Gulf War

RAF veteran John Nichol explains what it's like to eject from a Tornado jet

Watch: Former RAF navigator John Nichol describes the moment he and his pilot John Peters ejected from their Tornado jet.

Former RAF navigator John Nichol has described the moment he and his pilot John Peters ejected from their Tornado jet after they were shot down on the first day of the First Gulf War in 1991.

The two men survived – and went on to endure being beaten and tortured, with images of them, following their brutal treatment at the hands of their captors, broadcast around the world.

Surviving such an ordeal owed much to their incredible resilience but, the fact that their lives were saved at all is largely a result of the ejection seat technology that blasted them out of the cockpit at 200mph.

Speaking to the BFBS Radio Sitrep podcast, as he joined the team to discuss his new book Eject! Eject!, Mr Nichol spoke about what it was like to eject from a fast-moving jet in such shocking and extreme circumstances.  

His book charts the story of the British genius who invented the ejection seat, it's use in war and peacetime, and also tells of the brave men who risked all to test that it worked, and the many airmen who have remained ever-grateful for such technology in helping to save their lives since.

John and Peter's Tornado jet was shot down on the first day of the Gulf War (Picture: MOD).
John Nichol and John Peters' Tornado was shot down on the first day of the Gulf War (Picture: MOD).

Mr Nichol said: "We were on fire. There was a very real danger that the aircraft would explode.

"We've got to get out. Eject, eject, eject. Nothing happens for about a hundredth of a second, and that one-hundredth of a second feels like a lifetime while you're waiting for it to happen.

"And then technology takes over and the first thing that happens is that the perspex cockpit of the aircraft is blasted off on rockets... either side, it's going past your ears.

"And then the ejection seat. The rockets in the pack ignite automatically and you accelerate from zero to 150-200mph upwards under 18 times the force of gravity in about half a second."

In the book, Mr Nichol also describes how the ejection technology was adapted when the prospect of crashing in North Vietnam was sometimes preferable to ejecting and risking capture.

He also explains what happens to the body when it is catapulted from an aircraft under great force and how an ejectee can be rescued from enemy territory. Packed with gripping action and cutting-edge science, Eject! Eject!, released by Simon & Schuster on Thursday, 25 May, is fuelled by dramatic, deeply moving and previously unheard first-hand accounts by ejectees and their families.

Mr Nichol and pilot Mr Peters, who spoke to Forces News on the 30th anniversary of the start of the First Gulf War in 2021, were captured following their ejection, and brutally interrogated by their Iraqi captors before being forced to appear on television four days later.

The two men endured seven weeks in captivity as allied prisoners of war until they were released but, by then, images of the bruised and battered pair had been seen by millions around the world.

Head to our Sitrep podcast where you can hear the full story of John Nichol's escape and more.

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