Pitch Black: French-Australian cooperation at the center of the deployment of 3 Rafale [fr]

From the 27th of July until the 17th of August 2018, the French Air Force will participate to an Australian Biennial exercise called “Pitch Black”. To get to the Oceania region, three Rafale of the French Air Force have covered more than 14,000km to arrive in Darwin, North of Australia, on Tuesday 24th of July. Recap of a four days journey.

JPEG @Richard Nicolas-Nelson/ Armée de l’air

D-Day: Departure from Al Dhafra

Arrived on the 20th of July on the Air base 104 of Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates (EAU), and escorted by a French C-135 tanker aircraft from Istres, the French Rafale started making their way to Singapore on the 22nd of July in the morning. The crew formed of 4 pilots from Mont-de-Marsan Air Base & 8 pilots and navigators from Saint-Dizier Air Base were ready to leave. The other 40 airmen, in which, mechanics, commandos, logistics specialists, accompanied by a doctor traveled in an Australian KC-30 MRTT landed the night before on the Emirate Air base. In the framework of a long-term co-operation between Air Forces of both nations, Australia has assigned a tanker aircraft to the French crews to participate to the travel of French Rafale from the EAU to the air base of Darwin where airmen of 16 different countries will train together.
At 6.30am (local time), the OK is given to the aircraft to take off. An early morning departure explained by technical reasons: “In the case of a long distance travel such as this one; the departure time is decided depending on the outside air temperature and the petrol carried in the tanker” explained Group Captain Arnaud Brunetta, Commander of the French contingent inside the “Pitch Black” exercise.

JPEG @Richard Nicolas-Nelson/ Armée de l’air

In total, more than seven and a half hours of flight have been necessary to the crew to reach Singapore. Carrying 5 tons of air freight and 44 military personal on board, with extreme temperatures, the KC-30 MRTT demonstrated an incredible endurance. In spring 2018, the Air Force will welcome its first MRTT which Operational Capability is schedule in 2019. This aircraft will replace the C135.

During the travel, three air-to-air refueling were successfully realized by the pilots of the 4th & 30th fighter squadron, the last one being realized in the Indonesian air space and a total of 31.5 tons distributed to the fighter aircrafts. It was a first! “In the past, Rafale have realized hundreds of air-to-air refueling on the Asutralian KC-30A, but only during war missions inside the Joint Operation Area of the Middle East and not as part of a convoy mission” explains Colonel Brunetta. In order to ensure the safety of the flight and the smooth air-to-air refueling, the Commander Antoine, pilot of the Rafale and chief of the French detachment “fight” during the exercise, was supervising the manoeuvres side by side with the Australian crew in the cockpit, by being in constant radio contact with the French pilots.

JPEG @Richard Nicolas-Nelson/ Armée de l’air

Arriving in the Australian Territory

Tuesday 24th July: Last step of the convoy mission: from Singapore to Darwin. After an important briefing between French & Australian crews which allowed to determine different procedures. It’s 9am when the Rafale depart from the civilian airport of Singapore, followed by the KC-30 MRTT. “It’s during this briefing that air-to-air refueling amounts are calculated, depending on potential alternates (landing site planed in case of emergency) and of course the safety procedures are reminded to everyone”, added Captain Thomas, Rafale pilot.
At 10.10am happened the symbolic crossing of the equator. After a four and a half hour flight without issues over the Indian Ocean, the airmen landed on the Royal Australian Air force Base in Darwin, North of Australia. Only 2 air-to-air refueling were necessary to the aircraft to reach the Australian continent. They joined the CASA CN235 of the transport squadron 52 “Tontouta”, of French Armed Forces in New-Caledonia also deployed for Pitch Black as well as other airmen who have arrived before in order to prepare for the exercise.

JPEG @ADC L.Vrignaud/ Armée de l’air

Dernière modification : 30/07/2018

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