On 30th April 2020 it will be 30 years since I ejected from the rear cockpit of RAF Phantom XV402. It is therefore long overdue that I thanked you for the success of my Mk7a seat on that day, and requested to join the illustrious ‘Ejection Tie Club’.
I was serving on 56(F) Squadron at RAF Wattisham at the time. On that day we had taken a 4-ship of Phantoms to do air combat and affiliation training with some Harrier GR5s in Wales. We had flown the first sortie from Wattisham and landed at RAF Valley. The incident occurred at the end of the second sortie while again landing back at Valley. The port mainwheel tyre burst, came off the rim and the wheel gouged into the runway. The resulting spray of metal shards severed hydraulic lines and punctured both the internal and external wing fuel tanks causing the residual fuel to ignite into a 20-30 ft fireball engulfing the entire aft section of the aircraft.
Visibility directly forward from the back seat of an RAF Phantom is limited but I could see that we were careering towards the pair of Harriers whom we’d been fighting and who had stopped at the runway intersection after one of them had had a problem on landing. With no command ejection fitted, the risk of a canopy strike in the event of a simultaneous ejection, the size of the fireball engulfing us and little to contribute to steering and slowing the aircraft, I ejected.
I was conscious throughout the ejection and watched the aircraft separate away between my feet. There was one tumble before the drogue chute deployed followed quickly by the main chute snapping me upright. As it was a balmy spring day I found myself admiring the view from what was probably less than 200 feet and witnessed the canopy fall close by. Unsurprisingly, the ground rushed up to meet me and the previous ten years of parachute drills were forgotten as I landed unceremoniously in a heap on the grass adjacent to the main runway. As I sat there my mind immediately went to the fact that I was posted to Germany and had a tax-free car to collect the next week. How I’d pick up the car if I had broken one or both legs was my uppermost concern!
I was quickly collected from the grass and taken to the Station Medical Centre and then on to the A&E department of the local hospital for numerous tests and scans. The results were all OK so I returned to the RAF Valley Medical Centre a little stiff and sore above the shins from the friction of the fast retraction of the leg restraints. By this time it was after 9pm so I persuaded the (very) junior Medical Officer to release me from the Medical Centre to the Officers’ Mess which he did on condition that I took a warm bath and retired to bed. I didn’t do either of course but instead, walking a little like John Wayne in a western movie, went directly to the bar where my 56(F) Squadron colleagues, the Harrier pilots we’d been fighting and crews from 92 Squadron who were on detachment at Valley for a Missile Practice Camp were keen to toast in beer and banter – banter that was especially lively as it was 92 Squadron whom I was to join in three weeks. ‘Bonza Arrival’ one long-standing mate said with a big Cheshire cat grin as he handed me one of the best-tasting beers ever.
I was impatient to return to flying and, after much haranguing of medical staffs, managed to do so just 9 days later on 9th May with even more respect for the ejection seat I strapped into.
About 15 months later I thought I would have to use another seat following a mid-air collision. But that’s another story …