by Lonn Taylor

    Everyone knows that the Brits are susceptible to compulsive hobbies. After all, they invented train spotting, which is a sort of mechanized form of bird watching that involves hanging around railroad tracks writing down the numbers of all the locomotives and freight cars that go by. Come to think of it, they also invented bird watching. They obviously like things that involve solitary observation and compiling lists. The other day, as a result of this column, I discovered a new British hobby that fits into this category.
    A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about a jet fighter plane that crashed on the McGill Ranch near Hovey in 1955 and mentioned that the pilot, D.O. Williams, had ejected from the plane as it came down and landed relatively unscathed.
     The day after the column was published I got an e-mail from a man in England named Mike Bennett, who said he had read the column and wanted to know how to get in touch with Williams. He added that he collected information about pilots who had ejected from airplanes. I found this intriguing and replied, sending him Williams’ address and asking if he would tell me a little more about his hobby. A few hours later he called me, and we talked for nearly an hour, in the course of which I learned everything that I might want to know about pilot ejections except exactly why anyone would want to make a list of them.
    Bennett seems like a normal enough fellow on the phone. He lives in a village in Staffordshire, has an educated accent and told me that he is a retired primary schoolteacher who has been collecting information about pilot ejections for 25 years. When I asked him why, he simply said, “I have a passion for history and aviation.” When I pressed him, he elaborated to the extent of saying, “The idea of getting people out of aircraft safely has always fascinated me.” I asked him if he were a flier or had ever been in a plane crash, and he said, somewhat deprecatingly, “Oh, no, feet firmly on the ground.”
    Bennett told me that there have probably been 10,000 to 12,000 mechanically assisted ejections from aircraft in the history of flight, starting with German pilots in World War I whose parachutes were attached to their planes and were thus mechanical (Allied pilots carried no parachutes). The Germans pioneered ejection technology in World War II, producing working ejection seats by 1944. The seats were made necessary by the Heinkel 219, a twin-engine night fighter whose propellers were so close to the cockpit that “the pilot would be shredded if he just jumped out,” Bennett said. The technology spread to other countries as the speed attainable by jets made simple parachuting impossible.
    Bennett’s goal is to collect information about each of these ejections, including a photo of the ejectee. So far, he has detailed accounts of about 1,000 and notes on nearly 8,000 more. He says the toughest to track down are going to be the 350 Russian and Chinese pilots who ejected from MIG fighters during the Korean War.
    “It’s a labor of love,” he told me. “If something’s impossible I like to try it.” So far, he has interviewed German, American, British, Russian, Argentinian and Taiwanese pilots. The American former POWs who ejected over North Vietnam, he says, have been especially helpful in providing photos and data.
    I asked Bennett how he found out about ejections, and he said that it wasn’t easy. One of his best sources is newspaper articles. He maintains seven search engines that scan the Web daily for articles that include the words “ejection” and “eject,” which is how he found my column.
    This works pretty well, he says, except during baseball season, when umpires eject players from games. The information he gathers goes onto a Web site, which he calls “Project Get Out and Walk” (www.ejection-history.org.uk). If you look at it, you will see that it deals with every aspect of the subject, including fictional ejections and ejections in movies. If you know anyone who has ever ejected from a plane, let Bennett know. He’ll track them down and have fun doing it.
    
Lonn Taylor lives in Fort Davis. He can be reached at taylorw@ overland.net.