Due to a human error Rafale fighter collision at an airshow

On a sunny day in May 2022, spectators at the Cognac air show in southwest France witnessed an unusual sight: two Rafale fighter jets from the French Air and Space Force collided mid-air during an air display. The incident, which could have had disastrous consequences, ended with both pilots landing their aircraft safely and emerging unscathed. The final report from the French Investigation Bureau for State Aviation Safety (BEA-E) attributed the collision to a series of human and organizational factors.

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The Incident

The collision occurred during a basic tactical presentation involving Rafale C fighter jets from the Vautour Bravo tactical display team of the 30th Fighter Wing. These presentations consist of sequences of non-complex maneuvers that fighter pilots perform during operational training. The incident happened towards the end of the presentation when the pilots performed a “show of force” (low-altitude, high-speed pass) along the air base runway. The leader initiated a sharp 180° right turn followed by a steep climb to execute a maneuver known as an “oreille”. The wingman followed, intending to follow the leader in close formation, but he noticed a significant closure rate due to the leader’s unusually steep climb.

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The Aftermath

Despite two successive impacts that caused substantial damage, including the loss of the wingman’s vertical stabilizer and significant damage to the leader’s right canard, both aircraft remained controllable. The pilots managed to land safely at the 709 Cognac-Ch√Ęteaubernard air base. Debris from the collision damaged a house in the nearby town of Gensac-la-Pallue.

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The Investigation

The BEA-E's investigation into the causes of the mid-air collision pointed to organizational and human factors. It found that a decision to deviate from the originally planned parameters for the “oreille” maneuver, including a steeper climb, different altitudes, and slower speeds, was made during training.


Lessons Learned

This incident serves as a stark reminder of the inherent risks involved in aerial displays and the importance of rigorous planning and adherence to established procedures. It underscores the need for constant vigilance, effective communication, and strict compliance with safety protocols in high-risk environments such as air shows. While it's fortunate that this incident did not result in any loss of life or serious injury, it provides valuable lessons for future air shows and military exercises. It's a testament to the skill and professionalism of the pilots that they were able to land their damaged aircraft safely. However, it also highlights areas where improvements can be made to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. In conclusion, while human error is an inevitable part of any activity, its potential impact can be mitigated through careful planning, rigorous training, and adherence to established safety protocols. This incident serves as a valuable case study for improving safety measures in aerial displays and military exercises.

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