On Mar. 21, 1962, a B-58 Hustler from the U.S. Air Force erupted in flames as a large, bright red capsule shot out of it, carrying a passenger to safety.
But the passenger wasn’t a pilot, and the plane wasn’t crashing. The event was a test of the B-58’s experimental ejection capsules and the occupant of the capsule was a bear.
The B-58 Hustler was created in the 1950s during the height of the cold war. It was faster than the U.S.S.R jets at the time and was the first-ever bomber capable of Mach 2 – the term given to planes flying at twice the speed of sound.
A new ejection was designed so the crew could evacuate at any time but the U.S. Air Force wanted to test the safety of the aircraft’s ejection system before letting its elite pilots try it out.
Why The US Airforce Ejected a Bear
Live Himalayan and American black bears were sedated and then sent up in the four jet engine aircraft to test the new ejection system. The bears were ejected at various altitudes and speeds in various conditions to check its safety.
The unfortunate victim was a young lady bear called Yogi. The bear was drugged, strapped in, sent up to 35,000 ft and then fired out in the snazzy capsule at 870mph. She parachuted back to earth a few minutes later. The second bear to be used – Big John – was fired out of his plane at 45,000 ft travelling at 1000mph. BOOM! He also reached the ground unscathed.
Upon landing, the bears were checked over for any injuries. Some did suffer broken bones, internal injuries and bruising but no bears died in the test flight ejections.
According to a few sources, There was one fatality among the animals during testing. One bear had a brain condition that wasn’t detected prior to the flight and the physical strain during the ejection killed the animal. Two other bears suffered minor fractures and bruising during their flights.
The ejection tests, which saw bears ejected at speeds up to Mach 1.6 at 45,000 feet, and medical checks after the flights can be seen in an Air Force video.