On 31 July 1980 I was a Major and flying an F-4J as a VMFAT-101 instructor in the back seat with a student pilot in the front. After the aircraft departed controlled flight during a 1 vs 1 engagement in the R-2301 east of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, and after several attempts to recover the aircraft, I made a split-second decision to command eject from the unrecoverable aircraft. I initiated command ejection, using the lower handle, at approximately 3,000 feet MSL (1,700 feet AGL). Aircraft attitude was approximately 30 degrees angle of bank, 30-45 degrees nose low, 16-19 units angle of attack and 250 knots.
The ejection sequence was somewhat violent caused by the rolling, nose low attitude of the jet coupled with the wind blast. Thoughts that raced through my mind were of my wife and two young daughters and I prayed that the automatic chute deployment features of the seat would work as advertised. The H7 seat system worked perfectly and I found myself under the canopy at approximately 500-1000 feet above the ground.
On the ground and after releasing my shoulder harness and seat pack, I stood up and looked around for my student. I noticed him making his way to my position and it appeared that he was OK. At that moment I remember feeling good about my decision and knew that if I had not acted, both of us would be dead.
A SAR helicopter arrived approximately 30 minutes later and the student and I were transported back to MCAS Yuma.
All in all, we were both very fortunate to have both survived considering the alternative. The student indicated to me that when he heard me eject, he remembers thinking “I hope he had command eject selected.” He said he would be dead if I had not initiated command ejection.
I am eternally grateful to Martin-Baker for designing and producing a seat that worked the first time, every time and saved two lives that day. I am 76 years young and still married to my beautiful wife. I have been able to enjoy our three children and seven grandchildren due, in a large part, to Martin-Baker. My everlasting and sincere thanks.