Tag Archives: France

Press Play | Looking for more tankers in European skies

Where’s a gas station when you need it? That’s exactly what’s going in the minds of a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) KDC-10 crew as they look for the French C-135 Stratotanker that should be flying somewhere ahead of them. Seconds later, they find the French aircraft and move in closer. It’s an obvious metaphor for closing the infamous European tanker gap. The solution comes in two shapes: the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and the Airbus A400M.

Over the North Sea and to the crew of the KDC-10, that’s all distant music. As participants in the European Air Refuelling Training (EART) at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands, they have just finished air-to-air refuelling (AAR) twelve F-16s that take part in action packed exercise Frisian Flag 2016. Somewhere ahead and beneath them, the French KC-135 also just finished refuelling fighter jets, as did the German Airbus A310 that’s also nearby.

Goal

That’s three air-to-air refuellers in the same patch of sky, a sight not often seen as tanker aircraft are usually hard to find in Europe. The overall goal of EART is to improve flexability, efficiency and effectiveness of the combined tanker force of all zeven nations (the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, France, Spain and Italy) that handed command over their assets over to the European Air Transport Command (EATC). From Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands,  EATC commands  19 tanker aircraft of various types from all seven nations. That number equals 65 percent of all AAR platforms available in Europe.

Airbus A400M

Compared to the hundreds of air refuelling aircraft available to the US, the European numbers fall far short, hence the ‘tanker gap’. However, that gap may soon be a thing of the past, given the increasing number of Airbus A400M available to France and Germany, plus Spain and Belgium in the near future. By 2025, EATC should have 80 or so A400Ms at its disposal, with roughly 40 air refuelling kits available for those aircraft. The new Airbus aircraft has been involved in AAR tests.

(Image © Vincent Kok)
Two F-16s taking part in Frisian Flag 2016 join up prior to refuelling. (Image © Vincent Kok)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Polish F-16 is about to move into position behind the KDC-10. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Participants of the European Air Refuelling Training (EART) on the tarmac at Eindhoven airbase. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

MRTT

Moreover, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg and Poland are on course to jointly buy and operate the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). During EART, it emerged that a Memorandum of Understanding is to be signed during the NATO summit in July in Warsaw, with a contract for three or four aircraft to be signed that same month during the Farnborough Airshow.

The shared pool should grow to eight Airbus A330 MRTTs eventually. Belgium, Germany and Spain have already expressed interest in particpating in the program as well.

Harmonize

“EATC has been asked to harmonize A400M and A330 MRTT operations in the future”, says Colonel Jurgen van der Biezen, a RNLAF-delegate to the joint European command in Eindhoven. “What we are looking for, is an air-to-air refuelling hub that is very similar in operation to the European Heavy Airlift Wing operating from Hungary.”

Introducing the A400M and A330 MRTT as tankers increases EATC’s refuelling fleet to 69 assets, equal to 82 percent of all similar capacity in Europe. It’s a signifant increase compared to today’s situation, an increase that enables European nations to support their own – plus each other’s – operations.

It’s an idea that gets the thumbs up from all within EATC, just like the thumbs up shown by the crew of a Dutch KDC-10 tanker over the North Sea. They successfully performed some formation flying with the other two tankers in the same patch of sky. After leaving the formation, they are on their own again. But with a different feeling this time. There are others out there.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Video filming, editing and © Vincent Kok – Orange Avenue Filmworks
Featured image: On the look out for tankers over the North Sea. (Image © Vincent Kok)

A RNLAF F-16 pilot gives the thumbs up. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A RNLAF F-16 pilot gives the thumbs up. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
More customers for the Dutch KDC-10. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
More customers for the Dutch KDC-10. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Polish F-16 sneaks up on the KDC-10 from behind. (Image © Vincent Kok)
A Polish F-16 sneaks up on the KDC-10 from behind. (Image © Vincent Kok)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A French C-135 Stratotanker beging inspected prior to its next flight. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Wildly varying headlines surround Indian Rafale ‘deal’ this week

If international headlines are anything to go by, nobody knows what is actually going on in talks between Indian and Dassault for 36 Rafale fighter jets. This week’s headlines ranged from ‘India’s Rafale deal in trouble over offsets and cost’ and ‘Talks for 36 Rafale jets far from over’ to ‘Rafale deal in final stage’ and ‘Rafale deal finalised’. Take your pick!

