Blogging the Bookshelf

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A 23% Chance of Death – “The Right Stuff” – Tom Wolfe

July 22nd, 2011 · No Comments · Civilisation, Culture

In time, the Navy would compile statistics showing that for a career Navy pilot, i.e., one who intended to keep flying for twenty years as Conrad did, there was a 23 percent probability that he would die in an aircraft accident. This did not even include combat deaths, since the military did not classify death in combat as accidental. Furthermore, there was a better than even chance, a 56 percent probability, to be exact, that at some point a career Navy pilot would have to eject from his aircraft and attempt to come down by parachute. In the era of jet fighters, ejection meant being exploded out of the cockpit by a nitroglycerine charge, like a human cannonball. The ejection itself was so hazardous—men lost knees, arms, and their lives on the rim of the cockpit or had the skin torn off their faces when they hit the “wall” of air outside—that many pilots chose to wrestle their aircraft to the ground rather than try it… and died that way instead.

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