Surprise Ejection On $70 Million Fighter Jet Descends Into a Near-Miss
With elements of a dark comedy, a surprise retirement celebration—a flight on a £70 million fighter jet—led to a very sudden ejection at 2,500 feet
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A 64-year-old French defense ambassador was retiring. In March 2019, to show their appreciation and well wishes on the occasion of his retirement, his employees planned quite a surprise: a flight in a £70 million Dassault Rafale B fighter jet.
Apparently the coworkers didn’t know their colleague as well as they imagined
When the ambassador arrived at the Saint-Dizier airbase in northeastern France and realized what his “surprise” was, he felt extremely stressed.
According to the aviation accident investigation report from the Paris-based BEA (Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis), the pensioner had “never expressed a desire to take part in a flight like this, and especially not in a Rafale.”
The report weighed in, “The need to keep the surprise until the moment of the flight had hugely risky consequences, especially as regards preparation for the flight.”
“This situation generated a feeling of stress for the passenger, and this was particularly felt during the ejection seat briefing, where he had to assimilate a large amount of information in a very short time.”
[The flight had been authorized by the French Air Force staff at the request of the Defense Ministry, further applying pressure to the honoree, who was considered a VIP.]
“In addition, the stress of surprise has been magnified by the complete lack of military aviation experience.
“The passenger said he had a complete lack of knowledge of the aeronautical environment and its constraints, having never flown on a military aircraft.”
The flight’s 35-year-old captain had 2,000 flying hours, including 905 flying a Rafale. The captain stated that he usually had a military comrade in the back seat of the two-seater jet
The report relayed that, “Faced with a fait accompli on the day of the flight, it was very difficult for him [the retiree] to refuse to participate in the flight.”
The retiree reacted by reaching for anything he could find to hold onto and accidentally pulled the ejector handle
Here is the timeline that led to more than one near-miss:
- 4 of the retiree’s colleagues arrived at the airbase, bringing along a professional photographer, and fixed a Go-Pro camera on their coworker’s helmet to film the afternoon flight.
- The retiree expected a gradual ascent, but the plane climbed at 47 degrees, rather than the 10 to 15 degrees of a standard passenger plane.
- The retiree reacted by reaching for anything he could find to hold onto and accidentally pulled the ejector handle.
- He flew out at high speed. He lost his ill-fastened helmet prior to landing in a field.
- A loud banging noise occurred simultaneously with the force of the ejection: The retiree’s unsecured mask and oxygen mask were torn from his face.
- The airborne retiree managed to use his parachute to land in a field, shocked, with minor injuries.
- Analysis of the radio recordings revealed that the pilot was in control of the situation. Upon being informed that his passenger had ejected, the pilot recognized that the Rafele-B’s command ejection system is designed to simultaneously eject his seat as well as his passenger, and “remained calm following the loss of the rear seat and the canopy.”*
*Source for the Lesson Learned: Task & Purpose, “A technical glitch saved a French fighter pilot after a civilian passenger freaked out and ejected,” Haley Britzky, April 2020.
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