Early Meteor Ejection

Herewith a descriptive piece from Ted Newton about an ill spent Friday Afternoon.

Details as follows:

Date:                27th February 1953

Time:                1500 hrs GMT (Zulu time)

Location:          Bottesdale, Suffolk

Base:                RAF Wattisham, Ipswich, Suffolk

Aircraft:            Meteor Mk 8 (WH477)

Sqdn:               No 257 (Burma) Squadron

Seat:                 Martin Baker Mk 1

Preamble:

Martin Baker showed interest and informed me that I was the 9th successful ejectee in the RAF (25th overall). They sent me a nice tie.

I subsequently met James (later Sir James) Martin at Denham, whilst on a remedial outing from the medical rehabilitation unit at RAF Headley Court (recovering from back injuries). He was concerned enough to drop his trousers and show me that he too had scars.

The accident was due to a mid air collision. The tip of the starboard tail plane struck the weight on the bottom of the flag spreader bar, about two inches from the tip. The impact caused the whole tail section, including the rear section of fuselage to break away. Thereafter the flying qualities of my machine left much to be desired.

Here’s the full story.

It was a beautiful day late in February 1953. Broken cumulus cloud accentuated the azure blue of the sky and framed the Norfolk countryside, 5000 feet below, to splendid effect. Visibility was superb. It was possible to see the coastline 30 miles away to the east and, beyond that, the sea basking and glinting in the afternoon sun.

I was flying one of a pair of Meteor aircraft detailed to carry out cine practice against a flag target towed by another Meteor aircraft. The exercise was both simple and enjoyable. While the target-towing aircraft flew north and south along a patrol line over central East Anglia, we simulated high quarter attacks alternatively from the port, and then from the starboard, side of the target. When the distance between the attacking aircraft and the target had been reduced to normal gun-firing range, the cine camera, mounted on top of the gun sight, was triggered to provide a pictorial assessment of the accuracy of the attack which, afterwards, could be analyzed, assessed and discussed. This sortie was one of a series being flown by the squadron in readiness for a week of live gun-firing practice which, for obvious reasons, would be carried out in a prescribed range area well out over the North Sea.

The attack which, for me, was to be the last of the day, started normally from a position about 1000 feet above and 2000 yards out on the starboard side of the target. The tug pilot gave clearance for the run to begin; I pulled the aircraft round to port, aimed the nose down towards a point ahead of the leading edge of the target and then rolled to starboard to start tracking in from a range of about 1000 yards. My natural tendency to tighten up and over control the aircraft as 1 closed the target was a fault I was trying hard to correct. Close attention was needed and I was deeply absorbed in the business of keeping the sight centered on the target, all the while ranging-down by use of the twist grip on the throttle lever, and operating the cine camera with the normal gun-firing button. My intention was to get as close in as possible but suddenly I realized I was too close to the target, slightly below it and very definitely on a collision course. If I attempted to pull away above it, as was the normal practice, collision would be inevitable. The alternative was to make a hard break down and under the flag, a procedure not normally to be recommended. I tried to go under.

The aircraft bounced slightly as if in turbulence. Simultaneously there was a distinct thud, a momentary pause taut with suspense, and then a vicious, head-slamming flick to starboard. I was immediately and acutely conscious of being heavily buffeted in my seat. The motion and vibration were so severe that I could not think coherently, and it was impossible to focus my eyes on any instrument, or object, inside or outside the cockpit.

The noise was incessant and deafening.

Momentarily, the aircraft steadied and held a diving attitude of about 20 degrees below the horizon. A quick instrument check showed about 350 knots indicated airspeed and a height of about 3500 feet but winding down rapidly. I tried to regain control but found the control column jammed fully forward and hard over to the left. In contrast the rudder pedals were free and easy, a certain indication that something was very wrong in the tail plane. Abruptly the .aircraft resumed a peculiar tumbling, cart wheeling spin to starboard. The once beautiful landscape, alternating now with the blurred blue and white of the sky, had taken on an equally blurred but distinctly menacing-appearance. It was clearly time to leave.

