US, French Naval Aviators Cross Skies, Decks Together

By on Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

U.S. and French aircraft embarked on the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and the French aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R 91) began conducting combined flight operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, Jan. 14.

The flight operations are part of an ongoing period of overall combined operations between the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HST CSG) and French Task Force 473.

As part of combined flight operations, aircraft assigned to Carrier Air Wing 3, embarked on board Harry S. Truman, and aircraft from Charles de Gaulle, have launched and landed on both aircraft carriers.

“The experience was similar to landing on Harry S. Truman but since Charles de Gaulle is just a little smaller, the sight picture was a little different,” said Lt. Cmdr. Bex Boyd, an F/A-18 pilot assigned to the “Gunslingers” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 105, who also serves as the squadron’s training officer.

Boyd also noted that some of the hand signals used by flight deck personnel were slightly different from those used on American aircraft carriers and that they used flags instead of lights to signal for the aircraft to launch.

He said that while there were some differences in the way things are done, the experience was a positive one and credited Charles de Gaulle’s crew for their professionalism. “They were very professional and it was a great experience,” he said.

Boyd and Cmdr. Forrest Young, VFA-105′s commanding officer, were the first two U.S. Navy pilots to land on the French aircraft carrier during the current period of operations.

French aircraft also took advantage of combined operations to land on and launch from Harry S. Truman.

“It’s a great opportunity to test our interoperability through this kind of experience,” said a French Rafale pilot known as “Pronto.” “I have already landed on an American aircraft carrier but it was the first time for me to do it with a Rafale F-3.”

The Rafale F-3 is a single-seat jet fighter and the most advanced in France’s fighter inventory.

Like Boyd, Pronto noted the difference in the size of the two flight decks and a few operational differences. However, he said he faced no challenges in landing on Harry S. Truman.

“There were no difficulties,” he said. “The main difference is the size of the deck and the fact that it’s full of planes when we land. Some of our procedures are also different.”

In addition to launching and recovering on their counterparts’ flight decks, U.S. and French pilots have also participated closely together in air defense, a war at sea exercise, and a variety of other operational and training scenarios.

HST CSG and French Task Force 473 will continue operating together throughout the month of January to enhance levels of cooperation and interoperability, enhance mutual defense capabilities and promote long-term regional stability.

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