Usually, if the passengers and crew of an A220 or any other airliner see fighter jets out the windows, something bad happened. But not always.
There are a few reasons why a country’s military might decide to send some fighter jets over to have a look at a passenger jet. In most cases, this is because the pilots of that aircraft aren’t responding to radio calls, on multiple frequencies.
But there may be more reasons. The pilots of the passenger jet may have radioed (or entered a transponder code) to let ATC know of a hijacking. In some instances, fighters have looked over an airliner, to evaluate possible damage. Or a teenager may have made a really bad joke on social media, that prompted the authorities to “launch the jets”.
But on Monday the 13th of November this year, three fighter jets met up with a SWISS A220 at altitude in much friendlier terms. The meeting was scheduled and pre-briefed in detail. This was an intercept exercise, for the benefit of both the military and commercial flight crews.
In addition to the fighter jets and the SWISS A220 crew, this intercept exercise also involved 70 passengers. These were students and other personnel, participating in Switzerland’s SPHAIR program.
A220 and Fighter Jets Wagging Wings
SPHAIR works as a two-week aviation screening and training program, primarily for future military pilots and other military aviation-related specialties. Several airlines also accept candidates from the program, which is normally open to Swiss citizens only.
Three fighter jets met up with the SWISS A220, which took off from Zurich Airport (LSZH). Normally these missions involve two military jets. The third, in this case, was a two-seat jet, that was acting as a photo ship.
The pilots in the fighter jets took turns signaling the A220 crew, the way they would do it if this wasn’t an exercise. This included flying in front of the airliner and even dropping flares. Meanwhile, the 70 students and SPHAIR personnel in the airliner were getting a running commentary of events, from a military pilot in the cabin.
Obviously, there were plenty of chances for the occupants and crews of both the A220 and the fighter jets, to get photos, such as these. The snow-capped mountain scenery of Switzerland occasionally poking through the clouds doesn’t hurt, either!
There were also briefings on the ground for the crews and the students, before and after the event. Fighter pilots get to practice such events, but usually not with actual airliners. And airline pilots don’t often get the chance to wag their wings to fighters, either. But perhaps that is something they wouldn’t be in the mood to do, if this hadn’t been an exercise.