by Tommy H. Thomason

Monday, March 28, 2016

Early U.S. Navy Ejection Seat

Up until the late 1950s, each airplane company building carrier-based jets for the U.S. Navy was  responsible for providing the ejection seat in accordance with a Navy-furnished specification. (See

The specification reflected some of the features developed by Martin-Baker, the most notable being the use of a face curtain for the final step of ejecting. (There originally was a preparatory step, which in part served as a safety to assure the pilot seating on the seat that it would not fire accidentally.)

The Navy tested the contractor seats by ejecting them from the rear compartment of a Douglas JD.

This is an early Douglas seat with a separate seat bucket inside the seat frame.

This is a Grumman seat photographed by the Navy test unit in July 1949. Note the large headrest and "figure-8" face curtain handle.

While taking a closer look at pictures of the F9F-3, I was surprised to see that the ejection seats in ones taken in 1949 appeared to have a different headrest than later Panthers: the bottom of the cushion was notably lower. The shoulder harness attachment to the seat also appeared to be lower as a result. While the headrest was not the same as in the picture above, it was similar in terms of the size of the cushion behind the pilot's head.

The F9F-3s used to carrier qualify pilots on Boxer in 1949 definitely appear to have the larger headrest. I can't be sure about the ones that deployed with the air group on Valley Forge. For more on the F9F-3, see



  2. The F9F-5 had a Grumman designed ejection seat similar to the later F9F-2 seat. Obscureco offers one in 1/72:

    It has extended knee braces that I think were only in that position as a precursor to ejection. The headrest is also angled forward, which I was surprised to discover was actually a feature of the seat that I had no noticed before.