17 August 1946: First Sergeant Lawrence Lambert, U.S. Army Air Forces, was the first person to eject from an aircraft in flight in the United States.
Lambert was assigned to the Air Material Command Parachute Branch, Personal Equipment Laboratory. He was an 11-year veteran of the Air Corps. During World War II, he served in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater. Previous to this test, Lambert had made 58 parachute jumps.
The test aircraft was a modified Northrop P-61B-5-NO Black Widow night fighter, 42-39498,¹ redesignated XP-61B. The airplane was flown by Captain John W.McGyrt and named Jack in the Box.
The ejection seat was placed in the gunner’s position, just behind and above the Black Widow’s pilot. A 37 mm cartridge fired within a 38 inch (0.97 meter) long gun barrel launched the seat from the airplane at approximately 60 feet per second (18.3 meters per second). Lambert experienced 12–14 Gs acceleration.
Flying over Patterson Field at more than 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour) at 6,000 feet (1,829 meters), Lambert fired the ejection seat. He and the seat were propelled approximately 40 feet (12 meters) above the airplane. After 3 seconds, he separated from the seat, and after another 3 seconds of free fall, his parachute opened automatically. Automatic timers fired smaller cartridges to release Lambert from the seat, and to open the parachute.
He later said, ” ‘I lived a thousand years in that minute,” before the pilot, pulled the release. . . ‘ Following the successful jump, blue-eyed, sandy-haired Sgt. Lambert expressed only one desire: To ‘get around the biggest steak available.’ “
—Dayton Daily News, Vol. 70, No. 26, Sunday, 18 August 1946, Society Section, Page 10, Columns 4–6
Sergeant Lawrence parachuted safely. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation read:
First Sergeant Lawrence Lambert, Air Corps, 6653991, for extraordinary achievement in aerial flight as a volunteer for the test of human ejection from a high speed aircraft, 17 August 1946. His courageous in the face of unknown factors that might have caused serious injury or loss of life, has contributed immeasurably to aeronautical and medical knowledge of the ejection method of escape from the aircraft.
—Air Force Enlisted Heritage Institute, AFEHRI File 19–10
Sergeant Lambert also won the Cheney Award, “for an act of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest, performed in connection with aircraft, but not necessarily of a military nature.” The medal was presented to him by General Carl A. Spaatz, in a ceremony held at Washington D.C., 15 April 1947.
Master Sergeant Lambert was later involved in rocket sled tests with Colonel John P. Stapp, M.D., Ph.D.
¹ Another source states 42-39489, however, according to Joe Baugher’s serial number web site, this airplane was “condemned to salvage Jul 19, 1945”
30 May 1949: While testing a radical “flying wing” aircraft, the Rolls-Royce Nene-powered Armstrong Whitworth A.W.52, TS363, test pilot John Oliver (“Jo”) Lancaster, D.F.C., encountered severe pitch oscillations in a 320 mile per hour (515 kilometer per hour) dive. Lancaster feared the aircraft would disintegrate.
In the very first use of the Martin-Baker Mk1 ejection seat in an actual emergency, Lancaster fired the seat and was safely thrown clear of the aircraft. He parachuted to safety and was uninjured. The aircraft was destroyed.
The Martin-Baker MK1 was developed by Bernard Ignatius (“Benny”) Lynch, B.E.M., a ground fitter for Martin-Baker Aircraft Co., Ltd., who tested it himself, ejecting from a test aircraft at 420 miles per hour (676 kilometers per hour) and 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). He eventually made more than 30 ejections. Lynch was awarded the British Empire Medal in the King’s 1948 New Year Honours.
The seat was launched with a two cartridge ejection gun, with an initial velocity of 60 feet per second (18.3 meters per second). After rising 24 feet (7.3 meters), a static line fired a drogue gun, deploying a 24-inch (0.61 meter) drogue parachute to stabilize the seat. The static line also actuated the seat’s oxygen supply. The pilot manually released himself from the seat, and opened his parachute by pulling the rip cord.
As of 31 May 2023, 7,695 airmen worldwide have been saved by Martin-Baker ejection seats. 69 of these were with the Mk1.
The Armstrong Whitworth A.W.52 was an all-metal, experimental two-place, twin engine, tailless “flying wing” airplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. The concept was that of an air mail aircraft. The cockpit was pressurized and offset to the left of the aircraft centerline. The two turbojet engines are in nacelles positioned almost entirely within the wing. The A.W.52 was 37 feet, 4 inches (11.354 meters) long with a wingspan of 90 feet (27.4 meters) and height of 14 feet, 4 inches (4.343 meters).
