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.