Above and Beyond: The Unhappy Bottom Riding Club
- By Norvin C. Evans
- Air & Space magazine, March 2010
Norvin C. Evans
(Page 2 of 2)
I had been told that if you had time to think about the parachute deploying, that meant the lanyard that connected the seat to the parachute D-ring hadn’t worked. I looked at my lap to see if my seat belt had opened— it had.At the same time, I reached for my parachute D-ring and found it still in place on my chest strap. To manually activate deployment, I grabbed the D-ring and threw it far from my chest. The pilot chute streamed between the seat and my body, pulling the parachute out. The parachute canopy began to unfurl from my left side.Next came a tremendous shock on my shoulders as the chute deployed, snapping me around like a rag doll.Now I was plummeting head-first toward the desert. The next shock was in my groin as the chute fully deployed. The canopy was above my head—the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen—even if the horizon was running directly through the middle of it, indicating that I was horizontal to the ground, which was fast approaching.
Using all my remaining strength, I pulled the parachute’s top shroud lines and stopped my pendulum swing almost directly under the canopy. The ground was racing toward me, and before I could get turned around to face downwind, I hit the ground rotating. I landed in what had been Pancho Barnes’Happy Bottom Riding Club dump and was dragged for 40 yards on my back through broken glass and tin cans until my chute got hung up on a yucca tree.
The aircraft went in five miles short of the runway at Edwards. I was one happy aviator, even though my flight suit was torn and covered with blood and sand, I had cracked several vertebrae in my lower back, an air police pickup truck almost ran over me, and a doctor on his first day at the base hospital and a pediatrician on his first rescue helicopter ride dropped me from the stretcher a couple of times.
Mine was the last downward ejection from an F-104. The aircraft got a Lockheed C-2 upward ejection seat, an oil pressure warning light, and a “butt kicker” system that throws an ejecting pilot out of the seat after the C-2 clears the aircraft.
The investigation revealed the oil pressure loss was caused by a rupture in an expandable oil line. The loss of cooling oil melted the compressor bearings,which caused the compressor blades, rotating at 18,000 rpm, to shift, impacting the fixed stator blades and destroying the engine.
A later examination showed that the cable,which was attached to the firing initiator,was wound in three loops and encased under a plate that was bolted to the seat front. The last time the seat was inspected, the last loop had gotten wedged between the seat and the plate when the cover plate was bolted to the seat. The investigators estimated that to stretch the inside strands of that trapped loop one-sixteenth of an inch, just enough to fire the seat ejection cartridge, I had to have pulled hard enough to create a force of 450 pounds.
Someone up there must like me.