Above & Beyond: The Unhappy Bottom Riding Club

Above & Beyond: The Unhappy Bottom Riding Club

The author just discovered a Pancho’s Happy Bottom Riding Club T-shirt he had stored away from his stint at Edwards Air Force Base — never worn. (Norvin C. Evans)
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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. 

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