of any wrong-doing. (I dismember the actual cause of the leak.)
‘It is said that parts of his plane (control column, some gauges) were on display at the bar in Glamis, but I cannot confirm.’
‘Dad flew once his leg healed for another ten years in the Navy, then flew corporate Gulfstreams (2,3,4 and 5) for another 18.
‘He said the ejection itself was almost indescribable, other than four seconds of extreme violence. Just noise and confusion and stress… and then he was floating peacefully, enjoying the day. He watched his plane crash in the dunes, but never even heard the explosion. His RIO banged his head but he was okay.’
‘As this was in 1969, communications were different back then. Some guy from the squadron called up Mom that afternoon and asked “How’s Jim?” (my dad.) Mom was like, “What??? Talk to me! Tell me what happened!!” The guy was like, “Oh, you haven’t heard? then I shouldn’t be the one to tell you…” Mom let loose a stream of invective that would curl a sailor’s ear. He told her what he knew, that Dad ejected and was injured but not dead. The Navy, with all their planes and helicopters and stuff. transported dad from El Centro to San Diego in an ambulance. About a three hour drive. Just another day in the Navy.’
Photo credit: U.S. Navy