By lex, on November 3rd, 2009
The first time flyer in a Navy tactical aircraft will receive a stern admonition from the qualified pilot he goes up with: Don’t touch anything, especially anything painted yellow and black. Cockpit controls that yellow typically jettison something – drop tanks, emergency weapons release, hydraulic flight controls (in favor of manual back-ups). Controls painted yellow with black stripes jettison critical items such as the canopy or even, in the case of the ejection seat handle, the aircraft itself.
A few years ago, back when
dinosaurs the F-14 Tomcat darkened graced the skies, a squadron CO thought it would be a good and proper thing to take the commander of his strike group’s air defense cruiser on a flight at Fallon. Show “Whiskey” what it looked like from the air, rather than across the pixellated screen of his Aegis weapons system. A short flight for the blackshoe captain, as it turned out: Once airborne and on their way to the air combat range, the nose gunner rolled the beast inverted for to do a negative g check. Now, the negative g check prior to actual air combat maneuvering is a good thing to do, for if anything is adrift in the cockpit – Skilcraft government pens, wrenches, yesterday’s lunch – has been left in the darker recesses of the contraption, it will float up in a controlled fashion for to be secured rather than at an awkward moment such as pushing over to a guns finish in a flat scissors with the adversary 1000 feet in front of you.
As useful as the negative g pushover can be, it definitionally results in, well: Negative g. A phenomenon almost entirely alien to the cruiser commanding officer fraternity. If your man isn’t buckled in nice and tight – and in some aircraft, even if he is – then he’ll float loose in his straps in what could be a disconcerting way to the uninitiated. So much so that a disconcerted captain might temporarily forget his preflight admonishment, reach down between his legs and pull on something to get him back in his chair.
Which, in this particular case, worked quite well, since the captain pulled the ejection handle, causing the leg and thigh restraints to retract, the canopy to jettison, the rocket motor to fire and hisself to be catapulted into the air, chair and all. No great harm done, apart from the appalling repair costs and the ever-lasting embarrassment all the way around – the Tomcat driver wisely set up the ejection sequencer to ensure that a rear seat ejection would not automatically cause both seats to fire after the programmed delay. With the top down and the back seat gone, the pilot had the solitude (if not the silence) with which to get a search and rescue effort organized for the now aerially suspended cruiser CO and his story straight for the mishap board.
In aviation, as in sport, anything done once can be done again:
As the plane rolled into another stomach-churning maneuver, the passenger was probably wishing that he was somewhere else.
Then, just like that, he was.
The man, a civilian joyriding with his air force pilot friend, accidentally grabbed the eject lever while trying to brace himself.
He was instantly fired through the aircraft’s perspex canopy and blasted 320ft (100m) into the sky by the rocket-powered chair.
He then floated down to the ground with a parachute that opened automatically.
Experts said he was lucky to escape unharmed from the bizarre accident last week in South Africa.I gather that the pilot, a member of South Africa’s Silver Falcon flight demonstration team, may have some ‘splaining to do.