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« Valach Motors 800cc 45hp 7 Cylinder Radial Engine. Want! | Main | Swanky Convair B-58 Derivative SST - Circa 1960 »

B-58 Proves Supersonic Ejection To Be Bear-able In 1962

 The Convair B-58 originally went into service in 1960 with standard ejection seats, but the possibility of ejecting at supersonic speeds and at extreme high altitude meant the crewman stood little chance of surviving these extreme conditions.  To deal with this situation, Convair worked with the Stanley Aircraft Corporation to develop an escape capsule.  The capsule is shown in the pic above, and it was an extremely interesting piece of equipment that actually closed clamshell doors over the crewman and then pressurized the capsule before ejecting out of the aircraft.

 The first live, inflight supersonic test of the escape capsule took place on March 21, 1962, but the body inside wasn't a member of the Air Force… it was a female bear name Yogi!  That's her in the photo above.  The bear most accurately represented the weight of a pilot, so they drugged her up, strapped her in, and then ejected her out of a B-58 at 35,000 and at a speed of 870 mph.  7 minutes and 49 seconds later, Yogi touched down under parachute, still inside the capsule doing just fine.  The Stanley escape capsule had proved to work great in protecting against the high wind blast, the extreme cold and the low air pressure.  About 2 weeks later another bear named Big John was ejected at 45,000 and at a speed over 1,000 mph!  Once again the capsule worked great and the bear reached the ground unharmed.


 This picture shows a B-58 ejection 'test sled' was used in the late 50’s and early 60’s.  It was mounted on a 4.1 mile track and used for early high speed ejection testing.  Shown here is an original style ejection seat just leaving the sled with a ‘dummy’ in the seat.


 Another ejection test shown in this picture using an actual B-58, but this time it’s one of the Stanley escape capsules.  In late 1962 they began retrofitting the B-58’s with the capsules.  All 3 crew locations were upgraded, but only the pilot’s capsule had a window in it as seen in the top pic.  It was possible to start the process by closing the clamshell doors and pressurizing the capsule while remaining in the aircraft.  The pilot was able to continue to fly the aircraft from inside the closed capsule.  This was useful in the event of a cockpit decompression or if smoke filled the cockpit.  If the full ejection was selected, the hatch would be jettisoned and then the seat rocket fired and sent the capsule on its way. 

 The capsules were designed to protection even after landing.  They included a variety of onboard survival gear and were also built to float.  Most important, the tests done with the bears proved that the system worked… in fact the Stanley ejection capsules had a working range of ground level at 120 knots all the way up to 70,000 feet and Mach 2.2.


 This picture gives a great view of the crew arrangement on the Convair B-58.  Pilot up front, bombardier/navigator in the middle, and the DSO (Defensive Systems Operator) in the back.

 I’ve got a couple more ‘B-58 Week’ posts to put up tomorrow as this special segment comes to an end… for now : )


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Reader Comments (10)

In re: Bears in the Air…
Many years ago, I worked with one of the Convair B-58 egress engineers (Mr. Jim Carlisle) that was directly involved with the Stanley capsule and bear tests mentioned in this blog. Mr. Carlisle was unclear as to why bears were used for the test campaign, but suggested that the mass and center of gravity of a suitably selected bear would match those of a human – but with shorter legs.

Short legs are a good thing because the inertia reel harness-retract system in the capsule was designed to pull the pilot’s feet back nearly under his butt to allow clearance for the clamshell to close.

The bears were (by Mr. Carlisle’s reckoning) quite tame and were treated as big pets by all involved. They were lavished with treats (apples and other bear goodies) just before each test, mildly sedated, and then equipped with the biometric measuring gear, strapped into the seat then lowered into the jet (or sled) for the test.

By all accounts, bears are quick learners and having done one test, they refused the onset of treats prior to the next with substantial resistance. By substantial, I mean they had to sedate the bears to near unconsciousness, rendering the biometric data useless! This increased the budget for bear acquisition to intolerable levels, thus ending the short “bears in the air” period of the B-58 program.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJD

JD- Thanx for the detailed info on the bears used in the B-58 tests, I appreciate it : )

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMartt (admin)

Does anyone know where to obtain a picture of "Yogi" or "Big John" actually sitting in the ejection seat? The only pic I've seen of either bear is the one of Yogi posted here. An "action shot" would be awesome. There must be such pictures in an archive somewhere, so I wonder why they have not been released.

August 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichaelR

MichaelR- That's a good question... I only found the same pix that you mention. Maybe you can find an archival source to get in contact with. I did find a lot of fascinating pictures of Convair from that era on a Texas historical site (possibly connected with a University, I don't remember) but I was amazed at how many good quality images they had of Convair operations. However, Yogi pix might not be found there since most of that testing probably took place away from the Texas facilities.

August 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMartt (admin)

I designed and built the tracking antenna that tracked the bears in the B-58 ejection capsule tests. The previous month I tracked John Glenn with the same antenna.

Want a picture?

Wes Sherman

August 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterByron W. (Wes) Sherman

Since I was the Project Officer (title not rank) for the flight testing of both the B-58 capsule and the XB-70 escape capsule I am fully knowledgeable of the flight test program. The use of bears was not done until the eighth test (there were fifteen in all). The bear was not a pet. They were test subjects to test the effects of severe ejection loads that humans would be subject to during ejection. They were never used a second time.