The wings were swept in two sections. From the fuselage to just outboard of the engines, the leading edges were swept to 17° 34′. From that point, called “the knuckle” in contemporary descriptions, the sweep increased to 34° 6′ to the wing tips. (A line from the ¼-chord points at the wing root and tip gave a sweep of 24¾°.) The inner wing had no dihedral, and the outer wing had 1° dihdreal. The wing incorporated a -5° twist between the root and tip. The total wing area was 1,314 square feet (122.1 square meters). Vertical fins and rudders are attached at the wing tips.
The airplane incorporated boundary layer control to delay the wing stalling in the area of the ailerons. It also used engine heat for deicing,
The A.W.52 had a empty weight of 19,662 pounds (9,055 kilograms) total weight of 32,700 pounds (14,832 kilograms).
The A.W.52 was powered by two Rolls-Royce RB.41 Nene Mk.I engines. The Nene was a single-shaft turbojet developed from the RB.40 Derwent. It had first been run in October 1944. The Nene was considerably larger than the Derwent and produced nearly double the thrust. It had a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor and single-stage axial-flow turbine. It was rated at 5,000 pounds of thrust (22.24 kilonewtons) at 12,400 r.p.m. for takeoff. The second A.W.52 prototype, TS368, used two Derwent engines.
The A.W.52 had a maximum speed at Sea Level of 500 miles per hour (805 kilometers per hour) and 480 miles per hour (772 meters) at 36,000 feet (10,973 meters). Its maximum range was 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers), flying 330 miles per hour (531 kilometers per hour) at 36,000 feet (10,973 meters).
19 April 1955:¹ Lockheed test pilot Herman Richard (“Fish”) Salmon was flying the second prototype Lockheed XF-104 interceptor, 53-7787, conducting tests of the General Electric T171 Vulcan gun system.
At 47,000 feet (14,326 meters), Salmon fired two bursts from the T171. On the second burst, vibrations from the gun loosened the airplane’s ejection hatch, located beneath the cockpit, resulting in explosive decompression.
The Associated Press reported:
Test Pilot Leaps From New Jet
INYOKERN, Calif., April 20 (AP)—Herman R. (Fish) Salmon, former racing pilot and now a top test pilot, bailed safely from one of the Air Force’s hot new F104 jet fighters over the Mojave dessert[sic]Tuesday.
He was spotted on the desert after a two-hour search by military planes and brought to the Naval ordinance [sic] test station here for a physical examination. A preliminary checkup indicated he was not injured.
Salmon, 41, was on a routine test flight when he hit the silk. Authorities gave no hint what happened to the supersecret plane to make the bailout necessary. The craft’s height at the time it was abandoned was not given. The plane’s top speed has been unofficially estimated at 1,200 m. p. h.
Wreckage of the F104, one of two prototypes now being tested by Lockheed Aircraft Corp. for the Air Force, was found several miles south of the China Lake area.
A Lockheed spokesman said Salmon, of Van Nuys, Calif., was spotted by a search plane and apparently picked up by a Navy helicopter and flown here. Salmon took off on the test flight from Palmdale, about 70 miles south of here.
— Reno Evening Gazette, Volume LXXIX, Number 21, Wednesday, 20 April 1955, Page 24 at Columns 5–7.
Fish Salmon was wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and International Latex Corporation (I.L.C. Dover) K-1 helmet for protection in just such an emergency. The capstans are pneumatic tubes surrounded by fabric lacings, running along the arms, torso and legs. As the tubes inflated, the lacings pulled the fabric of the suit very tight and applied pressure to his body as a substitute for normal atmospheric pressure. The partial-pressure garment also enclosed his head, with a fiberglass helmet and a clear visor or face plate providing for vision.
The sudden loss of cabin pressure and drop to subfreezing temperatures caused Salmon’s face plate to fog over. Inflating air bladders pushed his helmet high on his head. The cockpit was filled with dust, fiberglass insulation and other debris. All this restricted his visibility, both inside and outside the airplane. The very tight pressure suit restricted his movements.
Fish Salmon cut the throttle, opened the speed brakes and began a descending turn to the left to reach a lower altitude. By the time he had reached 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) he had been unable to find a place on the desert floor to make an emergency landing. It was time to leave the crippled XF-104.
