I’m a retired Royal Airforce Weapons Technician. I was lucky that during my time in the RAF, I was able to work with AAES on the Tornado and a maintainer on the Harrier Mk.12H ejection seat.
It was a very normal day. Normal breakfast, normal drive to work, however on walking into the workshop I soon realised that actually, the 14th May 2009 wasn’t going to be a normal day. I was a supervisor in a centralised servicing facility that specialised in the maintenance of RAF Harrier Mk.12H seats. The workshop had recently moved to RAF Marham from RAF Wittering as part of a plan to centralise all ejection seat maintenance in the RAF. We were given a workshop within a building full of RAF Electricians, as weapons guy, you’ll know that that can be an uncomfortable proposition ! But it worked out, they like us, we liked them. They also had a nice crewroom.
The phones were ringing. I answered. Reports were coming through that a Harrier had ‘crashed’ at Kandahar airfield. Obviously your very first reaction is that of surprise. Followed by your question ‘Did pilot escape?’. I knew that every seat that left that building was meticulously stripped, cleaned, inspected, tested and reassembled and inspected again. The pilot had every chance of a successful escape from his aircraft. The answer back was a resounding ‘Yes. He’s a bit battered and bruised, but he’s OK’. And you know what? that’s all that mattered. The pilot experienced a hard and fast landing, causing the undercarriage to collapse. He stayed with the Harrier as long as he could to keep it straight on the runway, and at the last moment, pulled his seat pan handle. Success.
As the bosses descended upon the workshop to shake our hands and take away all the seat records, and once the excitement died down, it was business as normal. Maintaining Martin-Baker Mk.12H ejection seats, knowing that what we did as maintainers was actually saving lives.