French aviation investigators have shed 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".
The unidentified 64-year-old panicked during the flight 12 months 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 €75m 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 gift. The "surprise" meant he could not be briefed until the last minute and was said to be somewhat stressed during it, finding the ejector seat aspect 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 craft climbs at around 10 to 15 degrees! It was during the climb that the pensioner looked for anything to steady himself - and (you guessed it!) pulled the ejector handle.
In fact, 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 very 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!!