F-111 Crew Escape Module

The post the other day about Martin-Baker ejection seats didn’t go into a lot of detail on alternatives. One such alternative in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s was the crew escape module.

Ejections are hard on the pilot under the very  best of circumstances. The accelerations, the wind blast and flailing virtually guarantee at least some injuries to the pilot. The Mach 2 speeds of jets in the 1960s raised the question of how a crew would survive ejection at speed and altitude. Rather than forcing a pilot out of his nice warm (if doomed) cockpit, designers decided to treat the entire cockpit as an escape pod, and slice it from the jet.

As it turned out, ejections at supersonic speeds turned out to be vanishingly rare, and even then, a surprising number of pilots on conventional seats survived.  And designing an escape pod for a tactical aircraft forced a lot of penalties upon a plane. First and foremost, any system using a pod was quite a bit heavier than conventional seats. And weight is something any good aircraft designer would sell his mother to reign in. The additional complexity of any pod system (think how hard it becomes to design in all the wiring, hydraulics and avionics and the explosives needed to shear them and the pod in an emergency) meant a lot more design, engineering and testing time had to be front loaded on the introduction of any jet, and the maintenance load increased on the service phase of a jet’s life.

The pod on the F-111 was generally popular, and quite successful. But the penalties and costs were such that few other aircraft have used this approach to crew escape since.


Filed under Air Force, history, planes

5 responses to “F-111 Crew Escape Module

  1. I remember back during high school an F-111 crew had to eject up over the mountains of Vermont. In the winter. At night. I heard that their escape pod kept them alive until morning when the rescuers could arrive. Nice post.


  2. http://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=152909
    1 of 2 incidents in Vermont. The other was daylight hours:

    Pictures of capsules on the ground. One is of the 1989 incident, the other from a 1980 ejection in Canada. Third pic may be of the 1975 ejection.


  3. SFC Dunlap 173d RVN

    Unless mistaken, did not the XB-70 Valkyrie have an escape pod??? Best “buzz” job I ever got was from an F-111 at the old CAF Airsho in Harlingen, TX. Got “warmed” by the heat plume after it (barely), passed overhead. Next best by an Czech Mi-17 but that is another story.