50 Years Ago, Riding the “Boom Bucket!”

We were given ejection seat training early in the T-37 flying phase. We had academic classes on the components of the seat, the controls, how to fire the seat, and what to expect should we use it in flight. The seat was powered by a 37mm shotgun-like cartridge that was designed to blast the seat (with pilot) up through the canopy, if it had not yet been ejected, and once clear of the tail of the aircraft, to separate the pilot from the seat. It was designed for a quick ride away from the aircraft.
In addition to the academics, we were to experience an ejection first hand. The Air Force had built a slanted tower, about 75’ in height with twin I-beam rails going up the tower. An ejection seat was fastened to the rail, and once the occupant fired the seat, was given one of those quick rides almost vertically.
Clever engineers had designed and built a cog system that would lock the seat at any altitude where it came to rest. Once locked, a hook-on-a-cable was sent aloft to raise the seat off the cog locks and to winch it back to terra firma. The whole system was dubbed the “Boom Bucket.”
Of course, we had to devise a contest. The winner would be student achieving the highest altitude (we were assured that the 75’ provided an ample safety margin). I can’t recall what the prize was to be, but for sake of argument, it was a drink at happy hour.
I wasn’t the first. Watching closely, I saw the first guy’s head snap down as he almost instantly disappeared from eye level and reappeared way up the rails. It seemed to take an awfully long time for that winch system to get up to him, and longer still to bring the seat back down.
More apprehension. When my turn rolled around, I wanted to do it as quickly as possible, so as soon as I was safely strapped in with parachute, helmet and all, I raised the handles and squeezed the triggers. POW — and I was instantly presented with a 4th floor view of the surrounding area.
Imagine sitting on a lawn chair fastened to the top of a flagpole. Imagine no visible means of support. That’s what it felt like.
After what must have been three times the wait I had notice for the others to get the winch up to the seat, I felt the seat rise slightly, then ratchet slowly down the rails to the ground. It was an experience I was glad to have put behind me. Would I have done it for real in the aircraft if I had to? Absolutely yes.
Oh, about the contest. As the largest in class, I came in last.

3 thoughts on “50 Years Ago, Riding the “Boom Bucket!””

  1. Great post and this brings back memories like the famous T-37 spins and a water crash simulator devise that ran a student strapped in a simulated ejection seat into a swimming pool then he or she had to unbuckle and escape. A safety diver was always there to rescue if needed. Goes any one remember what it was called and have any stories?

  2. After having investigated a UH-1N helicopter accident that occurred 10 miles north of Nassau, The Bahamas, in the 1980s, where only 3 of the 7 on board, survived the night ditching, I recommended that all Air Force helicopter crew members have the Navy’s dunker training. I was in the first class.
    We were strapped into seats in a simulated passenger-type fuselage that was suspended over a swimming pool that would be dropped into the pool, and then rolled upside down. We had to unstrap, find the the door, and escape to the surface. We did this twice. It was surprising how disorienting it is to be upside down, and under water. On the third dunking, we were blindfolded for our escape. Quite an experience!

  3. Reminiscing about USAF T-37 basic training brings back many memories but one has stuck with me my whole life.
    I was doing well and knew I would make it as a young confident Air Force pilot. We broke for the Holidays and, my wife and I, returned to Seattle and my father-in-law mentioned that his neighbor, Mr Craig, had flown in the Royal Canadian Air Corp in WW I and he would like to meet me. I was thrilled and we hurried over to meet him.
    He was well up in his years then but as I introduced myself I could see the excitement in his eyes to again talk aviation. He had found his leather flying cap and let me handle it as he talked about how they had to dress for the cold open air cockpits. I asked about their instrumentations and he smiled and said maybe a compass.
    “But how did you know your speeds” I asked and he replied
    ” The sound of the wires cutting through the air was what we used”
    I was amazed at the very basics of flight back then but when I began telling him about the spins and other maneuvers we practiced he understood and said they used stalls and spins as escape maneuvers. I told him how we performed barrel rolls and loops but when I mentioned Immelmann’s, a half loop with an aileron roll at the top, his eyes lite up and he proudly announced
    ” Oh yes. I knew Max Immelmann, he was a great pilot.”
    A moment i will never forget.

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