WONZ 253 – Great Escapes: Safety And Surface

Guests: Geoff “Polly” Polglase, Evan Allen and Terry “Gnome” Austin

Host: Dave Homewood

Recorded: 6th of October 2021

Released:  7th of February 2022

Duration: 1 hour 18 minutes 20 seconds

This episode is the fourth in a series called “Great Escapes”, covering stories of RNZAF ejections from aircraft that have saved lives in emergency situations. This episode is a little different from those previously in the series, where it is from the perspective of some of the Safety And Surface Technicians who maintained the equipment to make an ejection successful.

The Safety And Surface trade is an engineering trade in the RNZAF which encompasses a wide range of specialist and highly technical skill sets, from spray painting and sign-writing to upholstery and canvas work to maintaining flying clothing and helmets. And a big part of the role is maintenance of the parachutes, life rafts, life preservers, survival packs and other equipment carried by aircrew or within the aircraft in case of the need of an emergency escape in the plane.

In relation to ejection seats, the guys discuss the parachutes, life rafts, survival packs, life preservers and other important safety equipment used by pilots in the McDonnell Douglas A-4K Skyhawks, the BAC 167 Strikemaster Mk. 88’s, and the Aermacchi MB-339CB Macchis of the RNZAF.

Quick Links:

 Great Escapes 1 – Geoff Hubbard

 Great Escapes 2 – Pete Lindsay

 Great Escapes 3 – Phil Barnes

 Great Escapes 5 – Sean Singleton-Turner

Note: Be aware there is a couple of swear words in this episode, nothing unusual for seasons S&S Workers.

Note: The music used in this episode is Hazy After Hours, from Mixkit

A mock-up of the Skyhawk’s ejection seat. The pilot is Damien Gilchrist. Photo via Don Simms
Geoff “Polly” Polglase
Evan Allen
Terry “Gnome” Austin
Another view of the Skyhawk ejection seat, this time showing the parachute on the pilot’s back, and the life raft and survival pack that was sat on. This photo also shows the dummy wearing the Mk. 22 Life preserver, the harness with Quick Release Fitting (QRF), the Alpha helmet, the G-suit, and the oxygen mask that were also all part of the Safety and Surface Technician’s kit. The pilot is Damien Gilchrist. Photo via Don Simms
The parachute in the Skyhawk ejection seat of a Skyhawk also acted as the cushion. Photo via Don Simms
A demonstration of the moment before touching down while under the parachute. The pilot would release the survival pack and life raft, the latter which inflated as it dropped. Photo via Don Simms
Safety and Surface Technician Adrian Bennie with a SS Mk. 15 life raft, as packed into the seats they sat on in the jets. Also seen is his now inflated RFD Mk. 22 life preserver. Once he’d climbed into the raft he would manually inflate the orange canopy around him for both protection from the elements and for higher visibility. Photo via Don Simms
The Mk. 22 Life Preserver had a lot of items that would aid survival attached to it in pockets, etc. Photo via Don Simms
The RSSK Escapac survival pack which contained the raft and survival aids.
The ballistic spreader on the Skyhawk’s parachute to aid a near instant opening of the parachute, no matter what speed and height the aircraft was travelling. In the foreground are the neatly stowed rigging lines. Photo via Don Simms
A photo taken in 1985 of a Strikemaster’s MBEU parachute on the packing table. Photo via Terry Austin.
The fully packed MBEU parachute in 1985. Photo via Terry Austin.
An MBEU parachute and the ejection seat handle and blind from Terry Austin’s personal collection. Photo via Terry Austin.
The ejection seat handle and blind from Terry Austin’s personal collection. Photo via Terry Austin.
Terry says the ejection seat handle and blind fit his 4WD nicely. Photo via Terry Austin.

13 comments to WONZ 253 – Great Escapes: Safety And Surface

  • Glen Sinclair

    Hi Dave
    I love the pod casts. This one was good as I personally know all the three rat bags you interviewed. I spent time on 14 Sqn and 75 Sqn and S&S were the ones briefing the pax before their flights, so we got understand the ejection sequence fairly well. One of the main differences between the Escapac (Skyhawk seat) and the Martin Baker (Strikemaster and Aermacchi seats) would be the separation. The Escapac goes into separation straight away. A little rocket motor by the shoulder assists with separation. This is also why the RSSK Survival Pack has emergency oxygen as the pilot may still be in thin air. This is also not the safest way to do it as the pilot can tend to tumble. The Martin Baker has the seat staying with the pilot until they reach a height with a better atmosphere. The parachute opens, slowing the pilot and the seat drops away. The pod cast reminded me of a few other things as well. If you ever want to chat my phone is: 021-484830 or email: glen@inspire.net.nz

    • Dave Homewood

      Thanks Glen. I am really glad you enjoyed this episode, and that you love the podcast series. Thanks for that gem of information about the separation. I vaguely recall that being mentioned in my Safety Equipment Worker training in 1991 now that you mention it, but like a lot of this stuff after three decades it was long forgotten. And, if course, the only part of the ejection seats I worked on during my brief time at Ohakea were the life rafts, so I did not get to know this gear intimately.

      If anyone else listens to the show and has questions, I will fire them to you Glen, as well as to Polly, Gnome and Evan. Cheers.

  • Don Simms

    Brilliant guys. Some great stories there. Brought back lots of happy memories of my time at Ohakea and Nowra. We need to have a reunion!

  • Brian Purdie

    Hi Dave, further to Glen’s comments on the seat separations and sequences, he omitted to mention that the NES 12C parachute in the A4, when the seat/pilot separation occurs there is a drogue that deploys to maintain face down attitude, this can be seen in the pict of the separated pilot.

  • Brian Purdie

    Hi Dave, Like Glen I enjoyed the whole pod cast, worked with Evan an Terry, new Geoff. Lot of memories, my time started on No14 Sqn Canberra’s and finished on 75 with A4s. Comment on Glens post, the A4 Chute the NES 12m had a stabilisation drogue that deployed on man/seat separation, its the white nylon cord that is stitched to the the arming cable on the RH side as seen in one of the above picts. This stopped the tumble and held you face down till the cart fired to open the chute. Brian Purdie (F/Sgt ret ex S&S)

  • paul daniell

    for an ex RAF type…an education…thanks!

  • Brad Wilkins


  • Brad Wilkins

    I was packing an NES, and was pulling the safety pin out of the ballistic spreader just before close-up, and my safety guy Pete Dixon accidently knocked over the wooden stand for packing the horseshoe packs.The stand made such a loud smack on the concrete, for a second I thought the spreader had gone off!

    Was lucky enough to get a TA flight, low level most of the way, down to Lake Dobson (guess the pilot) n the South Island. Evan and Pete suited me.

    But my best flight was a low-level Herc pallet-drop flight through the Kaimanawas and Paraparas,that Gris got me on.

    • Dave Homewood

      Some great memories there Brad. I was lucky to get a Herc flight from Wigram, flying low level over (through) the Southern Alps, then down the West Coast, back over the Alps and then a low level cargo pallet drop to an Army Unit on the Canterbury Plains. Previously when I’d worked at Whenuapai I was often seconded from the Life Raft Bay to the Cargo Parachute Bay to lend a hand either packing or untangling the 100 foot chutes, so it was really neat to see them in action a couple of years later on that flight.

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