It seems safe to say that around these parts many of us enjoy and appreciate the unique features of the Convair B-58. One such interesting feature was the development of a survivable supersonic ejection seat. The early versions of the plane had standard ejection seats, but there were many questions as to whether an aircrew member would live through an ejection at supersonic speeds, especially at very high altitudes. Convair worked with the Stanley Aircraft Corporation to develop ejection pods that would jettison the crew in completely self contained pods.
A high speed sled was built for seat testing, as well as ground test launches, but how better to test the survival pods at the edges of their rated limits than to simply test them in flight? Of course, then the problem becomes, who do you put into the seat to ensure you get viable data? The answer–bears.
The first inflight supersonic test of the escape capsule took place on March 21, 1962, using a bear named Yogi, seen grinning happily in the lead image. The bears selected closely matched the mass and center of gravity of a human, but with shorter legs. The short legs were good because the inertia reel harness-retract system in the capsule was designed to pull the pilot’s feet back nearly under his butt to allow clearance for the clamshell to close. Yogi was lightly drugged, strapped in and ejected out of a B-58 at 35,000 and at a speed of 870 mph. 7 minutes and 49 seconds later, Yogi touched down under parachute, still inside the capsule–the test had been successful. About 2 weeks later another bear named Big John was ejected at 45,000 and at a speed over 1,000 mph. According to the stories from people who worked on the project, the bears quickly figured out that goodies and treats meant time for a crazy ride, and became increasingly uncooperative. This contributed to the end of the bear test program, since it created a need for a new bear for each test.
The capsules worked, providing a working range of ground level at 120 knots all the way up to 70,000 feet and Mach 2.2. By “1962 they began retrofitting the B-58’s with the capsules. All 3 crew locations were upgraded, but only the pilot’s capsule had a window in it as seen in the top pic. It was possible to start the process by closing the clamshell doors and pressurizing the capsule while remaining in the aircraft. The pilot was able to continue to fly the aircraft from inside the closed capsule. This was useful in the event of a cockpit decompression or if smoke filled the cockpit. If the full ejection was selected, the hatch would be jettisoned and then the seat rocket fired and sent the capsule on its way.” (airpigz.com)
Images and research from airpigz.com.