David Lobjoie

The feeling of well done work. When you’re a young mechanic fresh out of training and you’ve chosen a “short” technical specialty (because today a soldier is 75% of the time a technician and the rest is the pure military aspect), you’re often told that it’s because you didn’t work well at school. As far as I’m concerned, this was not the case (or not quite so, because the hazards of military training mean that we sometimes take unexpected paths).

I grew up in a small village in eastern France, just across the gates from a French Air Force fighter squadron the ¼ Dauphiné operating out of airbase 116 in Luxeuil les bains. My parents had bought the first white house when they arrived in this village where many of the base’s military personnel were living.
Since I was a child, I used to watch with my best friend the Mirages III and then the Mirages 2000 take off above me at the end of the runway.
Since I was a child, like many young kids, I dreamed of flying these planes and some military friends and neighbors made me dream even more by giving me privileged access during the base’s airshows.
Then, when I was about 11 years old, my wings got cut off because of glasses on my nose…
However, I kept going to watch the planes taking off at the end of the runway until one day when the Mirage I was watching take off made a big smoke and went down in the field across the road.
We jumped on our bikes to go see if the occupant(s) were all right. But once we got there, there was no one left in the plane. Two minutes later the commandos arrived from the air base and kicked us out of the crash site.
Since that day, I wanted to understand how the beautiful bird worked and why there was nobody left in the cabin when I arrived.
Of course, the military in my acquaintance quickly explained it to me. And the mechanic friends naturally encouraged me to embrace a military career, something that materialized later on. Then I studied to become à plane mechanic towards a specialty in lifesaving safety equipment, because that’s what I wanted to do! To work in the cockpit and on ejection seats.

This long introduction to get to the fact that when you are a young mechanic in a big Germas (military aircraft maintenance center) that serves several squadrons and bases of Mirages 2000 in the early 90s, apart from purely military activities, well, you have to test aircraft instruments, fold parachutes, inflate O2 tanks and dismantle and degrease pipes all day long.
But we were learning. And as the old warrant officer that I had as a mentor said, “it is by forging that a man becomes a blacksmith”.
But I wanted to touch operational aircraft and all I did was maintain air-conditioning/cabin pressurization pipes and fold ejection seat parachutes.
And the old warrant officer was really ruthless when it was time to fold those big Martin Baker MK-10 ejection seat headbox parachutes.
A badly made fold, a badly looped line and he undid all the work by repeating Ad nauseam that this harness and this piece of canvas were the only two things that had to work perfectly with the ejection seat when nothing else was working in the plane anymore.
Dozens of times during my mentorship, my parachutes flew on the folding table.
Dozens of times the Warrant Officer would yell at me, but I understood why.
Because, beyond the reputation of people in my specialty, and mechanics in general, as lazy people……, what was expected from us was excellence in flight safety.
And you don’t realize it right away when you’re young, too proud, and often a bit stupid.
It takes a rush day in the job where, in addition to the parachutes from the Luxeuil air base, I also had to urgently fold 2 ejection seat headboxes from the Nancy air base with another old sergeant because, for some reason that I don’t remember, their workshop couldn’t do it and we had to service one of their planes that was going on an overseas mission.
We all know the competition between military units and on that day, the other sergeant on duty and I were not breaking with tradition and we were firmly mocking our colleagues from Nancy airbase by thinking we were the best parachute folders in the world.
And since our old mentor was also folding, we decided to do it by the book and even better, so that when the mechanics in Nancy would open the headboxes at the next check, they would be amazed by our know-how, our art…
Yes, I know, we were not lacking air, ” kind of stupid ” as I said above 🙂
I took the rear headbox and my colleague took the front one.
And as usual, after folding the parachute and looping the lines of the parachute and before inserting them in the headbox, we did our cross-checks, checking each other’s work and the Warrant Officer came to control. We filled in the documentation and end of the story… or almost…
A few weeks later, I was filling O2 tanks and I received a call from my Warrant Officer who told me that we did well to force ourselves to fold the parachutes from Nancy, because that day, it had rained lead (ok a missile) in the sky of Bosnia over Mirage 2000N #346. The crew got caught by serbians soldiers and released in december 1995.
That was on August 30, 1995. The crew was saved by this great tool that was the MK-10 and two sergeants who had well done their job a few weeks before.

SGT (ret) David Lobjoie

Are you a Martin-Baker Ejection Seat Maintainer?

Get in contact and send us your story today