The US Air Force used live bears to test ejector seats on the world’s first supersonic bomber, it has been revealed. The animals all survived the flights but were put down afterwards.
Scientists then cut them open to find out the effects of being blown out of the B-58 Hustler at more than 1100mph. They included broken bones and internal injuries. The bombers were built in the 1950s during the height of the Cold War. They were faster than the USSR’s jets at the time and was the first bomber capable of Mach 2 – twice the speed of sound.
However, crews could not use the ejector seats when the planes were flying at that speed. A new system was designed but air force chiefs wanted to test its safety before letting their elite pilots try it out. A pre-ejection handle yanked the pilot’s legs in close before enclosing him in a capsule that still allowed basic control of the jet. The actual ejection handle then blasted the capsule out with a rocket burst and automatically deployed a parachute.
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The capsule could float and contained survival supplies in the event of a crash. Himalayan and American black bears were sedated and sent up in the bomber. They were ejected at various altitudes and speeds up to Mach 1.6 at 45,000ft. A White Paper by the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council reveals the animals were put down then underwent postmortems.