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Science: Briton Ejected

2 minute read

With verve, nerve and skill, British aviation last week backed its reputation for daring. On a little-used airstrip at Chalgrove Oxfordshire, Test Pilot John Stuart Fin ) Fifield volunteered to make the first live test of Martin-Baker Aircraft Co. s low-altitude ejection seat (TIME March 21 ). Tossing a pilot out of an airplane at high altitude is comparatively simple. There is plenty of time for the parachute to open. Doing it at low altitude, especially at ground level, is much more risky. The Martin-Baker system has controls that match its performance automatically to the altitude of the jump. It had been tested many times with dummies, but no live man had entrusted his life to its mechanical judgment.

Fifield got into the rear seat of a Meteor jet plane. With another test pilot at the controls, the plane screamed down the strip and reached 157 m.p.h. Just before the wheels left the ground, Fifield pulled the release handle. The ejection seat shot into the air. Fifty feet up, he separated from the seat and kept rising. When he reached 80 ft., two small parachutes pulled a big parachute out of its pack. It opened just in time, landing Fifield gently. The whole sequence, from ejection to landing, took six seconds.

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