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It was from the He 280 V1 (seen in bottom photo) that the first-ever bale-out using an ejector seat was made when Argus test pilot Helmut Schenk abandoned the aircraft when his controls locked from icing-up.13th January 1942: At the height of World War II, German test pilot Helmut Schenk becomes the first person known to use an ejection seat to successfully exit his aircraft in an emergency situation.
Schenk, testing a Heinkel He-280V1 (first prototype) jet fighter, was in tow behind a conventionally powered aircraft when his plane iced up, making it impossible to start his engines. He jettisoned his canopy and activated the seat. Powered by compressed gas, the seat catapulted him clear of the aircraft.
Schenk was the first to use this method of exiting his aircraft in an emergency. Another Heinkel pilot (Busch) had previously ejected successfully under test conditions.
Germany, which produced the Messerschmitt Me-262, the world's first operational jet fighter, also led the way in developing the ejection seat. This was logical enough, considering that the speed and G-forces generated by these high-speed planes made escape problematical for a pilot equipped with only a parachute. Exiting the aircraft by "bailing out," as was commonly done in propeller-driven planes, was exceedingly dangerous in a jet aircraft.
The British also studied aircraft ejection during the interwar years but set the project aside in favor of other pursuits. They would not seriously revisit the subject until after the war.
The Germans experimented with several types of ejection seat — or Schleudersitzapparat, which translates as "seat catapult device." The one Schenk used was activated by compressed gas, another relied on a spring-operated mechanism, and a third used a propellant charge.
Schenk's seat, which was developed by the Heinkel Aircraft Works, was eventually discarded in favor of the propellant charge. That seat was mounted on parallel catapult tubes measuring 42 inches long. Each tube housed a charge containing an ounce of powder. When fired successfully, it achieved an ejection velocity of 35 feet per second.
Ejection seats were eventually installed in several jet-aircraft models flown by the Luftwaffe, including the Heinkel He-162 Volksjäger, the Arado Ar-2348 Nachtigal and the Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet. Strangely, the ejection seat was only rarely installed in the Me-262, which was the most widely used German jet fighter of the war.
From the time of Schenk's successful escape to the end of the Second World War, approximately 60 Luftwaffe airmen ejected from their planes in combat situations.
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