In May 2022, two French Air and Space Force Rafale fighters collided mid-air during an air display at the Cognac air show in the southwest of France. Both pilots escaped unharmed and managed to land their aircraft. The final report of the French Investigation Bureau for State Aviation Safety (BEA-E) on the incident outlines a series of human and organizational factors that led to the collision.
On May 22, 2022, two pilots from the Vautour Bravo tactical display team of the 30th Fighter Wing were conducting a basic tactical presentation involving Rafale C fighter jets at the Cognac National Air Meeting. Unlike air displays conducted by aerobatic teams, basic tactical presentations are composed of sequences of non-complex maneuvers that fighter pilots perform during operational training.
The two pilots had successfully completed the same presentation the day before and had practiced the program eight times in real training sessions and four times in simulators. Weather conditions were ideal for the presentation, with no restrictions in place, and both aircraft were deemed airworthy and in accordance with the maintenance program.
The incident occurred towards the end of the presentation when the pilots performed a “show of force” (low-altitude, high-speed pass) along the air base runway, used as the presentation axis for the display. The leader initiated a sharp 180° right turn followed by a steep climb to execute a maneuver known as an “oreille” [ear in French, known as a high-speed Yo-Yo in English – ed. note], to prepare for the next figure.
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. Questioned by the wingman, the leader indicated on the radio flying at a speed of 200 knots, which was lower than the typical 250 knots during this phase.
The wingman requested an acceleration, prompting…