The difficulty in focusing my eyes made it necessary to grope for the cockpit canopy jettison handle. It seemed a long time before I found it tucked away to the right of the instrument panel. I snatched it to its fullest extent. Nothing happened. All the while the motion of the aircraft was violent and irregular, and the increasing range of my body movements told me that the seat harness was losing the unequal struggle to hold me in place. Suddenly 1 could see the leading edge of the cockpit canopy. It lifted an inch or two and then dropped back into place. A pause. An interminable pause. It lifted again, hovered for a moment and was gone. With it went the dust and dirt of ages from the cockpit floor, maps, pencils and sundry bits of personal kit. The feeling of relief was intense,

Consciously making an effort to put my feet in or near the foot trays of the Martin Baker Mk I ejector seat, I reached for the handle of the integral face blind and seat-firing mechanism above and behind my head. Initially it was difficult to reach because of the effects of varying 6-loads. Eventually I found it and pulled it, if not in the prescribed fashion at least with immediate and satisfying effect. At the instant of firing I was hunched above the seat pan. I sensed a movement below me, vaguely heard a muffled report above the general uproar and felt a painful moment of impact. Fleetingly I saw’ a pair of overall-clad knees from which dangled, seemingly far in the distance, a small pair of shoes set against the black and receding background of the cockpit interior. And, suddenly, there was silence.

The seat stabilized quickly and I was able to move on to the next stage of the proceedings without delay. 1 looked down to find and positively identify the seat harness release mechanism. Previously I had always been concerned that, in these circumstances, I might mistakenly operate the parachute release box. Once the seat harness was released and the thigh straps clear, it was an easy matter to role forward out of the seat. I made an effort to straighten my body and located the parachute ripcord. I paused long enough to double check that the seat was clear and not likely to foul my deploying parachute and then pulled the ripcord.

The parachute deployed normally and with it a notable feeling of well-being became apparent. So far as I could judge no serious damage appeared to have been done and all that remained now’ was the relatively simple matter, so I thought, of making a landing. I looked down and could see the wreckage of what had been a perfectly good aero plane framed between my feet. There was no sign of the tail section, 1 judged my height to be something less than 1000 feet but found it difficult to make an accurate assessment, There was barely time to make sure that 1 would not land in the hole made by the aircraft and then the ground was rushing up to meet me.

It was not a good landing. I simply dropped on my backside in a wet and muddy field with pieces of aircraft littered around me. Once down I stayed down, determined to regain my breath, take stock of the situation and, at least for a few minutes, and do absolutely nothing. In conditions of little wind the parachute canopy collapsed gently around me. I was covered in mud and my flying overalls were torn and ripped in several places. Blood flowed copiously from my mouth, nose and ears and splattered over the front of the yellow life -saving jacket. Somehow or other, my helmet had managed to rotate some 90 degrees around my head and the oxygen mask was wedged near my left ear. Broken goggles obscured the right side of my face. All was quiet and still except for the crackle of burning wreckage scattered around behind me. I was content to sit, gently feeling, probing and twitching in the hope that nothing was broken.

My attention was attracted to the hedgerow about 50 feet in front of me. A movement, and the figure of a man rose out of the ditch. A pause and a second figure appeared. A longer pause while both men stood looking down into the ditch. From it rose a third man, covered in mud and water from head to foot. One could guess that this man, seeing the aircraft heading towards him in its final dive, had been quick to take cover in the ditch. His companions had followed in on top of him. Now they came towards me. They stood five or six feet away and looked down at me. I sat, not moving, and looked up. Nothing was said. A minute, perhaps, passed in complete silence and seemed like an age. Then, as if in the far distance, I heard my own voice say: “Good afternoon”.

They didn’t reply. Without a word, and as one man, they turned and walked away. I never saw them again.