August 13, 2012
They don’t make volunteers like they used to. On August 17, 1946, First Sergeant Lawrence Lambert became the first person in the United States to be shot out of a speeding aircraft.
His shot (as in “out of a cannon”; at least that’s what it must have felt like) was the first U.S. manned test of an ejection seat. U.S. Air Force source documents note that Lambert’s P-61 was traveling more than 300 miles per hour, at an altitude of 6,000 feet. “Lambert was thrown approximately 40 feet in the air at a speed of nearly 40 miles an hour for that distance,” notes the report. “The ejector seat shoots a pilot straight up at a speed of approximately 60 feet per second. Though this is only about 40 miles per hour, the speed must be reach[ed] almost instantly, and this entails a rapid acceleration and thus a terrific strain. The acceleration increases a man’s weight momentarily. A 200-pound man might weigh nearly two tons at the acceleration used by the ejector.” Lambert experienced between 12 to 14 Gs as he ejected; he cleared the P-61′s tail fin by a mere 20 feet.
For this test, Lambert received the Distinguished Flying Cross. The recommendation for the citation, put forward by Colonel C.K. Moore, reads in part, “Sergeant Lambert’s courageous acceptance of this responsibility and successful demonstration of the highly experimental equipment has helped to solve one of the most acute problems faced by the Army Air Forces—the escape of personnel from the high speed aircraft in present operation and aircraft of higher speeds to come. His achievement has immeasurably advanced aerodynamic and medical knowledge and will make possible improved methods of escape heretofore unknown.”
Watch another ejection from a P-61, here:
January 11, 2012
Robert K. Smyth learned to fly in the U.S. Navy, where he flew fighter aircraft from the F8F Bearcat to McDonnell F2H Banshees, one of the first carrier-borne jets. In 1952, he successfully completed the Navy’s Test Pilot School and eventually left the service in 1955.
He soon joined Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corpopration as an engineering test pilot, flying the F9F Cougar, F11F Tiger and A-6A Intruder. He also contributed to the certification of the Gulfstream I, a pioneering twin-turboprop business aircraft that led to the Gulfstream II, which became the first of a long line of twin-jet Gulfstream aircraft.
Smyth was instrumental in the development of the Apollo Lunar Module during the 1960s, and in 1967 he was appointed Grumman’s chief test pilot. He and Bill Miller crewed the first flight of the F-14A Tomcat in 1970, but made bigger headlines when he and Miller had to eject from the aircraft just nine days later. (Smyth spoke about his career at the National Air and Space Museum in 2007. You can watch an archived video here.)
He left Grumman to join Gulfstream Aerospace, which was no longer part of Grumman, in 1981 and set numerous records as vice president of flight operations. He retired in 1993 and moved to Florida, where he died on Tuesday at his home at the Leeward Air Ranch in Ocala. He is survived by his wife, Sally, who requests that friends remember her husband by contributing to the Hospice of Marion County.