Ejection-Or Ejection Rejection?

Copyright 2014, Doug Robertson, posted on 2014-06-10

I would be remiss if not including an article about an ejection gone horribly wrong.

I would place this case of a US Navy F/A-18 Hornet single seat version in the early 1980s, certainly before October 1982, as I was in Flight Test Division until that time. The F/A-18 pilot based in one of the tenant commands departed NAS Point Mugu NTD for a short flight to NAS China Lake NID in California. Upon subsequent takeoff for departure from the NID runway the Naval Aviator pilot found the right main landing gear would not retract. No "three in the green". A precautionary fly-by the NID tower confirmed the right main landing gear was NOT retracted and the right wheel and tire assembly were missing! Decision was made to continue the short jet flight back to Point Mugu in this condition as maintenance facilities for the F/A-18 did not exist at that time at NID. Point Mugu was alerted and a crash/fire truck from Mugu's Fire Station #2 near the intersection of the duty runway and the crosswind runway was dispatched. The Medical Department sent an ambulance with Navy Flight Surgeon and Hospital Corpsman driver. The Photography Department sent video personnel for full coverage of the F/A-18 landing on the 11,100 foot duty runway 21.

The pilot made a normal approach except keeping the right wing slightly high. As touchdown on the left main gear occured and speed bled off the right stub gear contacted the runway surface and pivoted the aircraft sharply rightward off the runway into the dirt, raising a big cloud of dust and dirt partly obscuring the aircraft. Somewhere in that moment the pilot decided to eject. All was documented on video, which I was later able to watch on 4 or 5 occasions, as it was so compelling. Sickening, even, to watch as the video observers just knew the pilot would not get a full chute as his body swung down behind the streaming not-fully deployed parachute. His body landed on his side with a thud in the dirt, raising another dust and dirt cloud about him. He remained motionless as the Flight Surgeon ran toward him at full tilt carrying his medical bag to attend to the wounded pilot. The pilot was removed from the accident scene for medical attention. He suffered a compound fracture of the right pelvis and other injuries so severe that it did not allow him to return to flight status, but he did survive. The F/A-18 remained upright and intact beside the duty runway, except for the right main landing gear damage and blown canopy. The F/A-18 did not have an ACES II seat, which is an Advanced Concept Ejection Seat, an altitude-seeking ejection seat designed to fully deploy a parachute at an altitude allowing safe, controlled descent. (For an inverted ejection per earth/water reference, there is a minimum altitude above that, that the ACES II seat will save a pilot). This is a case where a pilot had to make a split-second decision to eject or not.   

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