With the advent of long-range bombers and in-flight refueling, many hours were spent flying over water. During the Korean War, bailouts were a common occurrence, and in many of these instances air crewmen became entangled in their parachute canopy or riser lines. While on land they could usually free themselves of the canopy, but in the water it is very different. A man entangled in the canopy lines can find it nearly impossible to release his chute. At this time the crews were using the B-4 and B-5 parachutes. While they had one Capewell Release mechanism, the other side was still attached to the wearer. The aircrews of the time were issued what was termed a “hunting knife” for just this emergency. This also created problems while ejecting, such as hanging up in the controls or worse. In post ejection interviews it was found that many of these knives were lost on the parachute opening shock, which left the wearer with nothing. Last but not least, it was found that the crewmembers, hacking to free themselves of the canopy lines, also punctured their now inflated life vest. In 1956 a memo went out looking for a new aircrew knife. This memo suggested many requirements; chief among these was the requirement to be used with one hand. The immediate response to this was the fixed blade knife. That is the route the U.S. Navy took with the development of the “Jet Pilots Knife” by Marbles Arms Corp. The U.S. Air Force took a different route.
The original development work on the MC-1 was accomplished jointly by the Engineering and Development Branch, along with the Aircrew Effectiveness Branch of the Aero Medical Laboratory. The MC-1 would be much like the WW II era M2 paratrooper switchblade, but with a twist. This new knife would have a dual blade set up, one designed only for cutting parachute canopy lines. This canopy line-cutting blade was a blunt, hooked shape with the cutting edge on the inside. It could be hooked around the line and a hard, one handed pull would sever the cord. This could also be accomplished behind the head, out of the range of vision, safely. Contrary to popular belief, the canopy line cutting blade was meant to be left in the open position at all times. Rumors and speculation have abounded for years as to why the clip-point blade was the spring loaded one. Was it a mistake by the designers or by the companies who made them? Neither: It was designed and built that way for a purpose—to be opened quickly with gloves on, period. Its main reason for being part of the knife was to puncture a life raft if it were to accidently inflate while in flight. The life rafts were attached to the aircrews’ survival pack that they sat on. They also wore inflatable life vests as part of their survival equipment. You can imagine what it would be like to have it open in the cramped confines of a cockpit.
The canopy line cutting blade, designed from the beginning to be in the open position at all times was generously rounded so as not to hurt the aircrew member in the event of a rough parachute landing. The clip-point blade, on the other hand, needed to be closed to avoid this same problem. In the event of a problem where the man could not use his other hand, the main blade was spring loaded to help accomplish this task. Look at the placement of the bail—it is attached to the pivoting end of the clip-point blade. It, too, was put there for a reason. In this case the MC-1 was designed to cut canopy lines first, a lanyard was attached to the aircrew members flight suit and to the bail of the knife. By simply pulling on the lanyard, the knife could be extracted from its pocket on the inner thigh and be ready to cut immediately. Actually, the canopy line cutter blade is the MC-1’s main blade, although through the years the clip-point blade has earned this popular title. The MC-1 is basically a parachuting knife. It was not intended to replace the machete in the survival kit. Its use as a survival knife was merely secondary. This information is in the official design report and in the utilization records. Sorry folks, the controversy is over.
For the complete article please refer to Tactical Knives July 2013.