Aviation Digest reports today that “Rafale Ride Leads To Inadvertent Ejection By Over-Stressed Passenger”. An April 6, 2020 report by the French military’s air accident investigation branch recounts a March 2019 flight in which a contractor employee, responsible for test activity for his employer, was offered a surprise treat: a back-seat ride in a Dassault Rafale, the French front-line fighter aircraft.
Because the gesture was meant as a surprise, the passenger was informed only hours before the flight, leaving little time for him to prepare. The passenger did not feel he could decline the gesture, bowing to the social pressure imposed by his colleagues, the report said.
Based upon a pre-flight medical examination of the 64 year old passenger, the doctor recommended limiting any maneuvers to 3 g acceleration. Unfortunately, due to a failure in the internal message system, this recommendation never reached the pilot.
The passenger took his seat in the Rafale, which was part of a routine patrol mission, where the standard climb after take-off is 4.5 g. “Perhaps due to the stress, the passenger failed to properly buckle in. The back side of his shoulder strap allowed more motion than necessary, the report said. In addition, he didn’t fasten the right leg of his pressure suit, lower the helmet visor or snap the chin strap of his helmet. ”
Startled by the positive g forces immediately after rotation, and then subjected to negative 0.63 g when the pilot leveled off, which may have caused him to float upward due to the improper strapping in, the passenger grabbed for something to hold on to.
He chose unwisely.
Grabbing the ejection seat handle caused the canopy above both the pilot and passenger’s seats to shatter and the passenger’s seat immediately ejecting from the plane. The Rafale has a switch that controls whether an ejection seat activating causes only one or both seats to eject. When flying with two people, this switch is usually set to eject both seats, and it was set that way on this flight. But the switch failed, so the pilot remained in the plane, albeit without a back seat, passenger, or canopy.
Since the passenger had failed to lower his visor and fasten the chin strap on his helmet, it was blown off by the air blast after ejection. The passenger landed, uninjured other than minor abrasion to the face, near the runway.
The pilot dumped fuel and landed back at the base, where the plane, containing an armed ejection seat which was supposed to have fired, was secured until technicians could disarm its explosive charge.
The story is silent on whether the pilot, passenger, or French military are inclined to give it another try.