Airborne Awesomosity

Bears in the Air


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.

B-58-Ejection-Sled B-58-Ground-Ejection
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.” (



Images and research from

  • skitter

    RFQ: Ejection seat.
    (1). Survivable for ejection at low speed and low altitude.
    (2.) Survivable for ejection at supersonic speed at high altitude.
    (3.) Retrofittable to active duty aircraft.
    (4.) Must be tested on live large predator.

    I think my company will… pass on this one.
    My mind literally boggles at the steps for the project.

    • The Professor

      Bah! Where's your sense of adventure, man?

      • skitter

        You merely have to deal with high explosives and Emmas in your cushy academic position. Bears are a whole new level of danger and unpredictability.

    • CaptianNemo2001

      "Must be tested on live large predator." If we give a fat dwarf* a shotgun does this fulfill the requirements?

      *I don't hate dwarfs but I needed an example for "large" and "predator".

  • Wolfie

    Them smokies was thick as bugs on a bumper,they even had a bear in the air,we got us a Convair..

  • Devin
    • B72

      That bear looks handy.

      • CaptianNemo2001

        Those are the new camo gloves. You should really see the new camo masks.

  • craigsu

    I'd hate to be the airman who was assigned to clean the escape capsule after Yogi went for his first ride.

    • Even worse the guy that has to let a VERY PISSED OFF Yogi out of the capsule.

      • Very pissed off? Nah. "Yogi was lightly drugged."

        So it was obviously more like "Whoa! Dude! That was intense! You should do that! …Out of the capsule now? Okay, yea…you might have to help me with that. Sssay, do you have any peanut butter crackers?"

        • LIGHTLY drugged. I imagine something more like when I'm at the dentist and getting nitrous. I'm all relaxed and half asleep, really well buzzed. Then the drilling starts and I'm 100% conscious and with it.

          It went from "In the capsule, yeah sure Bob." to "WHAT THE HELL!!! I'm eating the face off Bob next time I see him!"

          • The gist of the information I found on the bears was mostly second hand personal stories, but essentially they said that the bears were pretty smart, and figured out that getting treats and lured into the little seat wasn't worth it after the first time. Supposedly this meant you either had to drug the bear so much that the biometric data wan't worth much, or get a fresh bear.

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  • AJ Noon

    Supersonic Yogi (A True Tale of Ursine Courage)
    AJ Noon

    I’m here to tell the tale of a brave black bear,
    Called Yogi, believe it or not,
    She was fierce, she was bold, and didn’t easily scare,
    And the male bears thought her quite hot.

    Back in the sixties our tale is set,
    When Yogi was just in her prime,
    It was the dawn of NASA, the rise of the jet,
    An incredibly exciting time.

    So let’s set the scene, it’s nineteen sixty two,
    And Yogi is no longer free,
    The US Air Force has a need for new crew,
    And our bear has a matching c.v.

    A new plane was built, a bomber in fact,
    With four engines and a delta form,
    Designed to protect against the Warsaw Pact,
    It’s payload a nuclear storm.

    So they enlist our Yogi, they give her a flight,
    Into this plane she is strapped,
    The fuel pumps start and the engines ignite,
    Then the brakes begin to retract.

    The plane leaps forwards, clawing into the sky,
    Born aloft on pillars of fire,
    Climbing so high. in the blink of an eye,
    That Yogi begins to perspire.

    Out of the window she saw the world shrinking,
    And soon only clouds filled her view,
    Pine trees, and salmon were just wishful thinking,
    She was trapped there was naught she could do.

    Then the plane stopped climbing, little did she know,
    She was at thirty five thousand feet,
    The throttles were maxed, the nozzles aglow,
    Mach 1 she was going to meet.

    Faster and faster our heroic bear went,
    Till she reached the optimal speed,
    She was about to find out the ultimate intent,
    Of those who had bribed her with feed.

    At eight hundred and seventy miles per hour,
    She started to suspect foul play,
    Her seatbelt tightened, she began to cower,
    This test was now underway.

    The joystick retracted, charges were primed,
    Clunks and clicks were the dominant sound,
    Yogi was shaking as a warning bell chimed,
    She realised she quite missed the ground.

    An eruption of fire and sparks filled the cockpit,
    Our Yogi was jerked straight out,
    The plane, from above, she had to admit,
    Was quite pretty below her snout.

    Rocket motors fired and her chair climbed higher,
    Then the slipstream caught her hard,
    Our supersonic bear, not a natural flier,
    Was about to be mentally scarred.

    With another loud bang a drogue chute went out,
    Trying to inflate in the wind,
    And Yogi prayed for salmon or trout,
    She wouldn’t even mind it tinned.

    Her number was up, or so she believed,
    But she had no sins to repent,
    So she lay there waiting, quite rightly aggrieved,
    At mans’ mysterious intent.

    Luckily for Yogi, the drogue chute found air,
    It pulled out the main chute as well,
    She suddenly became a floating bear,
    Drifting down in a composite shell.

    For over seven minutes she was free once more,
    Following the winds of fate,
    But then she arrived on the desert floor,
    With a bump that rattled her crate.

    The landing was rough but she survived in one piece,
    With nothing broken or bent,
    Though her fur was ruffled she wasn’t deceased,
    But she was far, far, from content.

    With a clean bill of health, she ,regretfully, retired,
    No more work with the US Air Force,
    And back in the woods, she shared what she’d acquired,
    Bears don’t make pilots, of course.