Irish inventor saves life of Drumshanbo trainee pilot 50 years ago

THIS month marks the 50th anniversary of the first ejection from a military aircraft in Ireland, after then Cadet Ron McPartland, a Drumshanbo man, was ordered to eject after a training flight went wrong on May 5, 1961.

THIS month marks the 50th anniversary of the first ejection from a military aircraft in Ireland, after then Cadet Ron McPartland, a Drumshanbo man, was ordered to eject after a training flight went wrong on May 5, 1961.

THIS month marks the 50th anniversary of the first ejection from a military aircraft in Ireland, after then Cadet Ron McPartland, a Drumshanbo man, was ordered to eject after a training flight went wrong on May 5, 1961.

By Michael Traynor

The Irish Air Corps introduced jet aircraft to their fleet when the first three Vampire jets, (serials 185,186 and 187), were delivered on the 21 July 1956. These were also the first aircraft in the Irish Air Corps to be equipped with Martin-Baker ejection seats, a safety mechanism created by Co Down man, James Martin.

At 10.45 on Friday, 5 May 1961, an Irish Air Corps Vampire jet took off from Baldonnel Airbase, to carry out introductory pilot training on spins and spin recovery in the Mullagh – Kingscourt area of Co Cavan. In command of Vampire Number 186 was Comdt. Jeremiah B. O’Connor, Officer Commanding Fighter Squadron and a native of Sneem, Co Kerry. His student pilot was 20 year old Cadet Ron McPartland, from Drumshanbo, County Leitrim, who had 15 months service with the Air Corps.

The Vampire climbed to 30,000 feet and Comdt. O’Connor prepared the aircraft for the spinning exercise. He reduced the speed to the point of stall and applied harsh right rudder to force the aircraft into a series of slow horizontal gyrations before the nose of the aircraft dropped below the horizon and the aircraft locked into a steep descending spiral with huge centrifugal forces. After counting a number of spins or revolutions about the axis of the aircraft, Comdt. O’Connor initiated standard recovery action of applying opposite rudder to stop the near-vertical spinning but the aircraft failed to respond and continued in a steep vortex towards the ground. Recognising that the standard recovery action was not having any effect Comdt. O’Connor reversed the procedure and applied opposite rudder which again had no effect on the spinning aircraft.

The descent was so rapid that the 3-pointer altimeter was unreadable and at approximately 20,000 feet Comdt. O’Connor reached forward to the centre of the instrument panel and pulled the Canopy Release Handle to unlock the canopy which was jettisoned with a deafening roar as the full blast of the air was felt by both pilots. Without hesitation the Cadet pulled his facemask down to fire the Ejection Seat Mechanism and the Martin-Baker Mark 3B Seat complete with Cadet departed the stricken aircraft with an enormous release of power.

Cadet McPartland found himself spinning and descending like a dervish for what seemed an eternity until his parachute opened and he realised that his rate of descent was reducing and he was suspended beneath the billowing parachute in a relatively controlled fashion.

To read the full story see this week’s Leitrim Observer.