‘Thrust you can trust’

UND Aerospace’s one-of-a-kind gift — an F-16 jet’s ejection seat that saved life of student’s father

(Left to right) )Robert Kunze, Brennan Granger, Steve Martin, Sanford Fogg and Tom Zeidlik stand behind the ACES II ejection seat donated by retired Air Force Lt. Col. Stephen Granger with the help of his son, Brennan. Granger was allowed to keep the seat after it saved his life in 2005, which he eventually passed to Brennan when he came to UND. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

(Left to right) )Robert Kunze, UND Commerical Aviation Major Brennan Granger, Steve Martin, Sanford Fogg and Tom Zeidlik stand behind the ACES II ejection seat donated by retired Air Force Lt. Col. Stephen Granger with the help of his son, Brennan. Granger was allowed to keep the seat after it saved his life in 2005, which he eventually passed to Brennan when he came to UND. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

During the spring semester, Professor Tom Zeidlik was lecturing his Aviation 309: Flight Physiology group about oxygen systems in aircraft when the conversation moved to ejection seats. Though he never served in the Air Force, Zeidlik is well aware of the years of testing that resulted in today’s safety standards.

“The new ACES II seat has these little things that sit beside your knees,” Zeidlik, director of the flight physiology program, gestured, creating a bracket containing his legs. “Before they were installed, pilots would eject at high speeds and their knees would be touching behind them.”

He went on to describe modern ejection technology as miraculous – that the ACES II was the “coolest seat, ever.” He told his students that they would never see anything like it.

After class, commercial aviation major Brennan Granger approached his professor to inform him that he had in fact seen one. Much to Zeidlik’s disbelief, Granger claimed he had one sitting in his Grand Forks apartment and was willing to donate it.

There was plenty of skepticism to go around.

“I thought there was no way possible,” Bob Kunze, altitude chamber technician and instructor, told UND Today. “The military would never let you take anything, not even the nuts and bolts from extra hardware. I was skeptical until it came through the door.”

Piece of history

By Granger’s recollection, he was around seven or eight years old when he heard his mother shouting over the phone at his father, who at the time was a major and pilot flying with the 77th “Gamblers” Fighter Squadron.

He said, “I heard her screaming, ‘you bought the Corvette?’”

While Granger thought his dad splurged on a new sports car, he was actually hearing a code phrase meaning something went wrong on the job. In April of 2005, Lt. Col. Steven Granger was forced to eject from his F-16D fighter over a South Carolinian swamp. Fortunately, he was able to return home and tell his two young children what had happened.

“I wasn’t sure what was going on,” Granger recalled. “I just knew he ejected from an airplane, which was kind of cool to me at the time. Nothing was really scary about it.”

Thirteen years later, his father regards the incident with a similar calm. He and a passenger had started a 90-minute training mission when they experienced total engine failure. Granger had 11 years of military flying under his belt and did enough to make sure the jet went into unpopulated territory. Ten seconds after ejecting, the jet crashed and caught fire.

The fighter belonged to a different squadron, but the pair of pilots were testing its systems before they would be in use by the 77th.

“It hurt,” the elder Granger replied when asked how the incident affected his career. “I was 6 feet 2 inches, the compression from the ejection rocket going up took me down to 6 feet. I got an inch back.”

He still experiences back pain.

“As soon as you pull the handle, within a tenth of a second you’re out of the roof,” Zeidlik illustrated. “A half second later you’re already 200 feet above the aircraft.”

Granger said that after the the crash investigation concluded, he was able to navigate the Air Force’s legal channels to more or less ask for the ejection seat. He flew in the military for another nine years, and now works as a lead captain and pilot for Jet Aviation Flight Services, ferrying clients around the globe.

“It was either going to be thrown away or destroyed, so I wanted to keep it for the significance,” he said, regarding the ACES II model as ‘thrust you can trust.’ “How many people have an ejection seat in their bar?”

He also received a piece from the disintegrated motor that caused the incident, as well as the ejection handle, flight stick, throttle and a gun barrel. After so many years – and having the Air Force moving it all from place to place – Granger was ready to move on and stop “pack-ratting.”

Once Brennan had the seat in his Grand Forks apartment, its only use was harboring clothes. It wasn’t until he sat through one of Zeidlik’s lectures about ejection technology that he considered bringing it to the department. Zeidlik and his staff were in disbelief until the moment it came through the door, given its value as a piece of military hardware. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Once Brennan Granger (above) had the seat in his Grand Forks apartment, its only use was harboring clothes. It wasn’t until he sat through one of Zeidlik’s lectures about ejection technology that he considered bringing it to the department. Zeidlik and his staff were in disbelief until the moment it came through the door, given its value as a piece of military hardware. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Remarkable gift

“My dad just didn’t want it, I mean, he wouldn’t have thrown it away, but it would probably be in a storage unit,” Brennan Granger, now a junior at UND, said. “When I was going to college he asked if I would take it and show my friends.”

Until he hauled it to Odegard Hall to show his professors, and eventually donate, it sat in the corner of his apartment harboring clothes. Brennan says it wasn’t doing much for him other than that. The enthusiasm of his instructors couldn’t be more opposed.

“There are probably military bases that don’t have ejection seats that saved the life of a U.S. airman,” Zeidlik exclaimed. “We’ve got one. It’s remarkable – it blows my mind that they gave it to us.”

Part of the marvel is all that’s still there. Granger’s harness came with it. The drogue chute that levels the pilot after ejection still hangs out the back. Underneath the seat: the original survival kit, sans survival gear. Zeidlik detailed his plans to leave it as-is and put it in a glass case for aspiring and visiting pilots to admire. A plaque with the seat’s story will accompany the display.

He hopes that placing it behind glass will keep its components secure and communicate the equipment’s significance. Then he brought up a story he heard from Brennan.

“I remember when we got the chair, everything came with it,” Brennan said. “There was a survival miniature raft, and we lived in Arizona at the time. We had a pool in the backyard and my sister and I would play in that raft all the time. It was just something fun to play with.”

Zeidlik could only laugh and shake his head.

A great idea

Having the seat enshrined in an academic setting wasn’t something Steven Granger expected when his son took it to North Dakota, but he thinks UND is a great place for it.

“I’m happy that [the instructors] saw it and thought to display it,” he said. “I never thought to donate it, but what a great idea! More people than just those in a dorm are going to be able to see it and learn more about it.”

The former Air Force pilot will be vacationing in the region later this summer. He plans to visit the University, see the ACES II on display and have a chance to fly with Brennan for the first time.

“I’m looking forward to that,” he remarked.