French aviation investigators have shed new light on the pensioner given a surprise flight in a Rafale-B fighter jet as a retirement present. He was flung out at 2,500ft after grabbing the ejector seat handle to "steady himself". As you would.
The unidentified 64-year-old panicked during the flight a year ago. By accidentally triggering the ejector seat he shot out at high speed, losing his helmet, which was not fastened properly, before landing in a field close to the German border.
The report concluded that it was sheer luck the pilot had not also been ejected, which would have meant curtains for the £70m fighter jet. The pensioner testified that he had ‘never expressed a desire to take part in a flight like this, and especially not in a Rafale’.
But his colleagues at the defence contractor where he worked wanted to surprise him with this unusual retirement present. The "surprise" meant he could not briefed until the last minute and was said to be somewhat stressed during it, finding the ejector seat bit baffling.
The pensioner had never flown in a military aircraft. But his colleagues urged him to go ahead, sticking a camera on his helmet. The French Air Force also encouraged him to go, saying he was "considered a VIP".
The plane "climbed at 47 degrees". A commercial passenger climbs at around 10 to 15 degrees. It was during the climb that the pensioner looked for anything to steady himself -- and pulled the ejector handle.
The pilot should have been ejected too. The Rafele-B’s command ejection system is meant to fire both seats at once. But he wasn't and stayed in control of the jet despite the loss of his oxygen mask, rear seat and canopy.
The pilot managed to land. The pensioner’s parachute worked. He sustained only minor injuries. The official report says French Airforce and Defence Ministry should review their procedures for allowing civilians on military flights. Obviously a bureaucratic over-reaction.