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Vulcans - rear crew disabling pilots ejector seats in flight

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Vulcans - rear crew disabling pilots ejector seats in flight

Old 8th Jan 2011, 16:54
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Vulcans - rear crew disabling pilots ejector seats in flight

My apologies if this has been discussed before; Halfway through reading 'Empire of the Clouds' (See 'good military read' thread) and after the description of the tragic crash at Heathrow, the author refers to an incident in New Zealand(pg 155).
Vulcan XH 498 broke an u/c leg on landing,went round and during the circuit the rear crew replaced the pins in the pilots' ejector seats on the 'we're all in this together' and 'you ain't going anywhere without us' mode of operating.
Is this an apocryphal tale? If not were there any other occasions when this happened, and did some rear crews agree beforehand that this would be their MO?
The idea that the captain would exit the aircraft leaving the rear crew to their fate was an awful way to operate and must have been complete anathema to former WW2 bomber crews, where the convention was that the pilot stayed with his stricken aircraft until, hopefully, the other crew members had escaped.
As a Herc nav I quietly thanked my good fortune that I had not been posted to what appeared to be death traps.
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 17:10
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Whether the story is apocryphal or not, I wouldn't know, BUT if the aircraft was going to be landed with one U/C leg unlocked and quite possibly going to fold at an awkward moment, it would have been only sensible to avoid the risk of the pilots' ejection seats "going off" unintentionally during the possible gyrations after touchdown.
During my years of sitting in "Seats bang, aircrew for the use of", there were several reports of "unwanted expulsions" after touchdown in forced landings, and if I'd been faced with putting an aircraft down wheels up, and especially if away from an airfield, I think I'd have preferred the seat(s) to be safe (though there wasn't always someone there to do that for me,and the occasion never did arise).

Last edited by Jig Peter; 8th Jan 2011 at 17:12. Reason: Blordy unspotted typos ...
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 17:16
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Interesting story - I have no idea about its veracity (or otherwise). I am currently reading the "Haynes Manual" book on the Vulcan and the authors (including ex Vulcan aircrew) reckon that 4 rear crews dies because they did not have time to do a manual bale out - that's 12 men dead because they didn't have ejector seats.

On the other hand I do remember some of my QFIs (ex-Vulcan chaps) telling me that they used to put their pins in the seats when doing ultra low level work - on the "we all go in together" principle.
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 17:39
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Where were the seat pins stowed on the 'V's and were they in a place where the rear crew could get at them easily?

In the Vulcan it was a bit of a climb from the rear crew area to the pilots' seats and on the Victor they were about the same level. Can't remember the Valiant 'cause the last time I got in one 'twas April 1964!

There were a number of 'V' losses where only the co-pilot survived and this suggests that captains were reluctant, to the point of death, to leave their crew behind. That said, there were also a number of accidents where only the pilots survived and hence self preservation overcame any altruistic motives. An awful situation in which to place the pilots and one has to wonder from a distance of 60 years why all three 'V' s had no seats for the guys in the back or the crew chief. James Martin designed and tested an ejection system for the rear crew but why it was not adopted I cannot say.

Two points, however:

a. In WWI, pilots weren't given parachutes because it was thought they would not 'stay in the fight' and the brass would sooner have them dead, than have them saved to fight again.

b. Other aircraft did not have enough ejection seats to go around; eg; B(I)8 Canberras and some other marks B15(?), B16(?).

In addition, NF and T7 Meteors and F & FB Vampires didn't have any ejection seats, despite the speeds involved.

Some quite extraordinary decisions but the sobering statistics are that the RAF has lost 9300 aircraft and over 6000 fatal casualties since VE-Day, the largest single loss being the Pisa Hercules. Then there are three Dakotas from the same squadron in a single day, a pair of Shackletons likewise and so it went on.

Old Duffer (in sober mood at the senseless waste)
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 17:52
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On the Victor K2 I certainly recall occasions when the Navigator would begin a non-normal checklist by loudly rattling the pins and their tags, and a wry "Pilot seat pins - insert" but it was only banter. The Nav kept the pins in a drawer or compartment on the forward edge of the Nav/AEO desk, IIRC?
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 18:03
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Vulcan XH 498 broke an u/c leg on landing,went round and during the circuit the rear crew replaced the pins in the pilots' ejector seats on the 'we're all in this together' and 'you ain't going anywhere without us' mode of operating.
Yes, they probably did replace the seat pins but not for the reason you suppose. They would have done it because they followed the recommended procedure in the Aircrew Manual:

Crash Landing The following considerations are recommended if a crash landing becomes necessary:

a. BEFORE LANDING
(1) Reduce weight as much as practicable.
(2) Have the Nav/Radar make the ejection seats safe. The pip pin in the canopy jettison gun must not be removed.
WRT moggiee's comment:

On the other hand I do remember some of my QFIs (ex-Vulcan chaps) telling me that they used to put their pins in the seats when doing ultra low level work - on the "we all go in together" principle.
Never even heard that discussed, let alone anyone actually doing it.

