F-14 Tomcat

‘Watch the Canopy!’ Former F-14 Pilot explains why Goose impacts his Tomcat’s canopy in Top Gun ejection scene

Goose impacts his F-14 Tomcat’s canopy in Top Gun ejection scene

We are all familiar with the scene from the movie Top Gun, the one where Maverick and Goose enter an unrecoverable flat spin and have to eject.

Let’s set the scene: Mav and Goose are in one Grumman F-14 Tomcat, while Iceman and Slider are in another. Both Tomcat crews are in hot pursuit of a nimble little Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. Ice is in the lead, but just can’t quite get into position for a shot on the Scooter, whereupon he pulls out of the fight so that Mav can get the shot. The trouble is that when Ice pulls out, Mav flies through Ice’s jet wash, which buses Mav’s Tomcat to suffer a dual engine flameout. Mav loses control of his bird and enters a flat spin. After much difficulty, Goose finally manages to initiate a command ejection, and both he and Mav depart their Tomcat. As we all know, Goose impacts the canopy with fatal results.

But why does Goose collide with the canopy whereas Maverick does not?

The crew is ejected not simultaneously but with a short interval

‘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 F-14A Tomcat pilot, on Quora.

‘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.’

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He continues;

‘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.

Jettisoning the canopy early

‘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.’

Chesire concludes providing some excerpts from F-14A’s NATOPS (Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization):

‘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.

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‘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.’

The following video features the flat spin and the subsequent ejection experienced by Maverick and Goose in Top Gun.

Photo credit: Paramount

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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