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Fifty-years ago this week, a supersonic flight test of the B-58A Hustler’s crew escape system was successfully conducted with a black bear named Yogi as the test subject.  Ejection took place with the test aircraft maintaining a speed of 850 mph at 35,000 feet.  The USAF/Convair B-58A Hustler was the world’s first operational supersonic strategic bomber.  With a GTOW of 176,000 lbs and powered by a quartet of General Electric J79-GE-5A turbojets, the aircraft featured a maximum speed of Mach 2 at 40,000 feet.  The Hustler air crew consisted of a pilot, bombardier/navigator and defensive systems officer seated in separate, tandem flight stations.  When the Hustler entered the operational inventory in 1960, standard ejection seats were used for air crew emergency egress.  However, the chances of surviving a supersonic ejection in the B-58A or any other aircraft were quite low due to severe wind blast and exposure effects.  The resolution of this issue came in the form of an encapsulation system that protected the crew member during ejection, deceleration, parachute deployment and landing.  Upon activation, clamshell doors would close and seal the crew member in the escape capsule.  The entire assembly was then fired out the top of the aircraft and into the air stream.  Flight testing of this system was initially performed using bears due to the similarity of their internal organ arrangement with that of a man’s.  On Wednesday, 21 March 1962, a 2-year old female black bear named Yogi served as the first live test subject.  The tranquilized bear survived the ride upstairs, the ejection event, 7.5 minute parachute descent and landing with no apparent ill effect.  Subsequent testing with other bears helped prove the escape system’s airworthiness.  Although many sources claim that this was the first supersonic ejection of a live creature, such is not the case.  That particular distinction (if it can be called that) goes to North American Aviation pilot  George F. Smith who bailed out of his stricken F-100 Super Sabre at 777 mph on Sunday, 26 February 1955.  Although battered and terribly injured in the process, Smith survived and lived to fly another day.

Posted in Aerospace, History

Comments

Bryan LeVier Logan May 23, 2012

Terry, Fascinated. Please contact me. Bryan LeVier, archivist/curator, LeVier Education Archive Preservation Foundation.
Sincerely, Bryan LeVier Logan.
831-210-6330

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