The US Air Force Used to Test Supersonic Ejector Seats with Drugged-Up Bears

By Eric Limer on at

In 1950, the United States Air Force had a new bomber called the B-58 Hustler, the first to go Mach 2. Naturally they wanted to include ejector seats to allow pilots a chance to bail out, but first they had to do a lot of testing, and they did it with bears. Bears on drugs.

A plane moving nearly twice the speed of sound required particularly robust sort of ejection mechanism of course, and the one designed for the Hustler was just that. The seats would first enclose the pilot (or testing bear) in an escape pod of sorts, which was then jettisoned from the plane with the help of rockets.

When it came to testing, the Air Force found Himalayan and American black bears to be both readily available, and fairly decent approximations of the size, shape, and weight of the human form. The bears were sedated before launch, and then ejected at a variety of altitudes and speeds. Several of them suffered broken bones and other relatively minor wounds, but all survived. At least, they survived until medical examinations that involved being euthanised and dissected, that is.

The program didn't last too long, but this archival footage of the tests, which includes the awkward man-handling of some heavily sedated bears, is sure to make you wish it hadn't happened at all. But hey, at least the bombs never dropped, right? [io9]