1963: Ejection Seat

Forget “Fast and Furious”

Forget “Iran-Contra”

Forget anything y you may know about arms trading, illicit or otherwise. They all pale when compared to the rampant weapons dealings of Woodland Park Elementary School in the early sixties. More weapons (albeit toy weapons) changed hands during that year than at any other time in history. I personally went through two Mattel Tommy-bursts, a Marx Gung-Ho tripod machine gun, two Monkey Division weapons (bazooka and mortar) and a host of other off-brand toy firearms including what looked like an M1 carbine hybrid with a pistol grip that shot gold-painted wooden bullets….that I wouldn’t mind having a functional version of as an adult.

It was a very different political and social climate then. It had been less than twenty years since the USA had kicked Hitler’s and Tojo’s collective a**, the country was coasting off the red-hot economy of the Fifties and it was early enough that we weren’t caught up in dissension over Viet-Nam. Prosperity and generally favorable attitude towards the military created a climate favorable to the manufacture of military-themed toys –and it was just as well seeing World War II was being re-fought every afternoon and weekend by legions of grade-school boys populating American neighborhoods

They were primarily land-based battles though; if nothing else you could conduct a faux fire fight using just sticks for weapons but it was much harder coming up with a convincing naval or aerial set-up…which was particularly disappointing to me as I was an aviation buff. I was much too old to run around with my arms stretched out growling “DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH-“ or “DAKKA-DAKKA-DAKKA” as I machine-gunned imaginary Messerschimtts and my one faltering attempt to tape a cardboard and elevators on the back of my bike was quickly laughed away by my buddies. Sadly most of my aerial activity was confined to reading the adventures of Johnny Cloud –Navajo Ace in the back-pages of DC Comics “Our Army at War”.

I had all but given up hope for anything aviation related when an official Steve Canyon helmet showed up in the after-school weapons market. It was like finding the Holy Grail – I had wanted a Steve Canyon helmet since I first glimpsed one on a TV commercial years earlier. It was made out of white plastic and came equipped with an adjustable visor made of green-tinted clear styrene and a mock oxygen mask with a built in vibrating wax-paper panel designed to simulate radio static when you spoke into it. I was thrilled – while I lacked an actual aircraft mock-up to plane in, with the official Steve Canyon helmet I could sit on my bed with a soup ladle and my sister’s transistor radio and mentally dive, loop and barrel roll my way into ace-dom.

steve canyon helmet

Unfortunately reality wasn’t kind in this matter. When I got the helmet it was not in prime shape. The tinted visor was broken at one pivot, the oxygen mask lacked its strap…and the helmet itself was just way too small. I had failed to take in consideration my own growth over the years since I’d first seen the mask on TV when we lived in California. The helmet had been designed for first and second graders and I was a ten-year old, and a husky ten year old at that. Wearing it made me look like someone had shoved a marshmallow over the end of a rolling pin – and given my family’s penchant for teasing the bunk-bed P-51 was permanently grounded.

I sulked about it for about a day then came up with a plan B. It had snowed and we had a runner sled that could ride it downhill while sitting up. What’s more with the long Alaskan nights I would be making my strafing runs during the hours of twilight and darkness, saving me from the mockery of on-lookers. I was back on flight status.

…and I was ecstatic about it for about 30 minutes, after which a brief trip down the hill “DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH-ing” imaginary bombers lost its appeal. I cast about looking for ways to enhance the experience when a brainstorm hit me – I needed an ejection seat. Never mind that they hadn’t appeared until very late in World War II and then only in specialty German aircraft – an ejection seat was just the thing to take my faux-flight experience one step further. The only problem was how to pull it off.

I spent the next two nights, three pencils and a ream of paper coming up with a workable idea. Actual ejection was right out – it was winter time and any fireworks stands that may have enough skyrockets to actually life me off the sled weren’t due to open until June.  I couldn’t find any sort of spring large or bouncy enough to levitate me but as I was rooting through my dad’s stuff looking for any sort of usable hardware I found a spool of 550 cord. That’s when the light-bulb went on.

550 cord is a woven nylon line about 3/16” in diameter with one length being able to support 550 pounds, hence the name. As it is used for the risers in parachutes I would see a lot of it as a paratrooper later in life but the spool dad had been used in the preliminary steps in connecting cables, hawsers and pipelines during underway replenishment activities between two naval ships at sea. I took the spool and proceeded to make a harness patterned after a careful drawing I had made, with loops around my arms at the shoulder and at the tops of my legs at my hips. The harness was then tied to a rather long stretch of line that was tied to a tree just to the side of the slope. The plan was that wearing the harness I would slide down the hill sitting up; when I hit the end of the connecting line voila! I would be pulled into a nice soft snow bank alongside the sled run.

There was no way I could miss. After all, I drew a picture of it and it worked on the picture.

I was very meticulous in my planning when I tried the ejection seat out the very next night. Like I good pilot I checked the weather – it was clear and cold but with the recent snowfall I had a measure of cushion on the ground. Next I carefully paced off the distance from a large tree at the top of the hill to a point about two/thirds the way down the slope, carefully cut the 550 cord to match and tied it to my harness – I wanted at least a brief dog-fight before “punching out”. I pulled the loops over my arms and legs, crammed the Steve Canyon helmet down over my stocking cap, sat down on the sled and kicked off, spouting sound effects and dialog gleaned from the aforementioned adventures of Johnny Cloud, Navaho Ace.

DAKKA-DAKKA-DAKKA!

DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH!

“Roger That Red Leader!”

I wasn’t sliding down a hill in Spenard, Alaska – I was swooping through the skies of World War II!

DAKKA-DAKKA-DAKKA!

“Take that Adolph!”

“Eat hot lead you Tojo-stooge!”

“DAKKA-DAKKA-UUURRRRKKKKK!”

Mean old Mister Inertia was not my friend as my arms, legs and head snapped forward against the harness of 550 cord that resolutely held my torso back against any further movement. I saw many, many more stars than usual for an Alaskan night as I made a bone-shaking abrupt halt that knocked the wind out of as I immediately hit the ground. I probably would have broken a bone had I not been for the recent snowfall and the fact that I was so bundled up against the cold.

Have you ever seen a G.I. Joe action figure with its interior retaining elastic broken or missing? The arms, legs and head/neck become loose, wobble around and are easily lost. That’s pretty much the way I felt at that point. C-3P0 would have had a better chance of controlling his detached limbs in Return of the Jedi than I had of controlling my arms and legs at that point. Had I not been so bundled up with warm clothing I probably would have gotten some sort of welt or friction burn around arm pits or “other area” but as it was I survived the fall with little more than a headache and wounded pride.

Sensation in my extremities slowly returned as I shuffled back to the house with the sled in tow, stopping only once to drop-kick that stupid Steve Canyon helmet into the vacant lot across the street. It was only seven thirty when I got home so I had some reading time before going to bed, but that night I set the war comics aside, reaching instead for the Disney comics. Donald may have been hard to understand but he wasn’t going to get me quite as bruised up as Johnny Cloud, Navajo Ace

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