Each day, the vagenuess surrounding this ‘deal’ gets more vague. In fact, it got more vague on each of the 365 days since a ‘deal’ for 36 aircraft was first reported, also here on Airheadsfly.com. Since then, talks have dragged on over offsets, technology transfer and of course, costs. The deal is worth roughly 8 billion USD.

Flirting in the US

Most importantly, both Dassault and New Delhi mostly kept silent this week. However, India has been known to flirt with both Boeing and Lockheed Martin over the F-18 Super Hornet and F-16 respectively. The promise of local production for these type seems to tempt New Delhi.

Meanwhile, news outlets base their stories on sources ‘close to the negotiations’. It very much looks like something is to be expected soon from an official source. That source will either have his pen ready to finally ink the deal, or a firm headache after difficult talks that eventually led India in the arms of Boeing or Lockheed Martin, or maybe even their Russian equivalents.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): Will this deal ever land?
(Image © Marcel Burger)

Historic Super Etendard’s final carrier launch

The combat backbone for decades of French Naval Aviation, the Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard, made its final carrier launch of its service carreer last week when aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle returned home in the port of Toulon on Thursday 17 March 2016.

Being replaced by the sleeker and modern Dassault Rafale M, the Super Étendard has been protecting French interests overseas ever since it entered service in June 1978. Keeping the value of the naval air asset somewhat up-to-date, 48 of this Marine strike aircraft underwent extensive modifications in the 1990s and early 2000s. The adjustments included a new on board computer and a new radar, heads-on-throttle-and-stick controls (HOTAS), a new electronic counter measures suite, night vision goggles, a laser designator pod, a reconnaissance pod and air-frame life-extension.

Nuclear weapons and Exocet

France kept the aircraft at hand for any thinkable action, including the release of free-fall nuclear bombs and nuclear missiles. Despite being in numerous conflicts on behalf of La France, the Super Étendard’s most impressive action was done by only four of them flying for the Argentine Navy. Armed with the Exocet missiles they crippled the British Royal Navy destroyer HMS Sheffield and sank the chartered British merchant vessel Atlantic Conveyor during the 1982 Falklands / Malvinas War.

Full retirement

A total of 71 of 85 built Super Étendards were delivered to the French navy since the first flight of the type in 1974. Only one was lost in battle, downed by an Iranian F-4 Phantom II in 1984 on loan to the Iraqi Air Force. After its full shore-based retirement later this year in France, only 10 Super Étendards will soldier on, flying missions every now and then for the Comando de Aviación Naval Argentina.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): A pair of French Navy Dassault Super Etendards getting ready for their next mission on board the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. Image released on 26 January 2015 while cruising towards the Indian Ocean (Image © Etat-major des armées / Marine nationale)

Au revoir to Air France’s 747

Air France gave its final Boeing 747s a fitting farewell on Thursday 14 January by flying two aircraft all over France. For all of those on board there was a business class lunch with champagne, plus commentary during the flight explaining the Jumbo’s heritage, while overlooking France and its landmarks.

The final commercial flight ended on 10 January already, as the final Jumbo arrived back at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport after a round trip to Mexico City. Air France operated the Jumbo Jet for 45 years, taking delivery of its first double decked airliner in 1970. The Airbus A380 now takes over most routes.

The Air and Space Museum at Le Bourget offers special visits to the company’s last 747 on 16 and 17 January 2016. These visits, organized by Air France staff are free but must be reserved online. It involves a one-hour tour starting on the ramp outside the aircraft with mechanics, a visit to the business and economy cabins with cabin crew, followed by a visit of the upper deck and the cockpit with an Air France pilot.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

Finally: ‘Indian Rafale contract in January’

A new and possibly final chapter has been added to the tale of India and the Dassault Rafale. According to numerous reports on Monday 28 December, the deal for 36 Rafales agreed earlier in 2015 is to be finally signed during a visit by French president Francois Hollande to India on 25 January 2016. If true, it would mean the end of years and years of struggling for Dassault in India.

India in April decided it wants to buy 36 Rafales in a quest that was originally supposed to be for no less than 126 aircraft. Both parties have since been in talks over costs, technology transfer and French return investments in India. The deal is worth an estimated 9 billion EUR.

Qatar

Meanwhile, Dassault in December said it received the first down payment for 24 Rafales for Qatar. That contract was put in ink in May already. If it’s anything to go by: on that occassion, president Hollande visited Qatar for the signing.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: A French Air Force Dassaul Rafale B at Nancy-Ochey Airbase, France during Exercise Green Shield 2014. (Image © Dennis Spronk)