World’s First Supersonic Jet Test Pilots Were Bears

When you think of supersonic jets, you obviously think about bears, right? Probably not, but bears were used in the very first ones.

When the US Air Force was designing its first supersonic jet bomber in the 1950s, it turns out bears were an essential part of the process, according to The B-58 Hustler was the world’s first supersonic jet bomber, a marvel of Cold War design in the 1950s crated solely to deliver nuclear weapons to the U.S.S.R..

Since Himalayan and American black bears are reasonably close in size to humans, they were deemed acceptable substitutes after people died in an early ejection test. I’m willing to believe PETA didn’t exist back then.

While Chief Warrant Officer E.J. Murray was the first human to successfully eject from a B-58 test on February 28, 1962, it was a 2-year-old, female black bear that made it into the history books for the first successful supersonic ejection from the aircraft. That occurred a bit later, March 21 to be precise, according to Yahoo News.

The bear was ejected from the plane above Edwards Air Force Base at a speed of Mach 1.3. It took several minutes for the capsule containing the bear to reach the ground safely. I don’t think Yogi could claim that feat.

I09 describes the ejection process:

“In the new system, a pre-ejection handle yanked the pilot’s legs in close and closed a scalloped shell that enclosed him while still allowing rudimentary control of the plane. The actual ejection handle sent the capsule up with a rocket burst, automatically deploying a parachute. The capsule was designed to float, and contained food and survival supplies.”

In an unsettling turn, the bears had to be euthanized so their bodies could be safely examined after the ejection tests.