At 250 knots (288 miles per hour/463 kilometers per hour) the ejection seat fired Salmon out of the bottom of the cockpit. He had to open his parachute manually (the seat timer did not operate) and he made a safe landing.
The prototype XF-104 impacted the desert approximately 73 miles (117 kilometers) east-northeast of Edwards Air Force Base. It was completely destroyed. Fish Salmon landed about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) away. He was found two hours later and rescued by an Air Force helicopter.
Occasionally, a satisfied user thanked the researchers at the Aero Medical Laboratory. One of these was Lockheed test pilot Herman R. “Fish” Salmon. On April 14, 1955, ¹ Salmon was flying the second XF-104 (53-7787) at 47,500 feet while wearing a T-1 suit, K-1 helmet, and strap-fastened boots. As he triggered the General Electric M61 Vulcan 20 mm cannon for a test firing, severe vibrations loosened the floor-mounted ejection hatch and the cockpit explosively depressurized at the same time as the engine flamed out. The suit inflated immediately. Repeated attempts to restart the engine failed, and Salmon ejected at 15,000 feet. Fish reported, “I landed in a field of rocks ranging from one foot to five feet in diameter. My right arm was injured and my head struck a rock. The K-1 helmet hard shell was cracked, but there was no injury to my head. It took me 10 to 15 minutes to get out of the suit with my injured arm. Rescue was effected [sic] by helicopter approximately two hour after escape.” Salmon reported that the K-1 helmet was excellent for rugged parachute landings, and his only complaint was that the visor may impair vision at extreme altitudes.”
—Dressing for Altitude: U.S. Aviation Pressure Suits—Wiley Post to Space Shuttle, by Dennis R., Jenkins, National Aeronautics and Space Administration SP–2011–595, Washington, D.C., 2012, Chapter 4 at Page 141.
There were two Lockheed XF-104 prototypes. Initial flight testing was performed with 083-1001 (USAF serial number 53-7786). The second prototype, 083-1002 (53-7787) was the armament test aircraft. Both were single-seat, single-engine supersonic interceptors. The XF-104 was 49 feet, 2 inches (14.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 21 feet, 11 inches (6.680 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The prototypes had an empty weight of 11,500 pounds (5,216 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 15,700 pounds (7,121 kilograms).
The production aircraft was planned for a General Electric J79 turbojet but that engine would not be ready soon enough, so both prototypes were designed to use a Buick-built J65-B-3, a licensed version of the British Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire turbojet engine. XF-104 53-7787 had been built with an afterburning Wright J65-W-7 turbojet, rated at 7,800 pounds of thrust, and 10,200 pounds of thrust with afterburner.
The XF-104 had a maximum speed of 1,324 miles per hour (2,131 kilometers per hour), a range of 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 50,500 feet (15,392 meters).
The General Electric T171 Vulcan was a prototype 6-barrelled 20 mm “Gatling Gun” automatic cannon. The barrels were rotated at high speed by a hydraulic drive. The gun is capable of firing 6,000 rounds per minute. The initial production version was designated M61. The cannon system was installed in a weapons bay on the left side of the F-104, between the cockpit and engine intakes.
The first prototype Lockheed XF-104, 53-7786, was also destroyed, 11 July 1957, when the vertical fin was ripped off by uncontrollable flutter. The pilot, William C. Park, safely ejected.
¹ Reliable sources give the date of this incident as both 14 April and 19 April. Contemporary news reports, published Wednesday, 20 April 1955, say that the accident took place “yesterday” and “Tuesday,” suggesting that the correct date is 19 April.
26 February 1955: Although it was his day off, North American Aviation production test pilot George Franklin Smith stopped by the office at Los Angeles Airport (today, known as Los Angeles International airport, or simply “LAX”, its international airport identifier). The company’s flight dispatcher told him that a brand-new F-100A-20-NA Super Sabre, serial number 53-1659, was sitting on the flight line and needed to be test flown before being turned over to the Air Force.
Smith was happy to take the flight. He departed LAX in full afterburner and headed off shore, climbing to 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) over the Pacific Ocean to start the test sequence.
But it was quickly apparent that something was wrong: The flight controls were heavy, and then there was a hydraulic system failure that caused the Super Sabre pitch down into a dive. Smith couldn’t pull it out of the dive and the airplane’s speed rapidly increased, eventually passing Mach 1.
