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Archive Report: Axis Forces
1914-1918   1935-1945

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.


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Luftwaffe Crest

World's First Ejection Seat Life Saver

January 13, 1942

The story of ejection seats goes surprisingly far back in the history of aviation development.

A bungee-assisted escape from an aircraft took place in 1910. In 1916, Everard Calthrop, an early inventor of parachutes, patented an ejector seat using compressed air.

The modern layout for an ejection seat was first introduced by Romanian inventor Anastase Dragomir in the late 1920s. The design featured a parachuted cell (a dischargeable chair from an aircraft or other vehicle). It was successfully tested on 25 August 1929 at the Paris-Orly Airport near Paris and in October 1929 at Băneasa, near Bucharest. Dragomir patented his 'catapult-able cockpit' at the French Patent Office.

The design was perfected during World War II. Prior to this, the only means of escape from an incapacitated aircraft was to jump clear, and in many cases, this was difficult due to injury, the difficulty of egress from a confined space, g forces, the airflow past the aircraft, and other factors.

Helmut Schenk becomes the first person to owe his life to an ejection seat, when test flying the Heinkel He-280 V1 prototype coded DL+AS, after the aircraft's control surfaces were rendered inoperative owing to icing.

The first ejection seats were developed independently during World War II by Heinkel and SAAB. Early models were powered by compressed air and the first aircraft to be fitted with such a system was the Heinkel He 280 prototype jet-engined fighter in 1940. One of the He 280 test pilots, Helmut Schenk, became the first person to escape from a stricken aircraft with an ejection seat on 13 January 1942 after his control surfaces iced up and became inoperable. The fighter, being used in tests of the Argus As 014 impulse jets for Fieseler Fi 103 missile development, had its usual HeS 8A turbojets removed, and was towed aloft from Rechlin, Germany by a pair of Bf 110C tugs in a heavy snow-shower. At 7,875 feet (2,400 m), Schenk found he had no control, jettisoned his towline, and ejected.

Heinkel He 280 Being Towed by Me 110 i

Heinkel He 280 being towed aloft by Me 110


Heinkel He 280 with jets removed and faired off

Heinkel He 280 with Jets removed and faired off for aerodynamic effecft

Sources: Wikipedia, crash-aerien-news (in French), Gregor Winter

SY 2022-02-03

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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