Friday, October 3, 2014

I May Regret This...

F-4G Front Cockpit
(Photo courtesy of the National Museum of the Air Force)
Back in November of 2013 I wrote a little something called Tales from the Ramp - Boarding Ladders, my good buddy Murphy's Law (not his real name, obviously) used the knowledge imparted by that post to get hisself in trouble out Sandy Eggo way, on board the good museum ship USS MIDWAY (CV-41).

Now there are two, count them, two, F-4 Phantoms sitting on the flight deck.

The F-4s that Murphy "played with" are indicated by the big red arrows.
(No, those arrows are not there on the actual ship.) - Google Maps

It seems that Murphy (educated by my post) decided to exercise that new found knowledge on a real F-4. Which he found on MIDWAY. Actually he exercised his new skills on TWO F-4s. Yup, the two F-4s on MIDWAY. He has a quite humorous post on that adventure here.

Now as to the title of this post. I'm now going to tell you everything I know about the ejection seats in the F-4 Phantom.

I really, really hope Murph doesn't have a trip to Sandy Eggo in the near future. If so, I really, really hope that the seats in those two MIDWAY F-4s have been either removed or deactivated. Because I really like Murph and his blog.

Oh, did I mention in the post about boarding ladders that I also mentioned how to open the canopies on the F-4? Murph took a picture of the buttons used to open them on the F-4. He mentioned that he assumed that some sort of power was required to use them.

You know what they say about assumptions, right?

Oh crap, Murph now knows how to deploy the boarding ladder and open the canopies. (Let's hope that somehow they have "locked" those canopies. Though truth be told, there is no way to do that in the aircraft as delivered.)

Oh dear, what have I done?

Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound I always say. (Seriously I do say that from time to time.)

Ejection seats, specifically the Martin-Baker Mk. H-7 Ejection Seats as installed on the F-4C and F-4D models of the mighty Phantom II. (Sidebar, cool website on ejection seats of all types.) Bear in mind, much of what I'm about to tell you is from memory. Some of it is shrouded in legend and mystery, tales told from father to son, down through the murky corridors...

Sorry. (Yup, digressed there didn't I?)

There were two things about the F-4 that actually scared the shit out of  terrified me.
  1. The -60 ground power unit
  2. The ejection seats in the jet
I know, I know. Pay attention to your training and everything will be fine.


The -60 I will cover at another time. (I still wake up in a sweat from a couple of memories of that beast!)

Now the ejection seats were normally safed by five (?) safety pins and a strut. (I seem to recall, no doubt Russ will correct me if in error, he worked old Double Ugly much longer than I. And a lot of what I knew, he taught me. Not that I'm pointing fingers or blaming anyone!)

The strut wasn't really part of safing the seat, it was there to keep the canopy from "accidentally" closing on unsuspecting humans. Or tools left on the canopy sill. Bad for people, bad for tools, bad for canopy.

Now those pins, they were all part and parcel of one of those "Remove Before Flight" deals, which worked very well, if used properly. You know those red streamers meant to catch one's attention? Similar to those in the next photo.

Aviation Ordnancemen, assigned to Weapons Department, G-1 Division, attach
"remove before flight" caution tags to AIM-9L Sidewinder infrared guided
air-to-air missiles aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72).
U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Tyler Clements

Now bear with me as I try to remember where all the pins went. Oh, before I do that, how about a nice picture of the seat?

I got this photo from Pinterest, but it seems to be in multiple places on the web.
(What that means is, if this is your photo, let me know and I'll credit you. Capisce? See next line...
(UPDATE Source - Kevin Coyne Photo, H/T To the Wing Wife!)

Okay, the pins (here is very good description of this seat):
  1. This is the pin used to prevent the seat from firing when the face curtain is pulled down. (Those two yellow and black loops at the top of the seat.)
  2. This pin prevents you from pulling up on the emergency harness release. (The yellow and black thingee. Which cuts the pilots harness, gives the crew a clean separation from the seat in an emergency. During ejection that happens "automagically" - as we engineers like to say.)
  3. First of all there is that red guard which swings up to prevent your hands from grabbing the ejection handle (again the yellow and black thingee) between your legs, there is a pin (I think) to keep you from accidently swinging that guard down. (Junior airmen who don't know any better like to fiddle with things like this. The pin prevents that. Sort of.)
  4. There is a pin underneath the seat which goes into the rocket pack. Yes, I said rocket pack. The video you will see shortly (stop right there, don't watch it now) shows the rocket blasting the seat out of the jet. You don't want that going off accidently now, do you?
  5. This pin is used to safe the crewman's emergency oxygen bottle. If one has to eject at high altitude, you'll need something to breathe until you get down to thicker air. If the bottle isn't safed then, yes you guessed it, Airman Schmuckatelli might play with it and let all the oxygen out. Bad, very bad.
One key point you should have picked up by now, if you're in an F-4 cockpit and you see something colored yellow and black. DON'T TOUCH IT!!! (M'kay?)

So now you know some of the many safety mechanisms which prevent maintainers blowing themselves out of the jet. Not good for the jet or the canopies either. Things burn, things get broken. Taxpayers get soaked with the bill. Bad, very bad.

I have heard of instances of airmen accidentally initiating the ejection seat in an F-4. Real horror stories, you don't live to talk about it. One of my subordinates and I had this conversation one fine day at Kunsan Air Base, Land of the Morning Calm.

Airman Schmuckatelli: "But Sarge, it's a zero-zero seat, right? I mean a pilot can be sitting on the runway, not moving and he can blast himself out of the jet to safety, right?"

