The D.C Air National Guard pilot who ejected from his stricken F-16C over Prince George’s County Wednesday is joining an elite club.

“That ride on those rocket rails was the smoothest ride I’ve ever taken in my life,” said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dick Rutan. In 20 years of flying air force fighter jets, Rutan ejected twice. In 1968, his F-100 Super Sabre was shot down near enemy territory and burning.

“I knew what was going to happen to that jet in a handful of time and I didn’t want to be anywhere near that point,” said Rutan.

D.C. Air National Guard officials say the pilot experienced some sort of mechanical failure shortly after leaving Joint Base Andrews, tried to turn back to the runway, and then decided to eject. The entire episode unfolded in a matter of “seconds not minutes”, according to Air National Guard Lt. Col.  Michael Croker.

The pilot—whose name is still being withheld-- now becomes the 651st pilot to successfully eject from a fighter jet using the ACES II ejection seat, according to seat manufacturer UTC Aerospace Systems.  It took less than three seconds from the time the pilot pulled the ejection handle until he was parachuting to safety.

“When they pull the handle they know they are going to successfully eject and come down in one piece,” said former fighter pilot Jim Patch who manages the seat’s product development.

Rutan stresses in this case, the pilot deserves most of the credit. After ejection, the airplane is out of control. On Wednesday, the pilotless jet missed neighborhoods and schools.

“That was something that was in my thoughts and I’m certain he did the same thing,” said Rutan. “He tried to turn his jet to minimize all those people on the ground.”

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