Day 2 of EAA AirVenture and the air is filled with fast jets.
Martin-Baker, the family-run English company that makes ejection seats, won the Aero Club of New England’s Cabot Award this year. The British executive accepting the award failed to adhere to American Facebook standards. He said “it is an honor and a pleasure,” not “we’re honored and humbled.”
Thinking of taking politicians’ advice to go into STEM? One engineer in the early days ejected 18 times. Those first devices required the pilot to pull a parachute rip chord after being rocketed out of a plane (the company still operates two Gloster Meteor World War II jet fighters plus a Wile E. Coyote-style rocket test track near Belfast (for which expired air-to-air missile rockets are used)).
Roughly 80,000 seats have been made and 7,600 used (latest). The company refrained from offering a “Mk 13” version of the seat. Martin-Baker is managed by engineers and the product is far more complex than one would expect. Numerous airbags deploy in precise sequence to try to prevent a pilot from being injured during the ejection. (John McCain is the most famous pilot to have been injured by the process; the injuries that some people imagine he sustained as a POW were actually inflicted by not being positioned properly during ejection. The latest and greatest Martin-Baker seats require less of the pilot.)
The highlight of the award lunch was meeting Col. Joe Kittinger, who has used a Martin-Baker seat twice. He wore the tie that the company gives to everyone who ejects and the watch that Martin-Baker gives to pilots who shoot down an enemy plane and then are forced to eject. (Apologies for the iPhone photos taken in dim light; where’s the Google Pixel when you need it?)
As with the B-17 bomber crews who went out to Germany in 1943, I am not surprised that someone would go out on that first mission, but it is tough to imagine going out for the second.
Here’s to the guys like Joe Kittinger II whose bravery took most of the risk out of the flying that we do today and thereby enabled a mass aviation celebration like AirVenture (“Oshkosh”).