Your Humble Scribe: "Now see here Schmuckatelli, when the pilots are in the jet, they're all strapped in. They have leg restraints to pull their legs in and a harness which tucks their arms in all nice and neat. When you're in the jet, do you have that? Are you strapped in?"

Airman Schmuckatelli: "Well no Sarge, but I could hold on really tight, right?"

Your Humble Scribe: "No, would you like to hit a wall in a car doing 60 and be holding on real tight?"

Airman Schmuckatelli: "Well no Sarge that wouldn't work because..."

Airman Schmuckatelli: "Oh."

Your Humble Scribe: "What are ya gonna do now Shmuck?"

Airman Schmuckatelli: "Check that the ejection seats are safe?"

Your Humble Scribe: "That's my boy."

So Murph, don't be running out to Sandy Eggo to test all this knowledge out. Take my word for it, all that stuff works as advertised. Unlike the boarding ladder, you won't have just mad docents to worry about. If you play with the ejection seat, who will feed your dogs?

Like I said, "Bad, very bad!" (And yeah, I may regret this...)

Now here's that video I promised you (the last few minutes are not about ejection seats, but are interesting anyway - and Buck, there's no cheesy music.)



  1. When I first saw your post I immediately thought of my friend Dick Lifer. He recently returned from a tour of England. One event was special just for him and his wife, a personal tour of the Martin-Baker factory. He's a member (#1896) of the Ejection Tie Club.( )

    1. The Ejection Tie Club...A membership that I'm very happy not to be eligible for. Take offs and landings are exactly even. Though there were several times I was glad to have had the option of joining the club, if you get my gist.

    2. Dick Lifer? He had to have been one tough sonuvagun to be in the military with a moniker like that. Wow!

      Great link too, thanks SoCal.

    3. I was pretty sure you weren't a member Juvat. Seems that would have come up at some point.

      Having that seat, no matter how rough ejection is, sure is a comfort for me when The WSO and Big Time are flying.

  2. So the canopies open WITHOUT power?


    Fortunately I know of numerous F-4 display aircraft that are much closer than those aboard Midway.

    So...the engines. Can they be started from the cockpit without using a GPU? And this is totally an academic question, of course.

    And worst comes to worst, the dogs are beneficiaries on a pretty cool life insurance policy. It'll buy a lot of Purina.

    1. The F-4 engines can't be started without outside intervention. GPU works, have to have bleed air -60 was the starter of choice, there is also something called a "cart start."

      But I've given you too much information to begin with.

      I knew you'd kick yourself about the canopies. Heh.

    2. Cart start...of course. Off to eBay to find cartridges.

    3. I'm pretty sure you've got enough powder at your house to make a start cart if you needed. (Just to add to the trouble Sarge is in)

    4. Thanks Juvat. I am so screwed. When will I learn?


  3. In light of how very COMFORTABLE those seats are, and to greatly enhance the educational aspect of a museum tour, it would be fun to offer the very inquisitive patrons a chance to don full flight gear, strap on a jet, and make a simulated flight. Rig up some kind of flight simulator doohickey to make it fun. Feed 'em a large cup of JP-5 flavored coffee and off they go for a 90 minute cycle. At minute 88 give them the "99, max conserve" call. At minute 125, the "Texaco" call. At minute 165 bingo and pigeons. At minute 210, simulate a landing ashore, and just before you let 'em unstrap, tell 'em they're gonna hot pump and head back to the boat. Let 'em stew for five minutes, hand 'em a roll of enlisted kleenex to mop up the tears and snot, and let 'em go if they promise to be very good. They'll need a bit of help getting out of the jet.

    Hey, I see I can apply online for a docent position! Bwa-ha-ha!

    1. That actually sounds like fun. Once. Just once.

  4. In re: the video and that Russian mid-air. So the one guy hits the ground and then casually lights a ciggie. He cheated death once, only to choose a slower, more painful sort of exit. I thought fighter pilots were smarter than that, but then again he IS a Rooshian.

    Nice post.

    1. Yup, Russian. Says it all.

      Thanks Buck.

    2. I don't smoke and never have, but after that episode, I might have lit one up. With absolute certainty, there would have been Scotch consumed!

    3. I personally would have had a brown stain somewhere on my flight suit. That was a low level, mid-air some scary stuff!

  5. I remember Lex writing about ejecting seats - how they are so powerful and violent that injury/death can come from ejecting. And it can compress the spine such that you are permanently smaller. So they are a last resort but when they can save your life....

    On Murphy can't decide whether he was funny or obnoxious.

    Leaning towards the latter :-)

    1. Trust me, Murph is a very funny guy. Also a very curious guy.

    2. Most of the guys I know that ejected (successfully, unfortunately that's not a certainty) either were grounded by the injuries incurred or later on in life had severe back problems. I believe that later seats had rocket motors that were "smart", so they could analyze the dive angle, speed and altitude as well as roll angle of the jet and if sufficient altitude was available, would modulate the thrust, so you didn't get the full thrust with a standing start. The Aces II seat in the F-15 was capable of a successful ejection from an inverted position 100' off the deck (in level flight). Never heard of anyone availing themselves of this capability, but it was somewhat comforting to know it was available.

    3. That Aces II seat sounds pretty capable. And smart.

  6. I know a few that have ridden the rocket, and they are all paying for it now...

    1. I dare say they are. The seat saves your life but it's not exactly a smooth ride.

      Friend of some friends was a Tomcat driver, he had to do a Martin-Baker let down, his back was never the same.


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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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