Improved Aircraft Life Rafts

The oft-proven value of aircraft life rafts will be increased through two new improvements, one literally giving larger rafts "all the comforts of home," the other an automatic inflator and ejector to aid carrier-based fighter pilots.

First improvement is a seven-man raft, now in mass production, which was developed by the Equipment Laboratory, Wright Field, and the United States Rubber Co. The new raft is 12 ft long, 5 ft 8 in wide and folds into a case l½ by 3 feet. Total weight, including equipment, is 70 lb. Its design includes a horizontal bulkhead which divides the raft into upper and lower chambers so that piercing of the bottom will not sink the raft.

As the raft is inflated, the carrying case becomes a sea anchor to keep it from floating away and which, if necessary, may be used to keep the nose of the raft into the wind to reduce possibility of capsizing in heavy seas.

Equipment includes bailing bucket and plastic hand pump, both tied by individual cords to the raft, a square sail which can be rigged on the wooden oars, and a tarpaulin to protect the crew from rain or sun. Additional "accessories" include fishing kit, emergency repair and signal kits, first aid equipment, concentrated rations for 30 days and, in some cases, radio sending set. These items, supplied by the Air Forces, are secured in a water-proof container to prevent their being lost when the raft is being launched or in case it is overturned.

In the field of one-man rafts for carrier based fighter pilots, engineers of Walter Kidde & Co, have developed an automatically ejected and inflated raft. The new design uses a water-sensitive switch on the underside of the plane's fuselage which automatically opens release valves on two carbon dioxide cylinders. Gas from one cylinder opens the raft compartment in the top of the fuselage while the other inflates the raft, which is prevented from drifting away by a light line. The cylinder which opens the compartment stays with the plane, while the other is attached to the raft. In addition to the automatic water-operated release, manually operated controls are provided for both cylinders.

This article was originally published in the March, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 3, pp 261, 370.
The PDF of this article includes two photos and an artist's rendering showing the raft in use.
Photos are not credited, nor is the drawing.