This was the height of the Cold War and the B-58 was the most advanced aircraft at that time. As such it was also the most dangerous. There were approximately twenty percent of the aircraft lost due to accidents, some due to unknown causes at Mach 2.0. The capsule was an effort to save lives as there were many lost. The inflight test program was necessary since supersonic flight conditions could not be simulated any other way. The program was quite risky and not for the purpose of playing with bears.

Robert Sudderth

May 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Sudderth

According to the government white paper on the subject all bears were destroyed shortly on return to base. All but the last three bears suffered serious internal injuries and multiple broken bones. 'Several hundred' bears were acquired for this purpose, all of which were destroyed 'in or after the testing process, by the testing process or by gun shot to the heart to preserve cranial damage from impacts'.

I don't know why you all want photos of the bears on their suicide missions, it's a bit macabre, but the air force white paper includes photographs and video ref #'s in the archives you could obtain if you really wanted to.

Also to the person who 'worked on' these experiments, you kind of left out that there wasn't a repeat performance for these bears as they were all destroyed. Unless you happened to only see the last three bears or something.

Sounds like you weren't really aware of what was going on around you, as your story does not relate at all to the government released white paper and I don't see why the researchers would lie about their own research. The diets of the bears included no special treatment or treats that may skew the bio data, so sugary foods like fruit or treats are definitely out. Pretty much every element of your story does not correlate to the white paper. I'm not calling you a liar, as I am sure you recall it being this way. But I don't think you worked on the same project as described in this article as your stories don't match reality.

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLauren Anderson

I have 34) 2" x 2" large format slides of one of the flights. There are pics of the plane ejecting the capsule and plenty shots of the bear up close. Mr. Sudderth, who posted above, is listed on a placard in one of the photos. I plan on selling these pieces of history.

June 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSkipper

Supersonic Yogi (A True Tale of Ursine Courage)
AJ Noon

I’m here to tell the tale of a brave black bear,
Called Yogi, believe it or not,
She was fierce, she was bold, and didn’t easily scare,
And the male bears thought her quite hot.

Back in the sixties our tale is set,
When Yogi was just in her prime,
It was the dawn of NASA, the rise of the jet,
An incredibly exciting time.

So let’s set the scene, it’s nineteen sixty two,
And Yogi is no longer free,
The US Air Force has a need for new crew,
And our bear has a matching c.v.

A new plane was built, a bomber in fact,
With four engines and a delta form,
Designed to protect against the Warsaw Pact,
It’s payload a nuclear storm.

So they enlist our Yogi, they give her a flight,
Into this plane she is strapped,
The fuel pumps start and the engines ignite,
Then the brakes begin to retract.

The plane leaps forwards, clawing into the sky,
Born aloft on pillars of fire,
Climbing so high. in the blink of an eye,
That Yogi begins to perspire.

Out of the window she saw the world shrinking,
And soon only clouds filled her view,
Pine trees, and salmon were just wishful thinking,
She was trapped there was naught she could do.

Then the plane stopped climbing, little did she know,
She was at thirty five thousand feet,
The throttles were maxed, the nozzles aglow,
Mach 1 she was going to meet.

Faster and faster our heroic bear went,
Till she reached the optimal speed,
She was about to find out the ultimate intent,
Of those who had bribed her with feed.

At eight hundred and seventy miles per hour,
She started to suspect foul play,
Her seatbelt tightened, she began to cower,
This test was now underway.

The joystick retracted, charges were primed,
Clunks and clicks were the dominant sound,
Yogi was shaking as a warning bell chimed,
She realised she quite missed the ground.

An eruption of fire and sparks filled the cockpit,
Our Yogi was jerked straight out,
The plane, from above, she had to admit,
Was quite pretty below her snout.

Rocket motors fired and her chair climbed higher,
Then the slipstream caught her hard,
Our supersonic bear, not a natural flier,
Was about to be mentally scarred.

With another loud bang a drogue chute went out,
Trying to inflate in the wind,
And Yogi prayed for salmon or trout,
She wouldn’t even mind it tinned.

Her number was up, or so she believed,
But she had no sins to repent,
So she lay there waiting, quite rightly aggrieved,
At mans’ mysterious intent.

Luckily for Yogi, the drogue chute found air,
It pulled out the main chute as well,
She suddenly became a floating bear,
Drifting down in a composite shell.

For over seven minutes she was free once more,
Following the winds of fate,
But then she arrived on the desert floor,
With a bump that rattled her crate.

The landing was rough but she survived in one piece,
With nothing broken or bent,
Though her fur was ruffled she wasn’t deceased,
But she was far, far, from content.

With a clean bill of health, she ,regretfully, retired,
No more work with the US Air Force,
And back in the woods, she shared what she’d acquired,
Bears don’t make pilots, of course.

March 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAJ Noon

I will elaborate a little on my experience with the B-58 Crew Capsule flight test program in 1961 and 1962. No bears were injured as a result of the flight test. The human subject was not injured. The chimpanzee was slightly injured, but not fatally. Every subject had to be fitted into the capsule twice, one to measure the inertial characteristics and later for the actual test ejection. I was the trajectory dynamics engineer for General Dynamics.

January 17, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn H. Watson

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