A French pensioner received a retirement gift he’d never forget when his colleagues decided to send him on a fighter jet experience day. The once-in-a-lifetime experience swiftly became a please-don’t-make-me-do-that-again one, when an unfortunate series of events ended in the reluctant 64-year-old passenger accidentally ejecting himself from the plane. Both the pilot and passenger landed safely, leaving us free to appreciate the magnificent comic timing of a story you couldn’t make up.
On March 20, 2019, an employee at a defense manufacturer was “treated” to a retirement gift that would see him reluctantly board a two-seat Rafale-B French Air Force fighter jet from the Saint-Dizier 113 airbase, in eastern France. The unnamed gentleman, who according to France’s BEA-E aviation investigator report had never expressed a passion for flying “and in particular on a Rafale”, was unprepared, to say the least. What happened next is listed in full in this report, which is in French, with translated details listed on Aerotime Hub.
Just four hours before preparations for takeoff began, the man was cleared for flying by a medic and informed he’d be joining a sortie of three Rafales for a military training flight. Usually, this exam is done 10 days ahead to allow sufficient mental preparation for the flight, but restrictions were relaxed as it’d been agreed that the passenger wouldn’t be exposed to negative forces. This information was, crucially, not communicated to the pilot. Readings from the man’s smartwatch gave an indication of his state of mind ahead of flying, with a less than restful heart rate between 136-142 BPM (normal range is 60-100 BPM).
Fighter jets travel at immense speeds and change direction swiftly, which triggers a sensory rollercoaster for the passengers inside as a result of the load factor. When you experience a positive load factor (+G) you feel heavier, and when you experience a negative load factor (-G) you feel lighter. Commercial planes adopt a gentle ascent of about 10°-15° generating a load factor of around +0.4G. For our inexperienced Frenchman, the Rafale carried out a 47° take off with a load factor of around +4G. This somewhat alarming maneuver was then compounded by the pilot leveling off the plane, creating a negative load factor of about -0.6G. Something all had assured him wouldn’t happen.
Fueled by peer pressure, the passenger had essentially boarded the plane himself, meaning installation checks went... unchecked. As a result, he underwent the ordeal loose in his seat with his anti-g pants, helmet and oxygen mask on incorrectly. It’s unsurprising, then, that when the take-off all got a bit much he tried to cling for dear life to the nearest solid object. As it turned out, this was the ejector handle. Flung from the aircraft with a bang, the Frenchman suffered one final insult as his loosely fitted oxygen mask and helmet were éjecter from his head.
Back in the now half empty plane, the baffled pilot made a swift return to the airbase all the while knowing his own seat could eject at any time. The Rafale-B command ejection system usually catapults both passengers in the event of one crew member pulling the handle. Fortunately, the only positive technical error to occur on the flight kept the pilot in place long enough to land and safely evacuate the aircraft.
A report from the BEA-E concluded that peer pressure and poor preparation meant "the margins of decision left to the passenger to possibly refuse the flight are perceived as almost nonexistent". They reminded the military authorities and Dassault Aviation to in future respect the 10-day rule between the medical and flight, to avoid inflicting negative pay loads on any future flustered Frenchmen without their pants on.
The lesson: be wary of anyone offering you a great send off. They might really mean it.
[H/T The Register]