Friday, March 13, 2020

On an Ejection Seat and a Prayer

In this incredible photo sequence (above and below) taken by Lieutenant Junior Grade Al Zink of Light Photographic Squadron 63, Lieutenant Jack Terhune of the Fighter Squadron 154 "Black Knights" ejects from his Vought F-8D Crusader (Bureau Number 147899) over the Gulf of Tonkin on October 14, 1965, during the squadron's first combat deployment to Vietnam aboard USS Coral Sea (CVA 43). Terhune, whose plane was hit by ground fire during a mission, was subsequently rescued safely.  Note that the Crusader's canopy cleared the aircraft before Terhune, still strapped into his Martin-Baker ejection seat, emerged.  A pilot or bombadier/navigator ejecting in a similar ejection seat from an A-6 Intruder, however, would have to smash through the aircraft's canopy on the way out. (Naval History and Heritage Command image
The drogue deploys the main chutes on Lt Terhune's ejection seat, carrying him safely away from his stricken Crusader. (Naval History and Heritage Command image
By Zachary Smyers
HRNM Educator

The ejection seat currently on display in the air section of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum's new Vietnam War exhibit is from an A-6 Intruder.
This picture of the cockpit layout on this decommissioned KA-6 aerial refueling variant of the Intruder shows the staggered seating positions between the pilot ( the seat port side away from camera) and the bombardier/navigator to starboard (the seat nearest the camera) slightly behind the pilot. (Bill Abbott via Flickr)
More specifically, the seat was used by the BN (Bombardier/Navigator) of the A-6 who sat to the right of the pilot. The A-6 was an all-weather attack aircraft and saw extensive service during the Vietnam War.
The Martin-Baker GRU-7 ejection seat in the Hampton Roads Naval Museum gallery. (M.C. Farrington)
The seat was manufactured by the Martin-Baker company, and is designated the GRU-7. The seat is equipped with a rocket motor, which propels the seat out of the aircraft. The motor is set off by a lanyard, which is activated during the launch sequence. On the back of the seat are spikes, which are designed to go through the canopy. Normal ejection for an A-6 flight crew is to go directly through the canopy.
Note the single pull ring above the headrest. (M.C. Farrington)
The ejection procedure is a seven-step process. The pulling of the face curtain or the lower ejection handle (located between the aviator’s legs) fires the cartridge in the ejection gun, which begins the process. Then the drogue gun fires a half second after the initial ejection, which deploys the drogue parachute (the parachute that is actually attached to the seat). 

The ejection sequence on an EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft, which is based upon the same airframe as the Intruder. 
The drogue parachute then fully deploys. The drogue parachute stabilizes and begins to slow down the ejection seat. The aviator in the seat receives oxygen from the oxygen bottle that is attached to the seat. Then between an altitude of 14,500 feet and 11, 500 feet, the main parachute deploys. Finally, the time-release mechanism releases the upper restraint, lower restraint, the personnel parachute, and the leg restraint lines. The shock from the opening of the personnel parachute in turn causes the ejection seat to finally drop away.
Note the lower pull ring on the seat, as well as the "Survival Kit, Oxygen, Aircraft Seat" installed behind it. (M.C. Farrington)
The Martin-Baker ejection seat was introduced in the mid 1960’s and has been used in a variety of aircraft. US Navy aircraft that utilized the Martin-Baker seat include the F-9 Cougar, A-6 Intruder, F-4 Phantom, F-8 Crusader, the EA-6B Prowler, and the F-14 Tomcat. To date, the Martin-Baker ejection seat design has saved over 2,000 lives.  

Editor's Note: The outstanding record of of the Martin-Baker seats aboard the long-serving Grumman Intruders and Prowlers is undisputed, but a faulty retaining latch on one of the seats caused one of the most bizarre incidents of its kind in naval aviation history when a bombardier-navigator flying from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) was partially ejected from his KA-6.  Read about it here

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