The tense story of the US Navy F-4 crew who had to eject while flying at high speed, low altitude over North Vietnam

US Naval Aviator explains when a military pilot must absolutely, undoubtedly, certainly, and unquestionably eject from his aircraft

By Dario Leone
Nov 23 2021
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Ejecting from a flying aircraft is an absolute last-ditch option, so you want to be sure that there is nothing else you can do to recover the aircraft.

In 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.

‘I remember a saying from my Navy flying days — “If you have to eject, put your neck in the position you want it in for the rest of your life,”’ David Tussey former US Navy A-7 Corsair II pilot, recalls on Quora.

‘[…] The aircraft’s condition — it has to be some condition which prevents normal control and continued flying of the aircraft. Ejecting from a flying aircraft is an absolute last-ditch option. In fact, you’re very likely to be very seriously injured during an ejection, so you want to be sure that there is nothing else you can do to recover the aircraft.

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‘Sometimes there are specific rules established. For example:

  • Aircraft is uncontrollable below 10,000′ → Eject
  • Aircraft has experienced a total electrical failure → Eject
  • Aircraft has experienced combat damage such that it is no longer controllable → Eject
  • Aircraft is on fire → Eject
  • Total engine failure below 10,000′ when that is the minimum altitude to attempt an inflight engine re-start. → Eject (Example: Engine failure immediately following takeoff.)

‘And similar situations. The pilot-in-command makes the call to eject based upon the rules (such as above) and the exact circumstances at the time.

‘I can’t recall any situation during my 20-year Navy career when someone ejected and was criticized for it, or had that count against them. Unfortunately, I did know several people who waited too late to eject and it cost them their life.’

Tussey concludes;

‘Loss of an aircraft is a serious issue, and there will undoubtedly be a Board of Inquiry to determine what happened. But that is always preferred over a funeral.’

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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