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Video - What happens during a flight intercept ?

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 Aircraft hijacking ( skyjacking ), transponder failure, leaving an air corridor : a fighter jet has many reasons to intercept a commercial aircraft. On May 4th., a French Air Force Rafale took off from air base 118, seen here in the picture, to provide assistance to an airliner. The aircraft on the Rome-Washington route had been out of radio contact with air traffic control for fifteen minutes.

To get an accurate appraisal of the situation, the French Air Defense Authority therefore immediately sent one of their fighters to check it out. At first, out of sight of the airliner's cockpit, the Rafale pilot checks : the aircraft's registration, type of aircraft and the carrier company's name; after which...

Colonel Frank D. - French Air Defense Authority:

"The fighter will move alongside the aircraft and into the pilot's field of vision, in order to verify that the behavior is normal in the cockpit as well as the cabin, and very often, it's enough for the pilots to verify visually, that the situation in the cabin is normal."

Since the two aircraft are sometimes only 300 metres ( 300 yd. ) apart the fighter pilot and the commercial aircraft captain can communicate, via an international visual sign system..

Colonel Frank D. - French Air Defense Authority:

"It may be with signals such as head nodding, the hand toward the ears to show he hears nothing, or over the mouth to show that he's not capable of emitting anything. All these are signals that well known and which work well."

On average, the French Air Force carries out 70 interceptions or flight assistances of this type each year over France. At least eight 'planes are on permanent standby, ready to intervene anywhere over France, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

To catch up with an airliner in the shortest possible time, the Rafale has to sometimes break the the sound barrier; as it did last weekend. The pilot exceeded 1,200 km ( over 750 miles ) / h. - and of course everything went off with a bang. But this is rare. Supersonic flights of these sheriffs of the sky account for only 10% of their missions.

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