Smith was unable to regain control of the F-100. He had no choice but to bail out. As he ejected, Smith read the instruments: the Mach meter indicated Mach 1.05—785 miles per hour (1,263 kilometers per hour)—and the altitude was only 6,500 feet (1,981 meters).
The force of the wind blast hitting him as he came out of the cockpit knocked him unconscious. Estimates are that he was subjected to a 40 G deceleration. His parachute opened automatically and he came down approximately one-half mile off Laguna Beach. Fortunately he hit the water very close to a fishing boat crewed by a former U.S. Navy rescue expert.
The F-100 dived into the Pacific Ocean approximately ¼-mile (0.4 kilometers) offshore between Dana Point and Laguna Beach.
George Smith was unconscious for six days, and when he awoke he was blind in both eyes. After four surgeries and seven months in the hospital, he recovered from his supersonic ejection and returned to flight status.
George F. Smith appears in this brief U.S. Air Force informational film:
The North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre was designed as a supersonic day fighter. Initially intended as an improved F-86D and F-86E, it soon developed into an almost completely new airplane. The fuselage incorporated the “area rule,” a narrowing in the fuselage width at the wings to increase transonic performance, similar to the Convair F-102A.
The Super Sabre had a 49° 2′ sweep to the leading edges of the wings and horizontal stabilizer. The ailerons were placed inboard on the wings and there were no flaps, resulting in a high stall speed in landing configuration. The horizontal stabilizer was moved to the bottom of the fuselage to keep it out of the turbulence created by the wings at high angles of attack. The F-100A had longer wings and a distinctively shorter vertical fin than the YF-100A. The upper segment of the vertical fin was swept 49° 43′.
There were two service test prototypes, designated YF-100A, followed by the production F-100A series. The first ten production aircraft (all of the Block 1 variants) were used in the flight testing program.
The F-100A Super Sabre was 47 feet, 1¼ inches (14.357 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 6 inches (11.125 meters). With the shorter vertical fin than the YF-100A, the initial F-100As had an overall height of 13 feet, 4 inches (4.064 meters), 11 inches (27.9 centimeters) less than the YF-100A.
The F-100A had an empty weight of 18,135 pounds (8,226 kilograms), and gross weight of 28,899 pounds (13,108 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight was 35,600 pounds (16,148 kilograms). It had an internal fuel capacity of 755 gallons (2,858 liters) and could carry two 275 gallon (1,041 liter) external fuel tanks.
The early F-100As were powered by a Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp J57-P-7 afterburning turbojet engine. It was rated at 9,700 pounds of thrust (43.148 kilonewtons) for takeoff, and 14,800 pounds (65.834 kilonewtons) with afterburner. Later production aircraft used a J57-P-39 engine. The J57 was a two-spool axial flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor, and a 3-stage turbine. (Both had high- and low-pressure stages.) The engine was 15 feet, 3.5 inches (4.661 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.0 inches (1.041 meters) in diameter, and weighed 4,390 pounds (1,991 kilograms).
The Super Sabre was the first U.S. Air Force fighter capable of supersonic speed in level flight. It could reach 760 miles per hour (1,223 kilometers) at Sea Level. (Mach 1 is 761.1 miles per hour, 1,224.9 kilometers per hour, under standard atmospheric conditions.) Its maximum speed was 852 miles per hour (1,371 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The service ceiling was 44,900 feet (13,686 meters). Maximum range with external fuel was 1,489 miles (2,396 kilometers).
The F-100 was armed with four M-39 20 mm autocannons, capable of firing at a rate of 1,500 rounds per minute. The ammunition capacity of the F-100 was 200 rounds per gun.
North American Aviation built 199 F-100A Super Sabres at its Inglewood, California, plant before production shifted to the F-100C fighter bomber variant. Approximately 25% of all F-100As were lost in accidents.
“. . .The first ejection seats were developed independently during World War II by Heinkel and SAAB. Early models were powered by compressed air and the first aircraft to be fitted with such a system was the Heinkel He 280 prototype jet-engined fighter in 1940. One of the He 280 test pilots, Helmut Schenk, became the first person to escape from a stricken aircraft with an ejection seat on 13 January 1942 after his control surfaces iced up and became inoperable. The fighter, being used in tests of the Argus As 014 impulse jets for Fieseler Fi 103 missile development, had its usual HeS 8A turbojets removed, and was towed aloft from Rechlin, Germany by a pair of Bf 110C tugs in a heavy snow-shower. At 7,875 feet (2,400 m), Schenk found he had no control, jettisoned his towline, and ejected. . . .”