French Navy Rafale M Display Preview
Saturday 19th May 2018
Last year the French Navy's Rafale M pair demo at RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day was met with huge acclaim, reaching the runner-up spot on our Top Ten Moments list. The excitement, therefore, was enormous when it was announced that the Chasse Embarquée would take part in the RAF100 celebrations at the Royal International Air Tattoo this summer. While they have maintained very healthy participation at Yeovilton over the last few years, this year will mark the first time since 2012 that the Marine Nationale have attended RIAT, when they sent a Super Étendard Modernisé and a Falcon 10 for the static display. Indeed, it has been 15 years since the air arm took part in the flying display at Fairford and on this occasion the honour falls to Flottille 12F, based at BAN Landivisiau.
spoke to the leader of Flottille 12F's pairs display, Lieutenant de Vaisseau 'Briz' at La Ferté-Alais in France for a preview of what visitors to Fairford can expect from this headline act.
Unusually in the display world, the Chasse Embarquée have actually provided two display routines for 2018 - one from Flottille 11F, which went to Poznan Air Show in Poland and which will display at Yeovilton this summer, and Flottille 12F, who also displayed at La Ferté-Alais. La Ferté-Alais' routine was a four-ship display, for which LV "Briz" was in the third slot - for RIAT's two-ship routine he will be the leader. In fact, the pilots found out that they would be attending the show only a little while before it was announced, as "Briz" relates: "Honestly, we found out about two months ago. The Navy just released the information, the intention wasn't formed last year as far as we know. For La Ferté we try to come every year, however - we have a great friendship with the crews and the staff. This is one of the first time we've come as a four-ship tactical display, normally we perform it with two aircraft."
Compared with their counterparts in the Armée de l'Air, the Navy display teams aren't dedicated display pilots, and all their training has had to take place alongside regular ops. "We aren't a display team, we don't have that much time to train - we only took two or three training slots for La Ferté, actually. We're all operational pilots, displaying is like a part time role, that's why our display is all about tactical maneuvers so that we don't need a specific extra training." To some extent this was apparent at La Ferté, where the display on the Sunday seemed much tighter than Saturday's effort - they will continue to practise their routine and have a few more shows with the four-ship display scheduled. The next one will take place at Melun-Villaroche Airshow in France.
The routine for RIAT shouldn't just be a cut out of the larger performance, however, and aside from the obvious difference of numbers, there will be other changes for Fairford: "We're going to try and get a nice configuration for the aircraft, we don't have the money to create a full airframe scheme again this year or like the Air Force display, so instead we'll put some weapons on it and hopefully that will be quite impressive. Most of the manoeuvres will be a little tighter, I think, and a lot more dynamic because we'll be only two, so it's a lot easier to move around the airspace quicker." The 12F squadron will bring their special tailed aircraft, which features the old and new duck designs of the squadron in its 70th anniversary.
Last year's performance at Yeovilton International Air Day was one of the highlights of the UK airshow season, and is rightly remembered with great excitement by those who were there. For UK enthusiasts there is a lot of expectation for this display, but the display pilots don't feel this weight as they prepare: "We're not under any pressure. As I said, we're not a full time display team and even if there are a lot of competitors our task is to make our display looks as good as those past years to proudly represent French Navy. We did some little adjustments in the display to continue to please our UK enthusiasts.
"I've personally never been to RIAT before. It's been a long time since the French Navy have displayed at RIAT, so it'll be quite special for us to be there and I'm pretty happy because I've got some friends in the RAF that I met a few years ago that I will see at the show. It's really an honor to be there for RAF100." The French Navy and Royal Navy have an incredibly close relationship, with 12F having had RN exchange officers in the past to keep up carrier operations currency on the Charles de Gaulle. To that end, it is pleasing to see the Navy also taking part in the RAF's centenary celebrations in 2018.
UKAR would like to thank LV 'Briz' for taking the time to speak to us at La Ferté-Alais as well as LV 'Até' for helping arrange the interview. Readers can look forward to a full, in-depth interview with Flottille 12F's pilots later in the summer.