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Ejection Seat Works for the First Time

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Believe it or not, during the First World War, the RAF did not issue parachutes to their pilots for several reasons, including the fear that it would harm morale. While aircraft failure was a constant possibility, it wasn’t until this day 70 years ago that a pilot successfully used an ejection seat to escape a failing aircraft. Before the design was perfected, pilots had to attempt to bail out, not an easy task.

On 13 January 1942, German test pilot Helmut Schenk was forced to eject from his He 280 fighter jet after his controls froze; when he survived, Schenk became the first pilot known to have successfully used an ejection seat. The US Army Air Forces never employed ejection seats during World War II, instead counting on distressed pilots’ ability to bail out on their own. This was generally only a feasible option for fighter pilots who could ditch their plane’s canopy, remove their seat belt,  and basically allow gravity to pull them out, whereas bomber crews were often trapped by g-force and the difficulty of making their way to a door.

This post by curators Larry Decuers & Meg Roussel

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