YS
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 18:17
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Suspect the ACM rationale as simple as 0/90 seats? Or worse?

NoD
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 18:39
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Suspect the ACM rationale as simple as 0/90 seats? Or worse?

NoD
They were 0/90, but the primary reason was that the anticipated escape route would have been through the "flight deck", the canopy was to be jettisoned prior to touchdown. Rapid egress from or over a live seat could have lead to an even more rapid egress! I suppose that a secondary consideration, as Jig Peter mentioned, could have been to remove the risk of inadvertent operation during the "arrival", but I am not sure about that.

YS
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 18:54
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Should ask Ric He*d - he knows everything about the Vulcan!
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 18:57
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Old Duffer. There was a thread om V bomber rear crew escape some time ago and by luck I still have my post in my computer. I will post it again to explain.


When the V bombers were first designed rear crew escape by ejector seats was not even considered. The Victor was conceived with a jettisonable cockpit, the Vulcan with a seat for the one pilot, the Sperrin with one seat between the two pilots and the Valiant, the last of the design phases, a seat for each pilot.

The designs for the V bombers were the first time that the British aircraft industry had to design military aircraft for prolonged operation above 30,000 ft and the Comet disasters proved how much they knew about it. When the V force cockpits were stressed to 8.5 lbs/in pressure differential that was almost a step into the unknown. It follows that any alteration like cutting extra exit holes for the rear crew was structurally impossible. The only way you could do it was to have a small hole with enough room for ONE seat to exit. This was done with a Valiant as a one off in the early sixties. This proved it was possible to eject from the cabin of a Valiant though I believe the primary research was to study the effects of rear facing ejection.

To have any chance at all you would have to sequence the ejection. You could not eject simultaneously as the seats would all meet at a point above the cockpit. All those who fly with a rocket seat attached to their backsides would think that is easy. Not with a Mark 3A Ejector seat that was necessary to clear the tail of a V bomber. That had a three cartridge, eight foot telescopic gun that ensured the occupant left the end at 80 ft/sec. With a seat like that you have to be fully prepared to eject. Should you not be fully prepared you would be crippled, if unprepared, fatally crippled.

Three scenarios were considered.

Inclined ejector guns for the outer crew members. This would involve them accelerating from Zero to 80ft/sec eight feet vertically and three feet laterally. The sideways forces would be more than sufficient to break their necks.

Tilted Ejector seats. This would require the seat to flop from the vertical to about 25 degrees to aim at the hole in the roof. Put you hand against a convenient object, tilt you seat to twenty-five degrees laterally and consider whether you are in a suitable body configuration to be punched out through the ceiling at 80 ft/sec. No, I thought not.

Shuffle Ejection. The centre occupant would eject and then one of the others would move his seat to the centre position, eject and so on. What do you do with the first ejecteeís gun which is still going to be in the way? What happens if the primary ejectee is killed or wounded? Itís a combat aircraft, remember.

I never knew of a rear crew member who complained about it in a serious way. The history of multiple abandonment of V aircraft suggest that in the time available in most cases only one or two would have survived, ejection seats or not.

It never worried me. As a co-pilot I was required to eject first so as to tell the Board of Inquiry what went wrong.
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 19:08
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The dilemma of saving the rear crew was demonstrated at Scampton in '58/59?, when a 617 Sqdn Vulcan lost it's nosewheels on take-off (over steering whilst being towed). It was decided that the rear crew would bale out over Waddington
Unfortunately the Nav Radar's parachute failed to open. The aircraft made a perfect landing at Scampton, though there wasn't much left of the nose u/c!
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 20:00
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XH498

Thanks all for your inputs - the author (James Hamilton-Paterson) wrote,
'As Vulcan XH 498 was landing in NZ in October 1959, wind shear caused it to break its port u/c leg on touchdown. The pilot went round again for a successful crash landing. During the circuit the crew in the rear compartment came forward and inserted the safety pins into the two pilots ejector seats, announcing that either they would all get out together or nobody would. They all survived unscathed.'
The brief biographical notes make no mention of any aviation experience of the author.

I seem to remember that my Flt Cdr at South Cerney '65/6, a Rhodesian named Mike Smith, was allegedly the first Vulcan captain to successfully evacuate the whole crew. IIRC this happened near Valley on return from a Goose trip.

