How Flying Monkey Mesa Came to Be

By Zion Helicopters

In 1954 a team of scientists worked on an isolated plateau in the heart of the Utah desert, developing technology and running tests that would save the lives of American fighter pilots.

Related to the development and testing of ejection seats for fighter pilots, which was conducted at a site atop Hurricane Mesa near the town of Virgin, Utah. This test facility, known as Project SMART, consisted of a 12,000-foot-long track, a rocket sled, and a pusher loaded with live rockets to hurtle the sled down the test track at supersonic speeds.

To test the effects of high-speed flights and ejections, researchers initially used live monkeys, pigs, and bears as test subjects. However, they later turned to the use of crash-test dummies that were equipped with parachutes and telemetry devices to record whole-body movements during the simulations. These dummies came to be known as "Flying Monkeys," which was a nod to the live monkeys that were initially used as test subjects.

Over the course of six years, these data-gathering dummies were ejected from the rocket sled at supersonic speeds and parachuted 1500 feet down to the valley floor. The information gathered from these tests helped design safer ejection systems for American pilots. The success of Project SMART led to the widespread adoption of ejection seats in military aircraft and has undoubtedly saved many lives over the years.

What is the best way to see Flying Monkey Mesa? Climb on board a Zion Helicopter tour to get the best aerial view of the Mesa. Tours depart daily from Zion River’s Edge Adventures facility in Springdale, just 10 miles west of the entrance to Zion National Park. For pricing and availability, visit

Created On 27 Jul 2023

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Flights operated by Zion Helicopters, LLC - FAA Certified Part 135 - Air Carrier No. 2ZHA905N. Location: Rivers Edge Facility: 3050 East UT-9, Virgin UT 84779