Cold War Era

USAF pilot recalls when a B-52 Bombardier-Radar Navigator survived although he couldn’t eject from his exploding BUFF after it was hit by a SAM during Operation Linebacker II

Ejection seat

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.

But can military pilots eject if their aircraft turns into a fireball?

B-52 raids during Operation Linebacker II

Doug Constantine, former US Air Force pilot, recalls on Quora;

‘I was a USAF pilot and never ejected but knew several friends that did.

‘One story I can tell is that I had a good friend, named Mike, who was a Bombardier-Radar Navigator on a B-52 that was shot down in the 12/72 bombing raids [Operation Linebacker II over North Vietnam]. The plane was on its bomb run with the bomb doors open (read high radar cross section) when a SAM blew up just beside the left side of the plane near the cockpit.

‘It immediately killed the pilot and the Electronic Warfare Officer. The co-pilot kept the plane going through the bomb run to bombs away when a second SAM hit the plane and rest of the crew members (co-pilot, navigator and tail gunner) ejected.

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B-52 coming apart

‘But Mike was stuck in his seat by the force of the airplane coming apart and could not even lift his ejection seat handles. During all this the plane of course was moving forward at 400 mph as he tried to eject. It was spinning and on fire when suddenly the center wing tank, which is located right behind were the Navigator and the Bombardier-Radar Navigator sit, blew up.

‘The explosion blew Mike out of the plane and he came down many miles downstream of the remaining crewmembers.

‘USAF pilots in the vicinity in other B-52s and also in F-4s saw the whole thing including the explosion that blew him out of the wreckage but it was at night and nobody saw his chute or heard his beeper.’

Constantine concludes;

‘I remember his wife called me and we talked and she of course was very shaken up as the other crew members were accounted for. I told her we all will pray but don’t forget that we didn’t have all the facts.

‘Sure enough, two months later in February of 73 when the POWs were repatriated there was Mike, alive and well. A very good ending for a great guy.’

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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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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