French Rafales Keep Training Edge on US Aircraft Carrier
(Source: Agence France Presse; published May 14, 2018)
A French navy Rafale aircraft lands on the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Atlantic Ocean, May 11, 2018. The carrier is conducting air wing exercises with the French navy, whose own carrier in currently unavailable. (US Navy photo)
In scorched trails of exhaust, US F/A-18 fighter jets and French Rafales take off and land at a frantic pace, all from the same US Navy aircraft carrier.

Since France's only aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, is undergoing a major renovation project until autumn, French pilots have been invited to hone their skills on one of the US Navy's 11 carriers.

After a month of training on shore in Virginia, more than 300 crew from the French airborne group -- pilots, mechanics and flight deck staff -- have just joined the USS George H.W. Bush in the Atlantic.

Twelve Rafales and a Hawkeye surveillance aircraft are with the crew on their ten-day deployment.

With the George H.W. Bush twice the size of France's carrier, "it's up to us to adapt," says French Commander Vincent Isorce.

On the Charles de Gaulle, it is impossible for planes to land and launch at the same time but that is the name of the game on the US ship. "This sport is not exactly for everybody," laughs a French pilot.

In this deafening and perilous universe, everyone communicates with hand signals and raised fists. The flight-deck crew dresses in shirts colored for their missions: supply (purple), armament (red), safety (white).

Yellow is for those who direct the aircraft. Nigel, an American, shows a bit of a dance move as he gives the "go" signal to a pilot.

"I put a little of my style in all this," he laughs. "We are more sober," says Bruno, a French lieutenant who heads the Charles de Gaulle flight deck.

Although the two naval forces have years of joint operations behind them, particularly in the Middle East, this is "our first opportunity to work with the French on a flight deck," said Captain Sean Bailey, commanding officer of the George H.W. Bush.

"It's been a great exercise so far. The way we've integrated pretty seamlessly is remarkable."

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French Naval Aviators Partner with U.S. Navy During Chesapeake 2018
(Source: US Navy; issued May 14, 2018)
ATLANTIC OCEAN --- A French navy Rafale fighter jet crests the horizon, on a glide path to touch down as part of an historic combined flight operation aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush.

The George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group and French Carrier Air Wing departed Norfolk, Virginia, May 7 to begin combined exercise Chesapeake 2018.

Carrier Qualifications

French sailors embarked aboard the USS Bush to conduct carrier qualifications, a series of arrested landings and takeoffs from an aircraft carrier done regularly by squadrons to maintain their naval aviation proficiency. The exercise consists of one E-2C Hawkeye and 12 Rafale French navy aircraft and 27 pilots looking to keep their skills sharp.

“In preparation for the underway portion of this exercise the Rafales and Carrier Air Wing, eight aircraft worked side-by-side out of [Naval Air Station] Oceana doing tactical missions,” said Navy Capt. Sean R. Bailey, commanding officer of the USS Bush.

Operational Training

The French navy has one aircraft carrier, the Charles De Gaulle, which is undergoing a maintenance period. Approximately 3,700 U.S. and 301 French sailors are working together to maintain, launch and recover aircraft to strengthen interoperability between U.S. and French naval forces during Chesapeake 2018.

“We’re busy; we’ve got a flight deck full of aircraft,” Bailey said. “A key piece of this exercise is not only to get [French aviators] carrier qualified. Once they’re fully qualified, that allows us to move into some more operational training, integrate them with our CAG-8 aircraft, and they can practice some higher-end training and missions beyond the basics of taking off and landing.”

Historic Partnership

Chesapeake 2018 is named after the historic Battle of Chesapeake during the Revolutionary War when French naval ships cut off British supply lines to British Gen. Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown, Virginia. The French navy’s victory stranded Cornwallis’ army, and less than eight weeks later he surrendered to Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army.

The USS Bush strike group is underway in the Atlantic Ocean conducting carrier air wing exercises with the French navy to strengthen partnerships and deepen interoperability between the two nations' naval forces.

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