Today in History – August 9, 1949 – Navy pilot “Pappy” Fruin makes aviation history.

9 August 1949 – US Navy pilot Lt. J. L. “Pappy” Fruin of VF-101 loses control of his McDonnell F2H-1 Banshee at 500 mph and 30,000 feet and ejects over Walterboro, South Carolina, becoming the first American Naval aviator to use an ejector seat during an actual in-flight emergency. VF-101 was the first Navy unit to receive the type. (1)

Pappy a “VF-171 pilot became the first man in the U.S. to make an emergency ejection to escape a stricken airplane. He “punched out” while traveling at the fastest speed at which an ejection, experimental or real emergency type, had been made by any known living man. (During the war, German jet pilots had reportedly ejected from aircraft.

Also, a British test pilot had ejected from a crippled machine some time before Fruin). Pappy was at 39,000 feet in an overcast en route to Cecil field, Fla. His F2H experienced icing difficulties and the Banshee fell off into a graveyard spiral.

His starboard engine had quit between 20,000 and 30,000 feet. As he recalled, his airspeed needle was indicating 40 knots above the plane’s Mach needle. It was calculated that he was traveling at 600 mph. He felt severe buffeting and all other instruments were erratic. He jettisoned the canopy, grasped the two rubber handles, and yanked the curtain down over his face. Despite the speed, he did not black out when pitched into the airstream although his oxygen mask, helmet and shoes were blown off, and his Mae West became inflated, making it difficult to reach his parachute release ring.

He opened his lap belt and kicked away from the seat with minimum difficulty. He gyrated somewhat during
the free fall phase but, by placing his hand on his chest and compressing the life jacket, could see the red parachute handle and he pulled the rip cord. He believed he was at 1,000 feet of altitude at that time.

Pappy landed in a sitting position in salt water about 30 feet from swamp land. He began swimming toward shore but was slowed by a broken leg and other fractures. Fortunately, local citizens came to his aid and got him to a hospital.

The aircraft plunged into deep water and was never located. Fruin’s ejection eclipsed an experimental ejection by the Air Force from an F-80 in level flight at 555 mph over San Francisco Bay.”(2)

Sources: (1) Wikipedia Portal: Aviation; (2)

Scroll to Top