Sunday, 24 December 2017

Jean Copponex " Pilote de combat au temps de la guerre froide - Combat Pilot in the Cold War" - personal account from a Mirage IV pilot

Jean Copponnex flew both the Mirage III and IV during the Cold War with the Escadron de Bombardement 3/94 'Arbois'. During September 1973 a detachment of three Mirage IV A nuclear bombers are in Solenzara, Corsica, for their annual training week practising high speed low altitude weapons delivery - crews were tasked to drop one mock-up AN 22 nuclear free-fall bomb using the LADD (Low Angle Drogue Delivery) procedure, releasing the bomb while pulling up from low altitude to roll out and down and accelerate at high speed away from the drop zone while the bomb itself is braked by parachute. With a TOW of some 25 tonnes (10 tonnes of fuel) Copponnex gets airborne on the afternoon of Wednesday 26 September 1973 in 'clean' ('lisse') configuration (no drop tanks). During his second approach run he experiences an engine failure at well over Mach 1 off the coast of Corsica. The aircraft quickly becomes unrecoverable and less than two minutes after the first 'oil 1' warning light flashes up on the dashboard and stays lit, both pilot and navigator have ejected from their aircraft - Mirage IVA n°2 AA. An interesting account...

 ".. I informed 'Jack', my navigator, of the failure, and applied my procedure which was very straight forward and clear-cut - throttle back the defective engine (to avoid any possible further deterioration) and go to full throttle on the other while radioing in our problem. While infrequent, this type of failure was not unknown and we trained for it of course. Now we had to get the aircraft back to the airfield - we were at low altitude and high speed some five nautical miles from home...the only manoeuvre possible to accomplish this was a wide starboard turn while climbing to just below the cloud base - there was no question of losing visual with the ground - while slowing to 250 kts to prepare for landing.. ..however I was suddenly unable to light the after-burner on the starboard engine. Our speed continued to fall away ..alarmingly. Checking the fuel circuit I twice -tried - to relight the afterburner in the starboard engine ...while letting out a 'ca merde!' ( " its going tits up!").  Nor could I relight the port engine that I had just shut down. At 600 ft and 300 kts, we were reaching the limit of the capabilities of our Martin Baker seats. I ordered the ejection. Two minutes had past since the first alarm. Immediately the navigator's seat 'took off' leaving me free to pull the lower handle. While not an 'emergency' at the outset, subsequent and successive failures demanded a quick and clear decision. I had Jack to thank for acting quickly and unhesitatingly. I had barely shouted out 'jump' than I heard the explosions detonating the canopy glazing and the two cannon 'shots' propelling his seat out of the fuselage. He told me later that he already had his hand on the handle as he heard me let out my expletive - had he hesitated, I'm not sure that I would have had time to jump in moments like that you can't afford to ask yourself, 'have I done the right thing?', 'where have I gone wrong?' or even, 'I'm going to have account for my actions here'. Too many pilots haven't had the good fortune to act quickly, preferring to stay with their aircraft, hesitating over or delaying a decision. For a pilot, carrying out an ejection is anything but a 'normal' decision. - you take off, you bring the aircraft safely back to terra firma... As I drifted down under the canopy that had safely deployed, I was treated to the breath-taking spectacle of 'my aircraft' plunging into the sea in an enormous fountain of spray.."

More Armee de l'air pilot accounts on this blog;

  "JAGUAR SUR AL JABER" by Alain Mahagne, former Jaguar pilot of EC 2/11 Vosges, the only French pilot to be injured on operations in the first Gulf Air War, Jaguar sur Al Jaber is a 127-page account of flying the Jaguar in combat. Mahagne describes his sortie flown on 17 January 1991.

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