Reaching for a Perfect Success
Loaded M21 knife delays are ready
for processing. The M21 lean line is
one of several lean lines within the CAD/PAD manufacturing department.
Mable Keys, from T Department, loads a M21 Knife Delay.
The delays are used in cargo drops for proper parachute deployment of
When Air Force Major Bryan Knight
ejected from his F-117A Nighthawk in 1997, he had complete confidence in the
aircraft ejection system. “I never doubted it for a second … when I pulled the
handles,” Knight said.
After his ejection, Knight took it
upon himself to visit Naval Surface Warfare Center, Indian Head Division (NSWC
IHD) to thank employees involved in the command’s Cartridge and Propellant
Activated Devices (CAD/PAD) program, because he knew they had a major role in
saving his life. Over the years, several other military aviators have visited
NSWC IHD to express similar messages of gratitude.
There are over 2,000 different types
of CADs and PADs. Depending upon the particular aircraft, there can be as many
as 450 CADs and/or PADs installed within the aircraft’s ejection and safety
systems, including the ejection seat rockets.
Being able to rely on an ejection
system to work as intended gives aviators confidence, which is particularly
important during an emergency. It’s also testament to the behind the scenes work
involved in the CAD/PAD program.
About ten percent of all CADs and PADs are manufactured at NSWC IHD, including
the CKU-5 Rocket Catapult which provided the means of propulsion during Maj
Knight’s ejection. Affiliated with NSWC IHD, Naval Air System Command, and the
Air Force, the CAD/PAD Joint Program Office (JPO) manages 100 percent of all
aspects of the program. They are
responsible for the “cradle to grave” (development to demilitarization)
life-cycle of the devices.
The JPO also provides just in time worldwide delivery of all CADs and PADs to
U.S. military forces through its NSWC IHD stock point, a process that takes just
under a week to accomplish.
The JPO’s Mishap Investigation Support
Team (MIST) is a critical support component in
the JPO, with a direct link to
improving aviator safety. The CAD/PAD MIST members are made up of two primary,
two-member teams that support the overarching investigation teams; one primarily
for the Navy and Marine Corps, the other for the Air Force. All of the
MIST positions require unique training and experience.
Each current team member is an equipment specialist with prior military
training and experience on the maintenance of aircraft egress systems. After an
aircraft mishap, a member from one of these teams deploys with or joins the
overarching mishap investigation team when it deploys to the mishap site.
Once on site, the MIST’s
responsibility is to inspect and analyze the ejection system for performance
margins and ejection scenario documentation. The CAD/PAD team member must also
inspect every installed CAD and PAD on the crashed aircraft to determine what
did and did not work.
It is often a major undertaking.
Just finding CADs and PADs at an
aircraft crash site is challenging as no two sites are similar. “There is no
normal,” said Lee Manis, the CAD/PAD Assistant Program Manager for Logistics and
former MIST member. “They are all different and an investigation can last a few
days or several weeks.”
Crash sites also pose environmental
and geographical challenges. “We have investigated sites on mountaintops, in the
freezing cold, to having people hold off gators in swamps,” said MIST member
Mike Rutledge. “There are other hazards at sites we need protection from, such
as composite materials.”
Conducting meticulous investigations
is also important. “We do very thorough investigations,” said Frank Lange,
another MIST member who works in NSWC IHD’s Engineering Department. “We look at
everything to determine if the primary and redundant systems worked. It’s
similar to forensics, as we are determining cause.”
Over the past two decades,
inspections, and quality controls have positively impacted ejection systems.
“There has not been an unsuccessful ejection due to a CAD/PAD device on the
aircraft for the past 21 years,” said John Messina, one of the joint program’s
Air Force investigators.
Messina did note that fatalities have
occurred during ejections, but those deaths were attributed to ‘out of envelope’
situations where the aircraft is too close to the ground, going too fast, or
oriented in the wrong position during an ejection.
Human factors, other than determining if an aviator tried to eject, are
generally beyond the scope of a MIST team member’s investigation.
On average, the CAD/PAD MIST members
investigate about 14 crashes per year. Collectively, since 1997, the current
team members have participated in about 150 mishap investigations.
Scalfaro, CAD/PAD Manufacturing Branc Manager, talks about some of the finer
details for the CKU-5 rocket motor used in various military aircraft ejection
Dr. Tom Cannon and son Chris Cannon at the 2008 ILM.
Chris was a featured guest and survivor
of an ejection during a flight over Washington state.
Maj Knight’s experience was just one of many success stories regarding the
CAD/PAD program. Today, almost all ejections systems have redundant systems,
which improve survivability rates. “If there is a failure of a component, we can
still have a successful ejection,” said Manis. “We have found some devices in
the past that failed, but the redundancies proved effective.”
Even with redundancies and the vast
survivability improvements over time, the job is far from finished. “Safety
investigations are a process of continuous self improvement,” said Lange. “Our
goal is to make sure all the devices, or systems, work as designed in the
future.” Within the CAD/PAD
program’s life-cycle management, the marginalities found during these mishap
investigations are turned into future product improvement programs.
the MIST team’s future goal that will always lie ahead of them. “In an ejection
seat equipped aircraft there should never be a loss of life,’ he said.
“We are there to ensure there is a safe means of escaping”.
One aviator in particular,
has visited NSWC IHD on more than one occasion to share his experience where he
needed to use CADs and PADs. He also has a unique tie to the command.
Chris Cannon, then a
junior Marine Corps officer, was a crewmember on a Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler.
The Prowler, used for electronic warfare, is a twin-engine jet that carries a
pilot and seats for three Electronic Countermeasures Officers (ECMO).
On Nov. 15, 2001, Cannon
was flying with two other crewmembers and manned the ECMO3 seat behind the
pilot. As they flew over the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, one of the
plane’s two engines exploded, flinging metal parts across the fuselage into the
aircraft’s second engine.
The ejection system on the
Prowler is complex, with four seats firing at 0.4 second intervals in four
different directions. Cannon was sitting in the seat that would eject first.
Cannon said he heard someone say “fire”, but couldn’t see the cockpit panel, so
he didn’t realize how serious the situation was. “I didn’t know the exact
urgency of the situation or hear the word eject,” he said.
Nor did Canon have control over his ejection seat. That was controlled from the
front cockpit. Once the decision was
made to bail out, “I was first to go, last to know,” he said.
All three crewmembers survived the ejection, although Canon did suffer a leg
contusion that took several weeks to heal, probably due to the speed in which
events transpired. It was an experience that confirmed the importance of safety
in his former profession.
“Safety is foremost in
your mind as a naval aviator,” Canon said.
While he learned about the
risks encountered by the early pioneers in U.S. jet aviation when the mortality
rate was close to 25 percent, more personal experiences drove home the
importance for safety in a risky occupation.
A former classmate of
Cannon’s at the Marine Basic School lost his life along with 18 other Marines in
a V-22 crash. A pilot instructor he had flown with cross country died with
another student during an aerobatic flight in a T-34. Then, shortly after he
graduated from flight school, two T-39 trainers collided, killing everyone
aboard both aircraft.
ejection was not only memorable; it would prove remarkable after he left the
Marine Corps. One day, at his new
job, he noticed that his boss was wearing a Martin Baker ejection tie, just like
his own. His boss, also a former naval aviator, got it from his father who was
shot down in an F-4 Phantom over Hanoi, Vietnam.
Cannon is the son of Dr. Tom Cannon Jr, the Head of NSWC IHD’s Transformational