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Engineers test air force ejection seat with Dodge Ram, rocket fuel

Any day is a good day when you can speed a Dodge Ram pickup truck down a military runway before launching a rocket-powered ejection seat into the sky.

It’s a bird, It’s a plane, it's... a crash test dummy

An equipment test on a new ejector seat was showcased Wednesday by the Canadian Armed Forces in Cold Lake. 0:30

Any day is a good day when you can speed a Dodge Ram pickup truck down a military runway before launching a rocket-powered ejection seat into the sky.

Royal Canadian Air Force Officer Maj. Lonny Handwork did exactly that in an equipment test Thursday afternoon at the CFB Cold Lake.

"I get the honour of being behind the wheel, so I'm pretty excited about that," Handwork said during a Thursday morning interview on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"It's one of the few advantages of being the project officer for this. I'm kind of the boss, so I pulled rank and I get the place of honour today."

At exactly 1:00 p.m., a high powered pickup — with an ejection seat mounted on its flatbed — hurtled down the runway at more than 140 km/h.

A dummy mounted onto the back of Dodge Ram pickup truck took the inaugural ejection. (CBC)

In a matter of seconds, the seat's rocket motors ignited, launching the seat into the air.

"The event is over pretty quickly," Handwork said. "There's an acceleration of the vehicle down the runway and there is a very loud bang."

12-second test could help upgrade existing ejection seats

Of course, the seat's occupant won't be alive; a crash test dummy of sorts will be used in the dramatic feat, and spectators will be viewing from a close, but safe distance.

"The whole event takes about 12 seconds. The dummy goes in the air on the rocket-propelled catapult, about 100 to 130 feet up into the air, depending on the day. And then the parachute system is initiated and he comes down under that," Handwork said. 

The dummy was fired about 100 feet into the air before its parachute opened and it came back down to earth. (CBC)

The test is the work of Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment (AETE), based in Cold Lake, and will test an updated piece of ejection seat technology for the CT-114 Tutor

The aircraft, originally procured in the mid-1960s to train student pilots in the Royal Canadian Air Force, was eventually replaced in 2000 by the CT-156 Harvard II and CT-155 Hawk. Today, the Tutor is flown primarily by 431 Squadron's Snowbirds.

I'm a bit of a geek ... so I'm very excited.- Maj. Lonny Handwork, Royal Canadian Air Force Officer 

Depending on the results gathered from the test, upgrades to the existing Tutor ejection seats could be implemented within the coming years.

And while the test drive will allow the researchers to collect important data about ejection seat safety, Handwork had something else on his mind when he squeezed behind the wheel.

"I remember as a kid being up on the roof of the barn with a parachute rigged with a black garbage bag with a GI Joe attached to it," he said. "This obviously safer, and there's a lot more engineering going on, but somehow, the principles at the heart of it are the same.

"Just between you and me, I'm a bit of a geek ... so I'm very excited."