OD - those figures you gave are staggering, I know for instance that out of 262 Valettas supplied to the Air Ministry, 73 were w/o in flying accidents. I guess for the early jets (vampire,venom,meteor, canberra etc) the attrition rate would have been extremely high.
As I've mentioned before on another thread, I saw the flash as the No3 Herc in our formation hit the sea - very sobering.

Back to the unsobering bottle, cheers Brian Wildey
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 20:28
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Aircraft Accidents - Aircrew Losses

In the 1950s in particular, aircraft accident figures and consequent aircrew losses were truly staggering. For instance, 890 Meteors were lost in RAF service (145 in 1953 alone) resulting in the death of 450 aircrew. Only the Meteor F8 was fitted with an ejection seat.
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 20:41
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I concur with Yellow Sun.

When a Mk2 folded up on the ground the canopy was jettisoned and the nav plotter exited through the bang seats trampling the copilots hand as he switched off the fuel pumps. In that instance the seats were live.

I can't recall where the seat pins were stowed although I routinely fitted the drogue chute pins. I recall one instance whe I fumbled a pin and it ended up in the guest plotter's nav bad. He refused to look for it and I only found it a week later after an illicit search.

The canopy pins however were a 2-way type. Pre-flight one pin was removed from the jettison gun and its mate, a pip-pin, was fitted in a guilotine type lever. The gun would fire and a lever would act against the pin pin.

On one flight I lived the canopy, the crew-chief then came up unnoticed and unthinkingly reversed the pins thus safing the canopy before flight.
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 20:46
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RAFEngO74to09: I think ejector seats were also fitted to the 9 & 10.
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 20:57
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After a total hyd failure in a Canberra B15 and ejection was not considered necessary (by the crew - but it was suggested by the rapidly assembling team of experts in the Tower) both navigators and the pilot made the seats safe prior to the wheels up landing (without foam). As the seats had very limited low level, low speed capability (age robs me of the details) the pins went in on long finals. This meant that the escape would not be marred by an inadvertant seat firing.
As Jig Peter said...
if I'd been faced with putting an aircraft down wheels up, and especially if away from an airfield, I think I'd have preferred the seat(s) to be safe
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 21:26
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I have theorized - no more than that, based on my reading of WW2 bomber ops - that somebody looked at combat and non-combat losses and divided them into three categories.

1. Catastrophic where nobody had any chance of escape, such as a major gun or missile hit or controlled flight into terrain.

2. Relatively benign (such as one gear stuck down, others stuck up) with timing, height and speed such that all on board could escape by parachute.

3. Aircraft damaged to the point where the pilot/s could hold it in an acceptable parachute-escape flightpath, but not themselves escape by parachute - at least anecdotally, a not uncommon WW2 scenario.

In that case, seats for the pilots and bale-out for the crew could emerge from OA as the way to go.

Slightly related: I was at the Smithsonian at Dulles a few weeks ago looking at the He219 and wondering whether the vital nature of its mission, and the value of skilled crews, was one reason it had ejection seats... However, the author of the site below says that the reason was that any attempt to leave the Uhu in flight would result in a close encounter with the propellers.

Heinkel_He_219
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 21:28
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Ther was the tragic case at Wattisham where a Lightning couldn't get its wheels down. IAW SOPs the pilot attempted to eject but the canopy wouldn't shift so the seat would not go off.

He carried out a perfect wheels up, in a Lightning?, on a series of fields. As the aircaft reached the end of the landing run it baulked gainst an earth embankment. This jarred the canopy loose and the pilot was ejected with fatal results.

Sometimes you just can't win.
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Old 8th Jan 2011, 22:05
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I am afraid that the fatalities of rear crew members in the Vulcan was a great many more than 12 and to that total, whatever it is, one can add fatalities from the Valiant and Victor as well
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Old 9th Jan 2011, 02:01
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'As Vulcan XH 498 was landing in NZ in October 1959, wind shear caused it to break its port u/c leg on touchdown. The pilot went round again for a successful crash landing. During the circuit the crew in the rear compartment came forward and inserted the safety pins into the two pilots ejector seats, announcing that either they would all get out together or nobody would. They all survived unscathed.'
The brief biographical notes make no mention of any aviation experience of the author.
Uninformed and factually incorrect.

The pilot, one Sqn Ldr Tony Smailes, performed a touch and go prior to the second approach, which was when the incident occurred and which had nothing to do with 'wind shear' as I recall, the aircraft just sank a bit before the piano keys and hit a slight embankment which broke the Port leg. He did not" go round again" and the successful landing was made not at Wellington, but at RNZAF Station Ohakea 90 miles north. This author doesn't know if or when the pins were inserted and is merely repeating rumour and speculation, but the Canopy was jettisoned before landing so the pins may well have been inserted at some stage. I very much doubt any discussion about "all for one, one for all" took place.
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