Project: Get Out and Walk 



United States Air Force VMF-233

F-8C Crusader

BuNo 147033

16th October 1961

1st Lt. James E. Strawn


High Speed Ejection


I was actually not scheduled to fly on 16 Oct 1961 as I was the squadron duty officer. The squadron, VMF-333, was undergoing an ORI (GCI supersonic intercepts) and when I returned from lunch and was about to resume the SDO job (a listserv member, hotfoottj, relieved me for lunch) the OPS O told TJ to keep the duty and for me to suit up as standby pilot for the last ORI sortie. Well, of course, the ORI chief admin downed the last go flight leader; the original wingy launched as lead, and I got scrambled to be the wingman. Lead was in the cons and beginning an intercept when I joined aft and not closing. We were supposed to be holding 1.4 on the intercepts, so left the heat up expecting to catch up when he throttled back. My last positive airspeed check was between 1.5 - 1.55 mach. A short time (3-5 secs) later, I heard a loud noise, felt a tremendous wind blast and got severe tunnel vision with which I could see lots of glass fragments flying around. I was leaning forward in the seat to avoid the wind, came out of burner and reached up to lower my visor (you may remember with the old one color only visor it was damned near impossible to use the scope with the visor down). I discovered I no longer had a visor, as the assembly departed along with the canopy glass. I put my hand back on the throttle to retard it, deploy sb, etc. At this point with no action on my part, I departed the machine. From glass break to ejection was between 4-5 seconds.

I don't have any memory of actually leaving the cockpit, my next semi-rational thought was that I was caught in a gigantic pinwheel as I was violently tumbling head over heels and soon became aware that the two dark objects at close 12 were the bottoms of my flight boots. I made some feeble attempts to stabilize my body by holding out my arms, and then noticed that I was still attached to the seat. I also noticed that something was blocking my vision, and I wasn't breathing too well and managed to rotate my hardhat back into position. The entire assembly had rotated backward until the part of the O2 mask normally close to the adams apple was across my lower teeth. I had just begun to think maybe I would be better off out of the seat, as I was still mostly rotating around all axes, when the chute opened. I attempted to check canopy condition but couldn't get my head through the straps with the hardhat on so I removed it and what I saw wasn't too comforting. The riser cords from just above my head were tightly wound into about 1.5" bundle up to maybe 12-15 feet below the canopy and the canopy itself was only 3/4 inflated. Because of the condition of my legs, I had some concern about landing hard on top of the raft assembly, and knowing I was not going in any water I jettisoned the whole mess including the hat and mask. By this time I was getting pretty close to the ground and did not have the sensation of dropping too fast. Luckily, I was drifting slowly backward and hit the ground with my heels dragging and landed on my butt. No further injuries.

I had come down behind a small farm house and there was a young boy playing there who saw me hit and came over to where I was laying and I got him to start the SAR effort. I was on the ground around 45 minutes before being heloed to Shaw AFB hospital. I spent a week there then evaced to Beaufort Naval Hosp where I spent the next seven months recovering, returning to flight status in Nov 62. My next F8 hop was in spring of '67 in preparation of RVN tour with VMF-232 and 235. You better believe I was a little nervous on the first supersonic run.

The injuries sustained were superficial face wounds from the flying glass, a dislocated shoulder from, I think arm striking the railing on the way out, and dislocation of both knees from hyperextention and flailing due to air pressure. The AAR concluded that the leg restraint cord had functioned properly and was loosened via something hitting the tension release knob during the initial ejection sequence. All the seat tumbling was due to failure of the stabilizer and controller drogues failure due the speed and they in turn were rotating causing the wrapped up shroud lines. Interestingly, most of the hardware including the canopy, seat, hardhat, mask, raft were found due to some excellent detective work by the accident board. About the only thing not recovered were the kneeboard and glove lost on ejection. The primary cause of the accident was attributed to design deficiencies of the MB face curtain with contributing cause the canopy glass failure. As the board pointed out, loss of a canopy shouldn't result in loss of the machine.

I attribute my survival to two things: I had gone the previous day to the paraloft and had the helmet nape strap tightened (I think there had been some safety article about it; I know I wouldn't have thought of it on my own) which kept the helmet on my head and secondly, I only weighted about 150 lbs which allowed the seat to get me over the vertical stabilizer.

On a personal note: I went through Beeville in the summer of '59 while you were instructing there, (Checker flight wasn't it?) but don't believe we flew together. I was in a flight with Don Primeau as primary instructor and Billy Wheat and J Huber the other instructors. Actually I think the last time our paths crossed was in the Cubi club the last of August/first of September 1967.

I had ferried an F8 out of country to be deck loaded to the states; best I remember there was some roll throwing which escalated to ashtrays but cooler heads prevailed before it got out of hand. Don't remember what you were doing, but I think maybe squadron CO at the time.

As to the above, please feel free to slash and burn as needed. I along with the entire F8 community appreciate your efforts. Being a computer guy for the past 18 years, I know




A reprint of a letter by James E. Strawn, former F8 driver and current Squadron-235 Treasurer by kind permission of Tom O'Rorke VMF-235  

Tom and Tom: Here is what I sent Finley for the F8 newgroup:

I have been asked to relay the details of my ejection. Feel free to edit/not publish as desired.