Instructor Dies After Texan II’s Ejection Seat Activates On Ground

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An Air Force flight instructor died May 14 after the ejection seat in his T-6 Texan II activated while the aircraft was on the ground the day before. The incident occurred at the 82nd Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, but the pilot was attached to the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program that trains new military pilots from Canada and various European countries. The pilot was taken to a hospital but died about 12 hours after the mishap.

There have been issues with the ejection seats in Texan IIs, which have been in service for 17 years and are based on the Pilatus PC-9 built under license by Beechcraft. The planes were grounded in 2022 after a potential defect was discovered in the Martin-Baker seats’ explosive cartridge and some were replaced. The Air Force is investigating the Monday incident.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

18 COMMENTS

  1. IF this occurred spontaneously — as opposed to an accidental pull — this is very bad. That said, it is generally policy for crew to safe the seat with a pin(s) upon landing and they’re supposed to look at those pins before climbing in. There has to be more to this sad story.

  2. I have never been in the military or had any experience with ejection seats. With that in mind, I am rather confused by this wording in the story: “activated while the aircraft was on the ground the day before”. Does the word “activated” mean that the charges fired? – does it mean that the seat became enabled? If the former, I don’t understand the reference to the day before. Can someone help me? Thanks!

    • It is a convoluted sentence, but what I think Russ means is that the pilot died on the 14th, but the accident occurred on the 13th.

    • Unfortunately, the military press release offers little detail and we have to be careful not to inadvertantly color the thin facts presented. We have all the same questions but we won’t get any answers until the final report.

  3. I believe he died as a result of the incident occurring the day before.

    ” The pilot was taken to a hospital but died about 12 hours after the mishap.”‘

  4. Another clarification for the dumb engineer who’s not an FI: was the pilot in the seat that ejected, or was it the back seat that fired?

  5. The USAF IP died of his injuries sustained in the ground activation of his ejection seat explosive cartridge ,which had occured some 12 hours earlier. [ DAY PRIOR MISHAP ].
    As stated above by other poster, the pins are required to be inserted and check listed
    by flight crew during preflight inspection.
    As mentioned by Russ in the actual article, Martin – Baker ejection seat explosive cartridges have in the past fired off because of a known product defect first detected in 2022.
    Did the cartridge fire off with the pin engaged in the seat ?
    We do not yet know the series of events in this sad and tragic incident.

    • It’d REALLY be the S$*%s if the IP got ejected without being strapped into the seat … I don’t know if that seat is a zero-zero model, or not, but if he wasn’t belted TO the seat … he had a few moments of sheer terror before his lights went out 🙁

  6. It’s been a good many years, but when I last flew ejection seat equipped aircraft, those Martin-Baker ejection seats had evolved into what were then referred to as zero-zero (rocket) seats meaning the seats could be fired (“activated”) while on the ground or ship’s deck or ramp, etc. whence the seat occupant, IF STRAPPED INTO THE SEAT, could make a “nylon” approach to a relatively safe landing. The initial charge was explosive to enable the seat and its occupant to clear the cockpit and aircraft, then the solid rocket charge ignited and pushed the seat and its occupant up higher to enable parachute deployment relying on what I recall were referred to as “ballistic spreaders” to open the chute. This pilot may not have been strapped into the seat in an early stage of preflight preparation or the rocket charge failed to ignite or…well…there’s obviously a multitude of causes in such a complex semi-automated system. In any case the safety pins would likely have been installed to prevent the pilot and/or a ground crewman assisting the pilot from accidentally (“activating”) firing the seat until the cockpit canopy was closed and locked. Tragic!

  7. I have about 1000 hours in this airplane and the accident could have resulted for many reasons, including the airplane being under a sun canopy when the accident occurred, not having parachute attached to the harness, failure of the seat system itself, an open cockpit canopy during the accidental ejection, etc. The investigation will certainly reveal the root cause.

  8. Just say it activated on May 13th, and the pilot died about 12 hours later in the hospital. The seat propellant must have fired, but was the handle held in place by the safety pins? On some handles, past designs have shown the pin can appear to be in place, but not actually restraining the handle. It would be speculation to suggest that is the case here.

  9. It’s actually very difficult to accidentally fire a Martin Baker ejection seat. The initiation process is elegantly simple and is not dissimilar to firing a gun.
    Pulling on the ejection handle results in a thin wedge atop the firing mechanism being withdrawn. The wedge sits in a spring-loaded slider mechanism with a firing pin at its base, and as it is withdrawn the slider rises and the spring is compressed. When the wedge completely removed, the spring pressure forces the firing pin to strike the initiation charge. Thereafter, the hot gasses released cause secondary charges to be activated leading to the activation of the main telescopic gun and the ejection of the seat from the aircraft. This all happens in the blink of an eye. Safety pin(s) act as physical blockers to prevent the removal of the wedge.
    Elegantly simple, but the “Swiss cheese” law of accidents says that it can never be perfect. Thankfully, such accidents are, however, extremely rare. The last instance that I can recall in the UK was in 2011 when a Red Arrows pilot preparing to fly his Hawk T1 aircraft was ejected on the ground whilst preparing to fly a sortie. It was concluded that the seat firing handle had become dislodged from its safe, stowed position such that, even with the safety pin in place (which it wasn’t at the time of the accident), the handle would appear to be safe. Further pressure on the dislodged handle by the pilot, possibly during his “full and free” checks, activated the ejection sequence.
    The inquiry into this Texan II accident will no doubt consider a wide range of potential causes, but I can’t help feeling that something similar may have happened.

  10. It was the 80th FTW and both the instructor and student were sitting in the aircraft when the accident took place.

  11. Waaay too much speculation on here guys. Let’s respect the poor guy and wait for the report, or at least more information, to come out, huh?

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