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French naval aviation takes flight on a US aircraft carrier

Ⓒ AFP – Eric BARADAT – | An F-18 catapulted from US aircraft carrier USS Bush in the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast of the United States, May 11, 2018

On the flight deck, in the fiery kerosene scent, F-18 and Rafale continue catapulting and landing at a frantic pace. Guests of the US aircraft carrier USS Bush, off the east coast of the United States, the pilots of the Naval Air Navy resumed training at sea, in intensive mode.

“Today, we are at 130 landing stages, and this night we will probably do about sixty,” commented captain Steven Thomas from the top of the islet, “air boss” (aviation chief) aboard the building. , named in honor of former President George Bush Sr., figure of the American naval air force.

At its feet, the track surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean is teeming with multicolored vests busy around a dozen roaring aircraft, including six Rafale stamped “French Navy”.

Privileged since the beginning of 2017 of the only French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, undergoing a major renovation project until autumn, the blue-white-red pilots have been invited to make their landing ranges on the one of the 11 aircraft carriers of the US Navy, to retain their skills.

After a month of training on shore in Virginia (East coast of the United States), more than 300 sailors from the French airborne group (pilots, mechanics, flight deck staff …) have just joined for ten days. USS Bush, with 12 Rafale and a Hawkeye surveillance aircraft.

Ⓒ AFP – Eric BARADAT – | Guests of US aircraft carrier USS Bush, off the US East Coast, French Naval Air pilots resumed training at sea, in intensive mode

“The maneuvers are super fast, the staff on the flight deck is very numerous, but their procedures are adapted to the size of the Bush”, twice the size of the “Charles”, says the French Commander Vincent Isorce, commander of the fleet 17F. “It’s up to us to adapt.”

On the French aircraft carrier, it is impossible to make planes land and catapult others at the same time. On the Bush, equipped with four catapults, it’s routine.

An American F-18 rushes to full speed, from 0 to 250 km / h in less than two seconds, while a Rafale has just landed, brutally braked in his race by a stall. “Not a mass sport,” laughs a French pilot.

– unpublished score –

In this deafening and perilous universe, everyone communicates with great signs of the hand and raised fists, dressed in a t-shirt with the colors of his mission: supply (purple), armament (red), security (white). ..

Ⓒ AFP – Eric BARADAT – | A Rafale on the USS Busk aircraft carrier off the East Coast of the United States, May 12, 2018

Among them, the essential “yellow dogs” direct the ballet devices. Nigel, an American, gives the “go” to a pilot in a very hip-hop hip. “I put a little of my style in all this,” he laughs. “We are more sober,” says French Lieutenant Bruno, head of the Charles de Gaulle flight deck.

Despite several procedural adjustments on the flight deck and the high intensity of the maneuvers, the Franco-American partition, unpublished, plays without a hitch, ensure both crews.

The two marines have years of joint operations behind them, particularly in the Levant. And the pilots of the French naval aviation, historically trained in the United States, are on familiar ground.

In the maze of passageways, the sailors of the two allied nations exchange smiles, “hello” and “hello”, give each other a hug.

In the next few days, they will simulate various joint missions: attack or defense of ships, bombing, air combat …

This is the second objective of the “Chesapeake” operation: to reinforce the interoperability of the two naval aircraft.

Do Americans plan to one day join a French squadron to conduct operations? “With proper preparation, I think we could totally do it,” said USS Bush commander Sean Bailey. “A good part of this exercise is precisely to simulate this case,” he says, leaving it to the politicians to decide.

Ⓒ AFP – Eric BARADAT – | Guests of the US aircraft carrier USS Bush, off the US East Coast, F-18 and French Rafale chase catapultages and landings at a frantic pace

At nightfall, the deckings resume, in spite of the sleep of the 4,000 personnel on board. On the deck bathed in orange light, the incandescent reactors of a Rafale disappear in the night in a fraction of seconds.

On board, the military cooperation does not seem to suffer from the diplomatic discord between Paris and Washington on the Iranian nuclear issue.

“In ten years, the trust between us has really progressed, we have gone up a notch,” says a top French officer. “But the honeymoon is fragile,” he warns.

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