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Martin-Baker uses a Gloster Meteor for testing ejection seats, according to their website.

While it's a stylish plane, and a true delight that there are still airworthy fuselages of this plane left, it seems strange to use such an old aircraft as a testbed.

Image taken from Martin Baker's website.

The Gloster Meteor was one of the very first turbine engine planes, made during the Second World War. In terms of electronics and structure it's a far cry from a modern fighter.

How does this make sense? Wouldn't it be better to test ejection seats in the aircraft they will be used in, with the correct structure and canopy?

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    $\begingroup$ So, how would you recover the test-plane after the test of the ejection seat? $\endgroup$ – DJohnM Jun 20 '18 at 5:28
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    $\begingroup$ @DJohnM The pilot doesn't eject. In the photo you can see the pilot under the canopy at the front and behind him is an open section with the ejector seat in it. They only eject the seat and a very high tech "crash test dummy" so the pilot just flies the aircraft home again. $\endgroup$ – scotty3785 Jun 20 '18 at 8:46
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    $\begingroup$ I would much, much rather test an ejection seat in a two-seater plane than in a single-seater. Just because :) $\endgroup$ – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Jun 20 '18 at 11:53
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    $\begingroup$ Just as an info for those who wonder why they don't eject real people when they test ejection seats: ejection is brutal. About 30% of them will receive permanent injuries, and there is about 10% chance of not surviving it at all. And that's with ejection seats in active service. With experimental and untested ones it might be even worse. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jun 20 '18 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ @stripybadger - frankly, it looks like the entire flight is made without the canopy over the rear seat. It very much looks like there's a seat in the second position in that picture meaning the ejection test hasn't yet happened. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Jun 20 '18 at 18:15
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Aviation week did a bit on the plane last year

"In spite of its considerable vintage, the sturdy British attack aircraft has all the attributes required for a stable, high-speed test platform" says Andy Gent, Martin-Baker’s head of flying and chief pilot. “From a test perspective the Meteor is ideal. The tail boom is fairly long and the fin is not very high. The engines are also spaced out a fair way out along the wing, so the efflux from the ejection test and exhaust from the gun and rocket motor isn’t potentially going down the engine intakes,” he says.

Based at Martin-Baker’s Chalgrove, England, test facility, the fleet is made up of two Meteors, WA638 and WL419, both of which have been with the company since the 1960s. “They are doing the job so why would you ever go through the heartache of getting another aircraft?” says Gent.

In short, it does not fly all too much, it gets the job done and its well built. Similar reason most older aircraft are still flying these days.

The article goes on to say that they have little intention of changing this any time soon:

Marketing Director Andrew Martin notes the company is one of only a handful that performs airborne ejection tests, and that the Meteor will continue to be used for the foreseeable future. “It is a tough thing to evaluate, and right now while we have these phenomenal assets we are not going to really think about a replacement in great detail,” he says. With the final retirement of the last Royal Air Force (RAF)-operated aircraft in the target towing role in the early 1980s, Martin-Baker acquired a large stock of spares and Rolls-Royce Derwent 8 turbojets. Because of that and the ample remaining airframe life, the company is no rush to find a successor.


Also a bit of a side note, this is not their only testbed. MB also uses a high speed sled for testing at their Langford Lodge, Ireland facility. This allows ground testing of the seats at flight speeds. They also test static scenarios in what appears to be cockpit mock ups as generally speaking seats are certified for Zero-Zero use. Varying governing bodies may require different testing and live demonstrations as per their certification process leading to different testing procedures.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ok, so the canopy and air-frame test is basically performed on the ground, while the Glosters only serve to test high speed performance? $\endgroup$ – vidarlo Jun 20 '18 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ @vidarlo the sled allows high speed testing on the ground as well. Im not sure exactly what cases require in air testing. I would think it depends on which governing body you are certifying for and what their requirements are. $\endgroup$ – Dave Jun 20 '18 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ could you add a bit about that in your answer, and I will accept it :) $\endgroup$ – vidarlo Jun 20 '18 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Dave my guess is the flying test is among others to test ejection sequences at high altitude. Lower air pressure, different behaviour. And the sled track of course is rather too large to put in a pressure chamber. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Jun 21 '18 at 5:31
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    $\begingroup$ Also the sled can't be used for unusual attitude tests—the seats need to be tested also in bank and inverted flight as they are supposed to right themselves before opening the parachute. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jun 21 '18 at 19:09
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One other factor to consider... Aircraft designed in the pre-computer era tended to be overbuilt, as they didn't have the computational power to calculate stress loads to the level of detail that can be achieved today.

Since ejection does put some unusual stress on the airframe, not normally a concern as ejection is almost always followed by a crash, it makes sense to use an older, stronger airframe that is less likely to suffer from the stress of multiple ejections.

How many DC3's are still flying?

It is neat to see Meteors still being used. A handsome aircraft.

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Another advantage on using the same aircraft is that the aerodynamics are constant so you eliminate one variable in the test.

Eg when testing a new model, you can compare its performance with the test of the previous model in the same airframe and you don't have to worry about any differences in the the airflow around the fuselage and cockpit as they are the same. Also the seat will fall through the wake of the aircraft and this can vary greatly from aircraft to aircraft.

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  • $\begingroup$ That doesn't seem particularly relevant. The differences between planes may well be big, but they're small enough that a test on a Gloster Meteor is good evidence that the seat will work on whatever aircraft it's installed in, which certainly won't be another Meteor. If they got a new test plane, they could always re-run some tests to compare the same model of seat betwen those two planes. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Mar 21 at 13:51

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