One of the features of the fighter not associated with the aircraft’s instability and handling characteristics is what gave me pause: Hot ejection seats. If the MiG were to go out of control and the aircraft couldn’t be landed, or we couldn’t bail out on our own, we could eject. Keep in mind, this was built it the 1940s. My ejection seat would be catapulted from the aircraft by an estimated 18-inch canister filled with gunpowder at a force of about 20 Gs. Most civilians who have had to eject from a MiG have not survived, Salganek said. The ejection seats are old, civilians don’t have a lot of training in ejecting, and often they are hesitant to eject and may wait too long.
Ejection, bailing out—that part of the pre-flight briefing always gets me (well, bailing out, as this is the first time I will have experienced flying an aircraft with a live ejection seat) when going on aerobatic flights. Watching how to jettison the door, making sure my parachute is tight, and learning how to open it after exiting the aircraft always causes a lump in my throat that stays until engine start and I re-focus my attention on flying.
I called a friend who flies aircraft with ejection seats for some advice, hoping to calm my nerves. His advice: Keep my hand away from the ejection handle. While one of the pins for the ejection seat will be removed before we close the canopy, a safety pin that goes through the handle to jettison the canopy and pull the ejection seat will remain in place. I would have to complete three steps to eject, so that pretty much rules out doing so accidentally.
Salganek, who has been doing this type of training for nearly 20 years, also put me at ease talking about how well the aircraft runs and its impeccable maintenance record. Watch for an upcoming story in AOPA’s print, online, and video publications to find out how the MiG flies and what it was like to sit on top an 18-inch canister filled with gunpowder for a 40-minute flight.