I have known several people who have, for one reason or another, bailed out of an aircraft. Luckily, I'm not one of them.

The first of these was an instructor pilot I had in UPT. As an F-100 ("Hun") pilot in Vietnam, he was making a low level pass on a hillside during an airstrike, when his aircraft took several hits to its hydraulic system. He immediately lost control of the aircraft, and it carried him into the hilltop. The F-100 bounced off the top of the hill, and he ejected out of the fireball. (He has the scars to prove it).

The plane went on to burrow into the jungle several hundred meters on the far side of the hill. (That's the reverse slope for you Army types). He doesn't actually remember leaving the aircraft or being kicked out of the ejection seat. He was too low to get full deployment of his parachute. What broke his fall was the chute trailing out and getting caught up in the treetops. He landed between the hilltop and his aircraft.

Upon reaching the ground, and getting out of his harness, he set up 5 survival radios. He was supposed to have only 2 (one "hand-carried", and one that comes with the parachute). He never confessed as to where he got the 3 spares. Although the airstrike was still going on on the other side of the hill, he was firmly convinced that every VC in the entire universe had nothing better on his mind than looking for him. He turned on his radios in time to hear one of his wingmen talking to ABCCC (Airborne Command Post.) "I don't know, I didn't see a chute deploy, but we have a good beeper". He picked up each of his 5 radios in turn, and yelled into every one "I'm here! I'm here!"

The Air Force kept plastering the other side of the hill for the better part of the next hour until Air Rescue Service came to pick him up.

Not all bailouts need be that exciting. Another friend of mine flew O-2's in South East Asia. One day, while performing visual reconnaissance (sight seeing) in a valley, he took a hit in his rear engine. Although he was able to maintain altitude, he wasn't able to climb over the mountains and get out of the valley. There wasn't any place to land in the valley, and if even if there were, there wasn't any friendly place to land.

He contacted the appropriate agencies, got A-1 support, had the Jolly Greens standing by, and worked his own rescue effort, directing the Sandys on the area into which he planned to bailout. Once everything was set up, he stepped out of the aircraft. After hitting the ground, he undid his harness, walked about 25 feet, got on the penetrater, and was hoisted away. He was on the ground less than a minute. That's probably some sort of record.

One of my O-2 mates got out of a T-33. He was on the gunnery range at Cannon AFB. Unknown to him, one of his tip tanks was not feeding, and he wound up with the CG out of limits laterally. As he went in for a rocket pass at 2500 ft AGL, the plane broke sharply into a spin. He reached for the handles immediately. He saw ground, he saw sky, and he punched.

According to his wingman, he ejected at the only moment when the cockpit wasn't pointed at the ground. When he lost control, the plane snapped from about 90 degrees bank to full inverted. It continued to corkscrew and the nose was pointed straight down when he ejected. It made another half tumble to the full inverted position when it impacted.

My friend remembered opening shock, and for some reason, he started counting; "one thousand one, one thous" and he was on the ground. He landed about 100 yards in front of the flaming T-33 with its 4 rockets and 100 rounds of .50 cal.

Although his ankle was sprained, he managed to hobble out of the likely trajectory of the ordnance while waving off the range tower personnel coming out to rescue him.

The final story of bail outs involves a pair of OV-10's. They were on a cross-country flight from Osan AB, Korea to Yokota AB, Japan. The flight was routine until over central Honshu at FL 250. They encountered dense clouds and turbulence and asked for vectors for separation from each other. Before ATC could respond, they encountered a sudden jolt of turbulence that slammed one plane into the other. My friend never knew what hit him. One moment there was a bump, the next, he's in an uncontrollable spin.

He bailed out into the weather. As he's coming down, he can hear his (or his wingman's) OV-10 coming around to get him again! The noise passed him by, and faded into the cloudiness.

He landed in a farmer's field, and was immediately ushered into the farmhouse. Mama-san was pushing hot tea. Papa-san pushed the tea aside and offered hot sake. In the meantime, they had called the police (the logical thing to do in Japan) who contacted the JASDF (Japan Self Defense Force). The JASDF contacted USFJ (U.S. Forces, Japan); who eventually contacted 5th Air Force; who sent a truck to get him.

All three survivors (the crews of both aircraft bailed out there was one casualty) were held in separate rooms incommunicado at the Yokota Hospital until the accident board had a chance to interrogate them and check out their stories independently. I got all my information from one of the pilots after the board released its results. I met him through my wife who worked as a nurse at the hospital.

She gave me one of those telephone calls; "Honey, do me a favor, go down the squadron, call this number (which I recognize as a Korean number) ask for Martha. Tell her Brian is OK. He'll call when he can. (Several weeks later, I find out who Martha and Brian are -- however at that moment, I had no idea what I was doing). Then go to the BX buy 3 sets of underwear, sizes x, y, and z, get 3 shaving kits, combs, etc. ... Bring them to the second floor of the hospital, leave them at the desk, and don't ask any questions." With my wife, it's better not to ask.

Two weeks after their release from the hospital, 2 days after being returned to flying status, the 3 pilots were back up in the air.

I n pilot training they teach us to never trust the ejection seat. You are actually sitting on some webbing attached to straps. When the seat is ejected, the straps are pulled in and "pops" the webbing in such a way to "kick" you out of the seat1. When this is done, since the ripcord is attached to the seat, it, too, is automatically deployed. There is also a mechanism that undoes the lap belt.

What you are supposed to do is "beat the system". That is, try to undo the lap belt manually, push yourself out of the seat and pull the ripcord. If the seat is working properly, this is humanly impossible. Nobody moves that fast.

Nonetheless, one of the UPT Class patches shows a parachute deployed on the ground. The risers trail into a crater. Out of the crater is a hand holding a ripcord. The motto reads: "Beat the System".

  1. There have been some pilots, who, with the iron grip of fear and confusion, have been able to hang on and ride the seat in.