On the eve of the RAF Leuchars Air Show and the stand-up of the RAF’s fourth front line Typhoon squadron, the RAF’s Air Vice-Marshal Stuart Atha and the Commander of French Air Force Command, Lieutenant General Guillaume Gelee, took to the air in the rear cockpits of a Dassault Rafale B and Typhoon T3 respectively.
The flight enabled the two senior officers to better understand the capabilities of each other’s aircraft, supporting the joint UK-French aim of closer co-operation. Both nations have agreed to make their armed forces more able to operate together, maximising the effect of each country’s military capabilities while also saving money.
During the 90-minute flight the pair of aircraft flew at low and medium-level in western Scotland to demonstrate their handling characteristics before splitting to show the officers the various systems on each type of aircraft.
On return to RAF Leuchars, Air Vice-Marshal Atha, who as Air Officer Commanding No 1 Group was responsible for Olympics air security, said:
The two aircraft operate seamlessly together; Rafale and Typhoon are a world-beating combination.
Asked to describe his experience, Lieutenant General Gelee, a former test pilot, said:
A fantastic day and a fantastic aircraft. My opinion is that with these aircraft our two air forces will be hard to beat.
Piloting the Lieutenant General was Air Commodore Gavin Parker, Air Officer Scotland and Station Commander of RAF Leuchars, who said:
Coalitions have always been very important to military air operations as demonstrated during the Libya campaign last year.
As part of the stand-up of 1 (Fighter) Squadron, which will include a French Air Force exchange pilot, we’re looking to cement those ties with the French Air Force and continue to develop the close working relationship we already have.
The French pilot in question is Captain Marc-Antoine Gerard, an experienced Rafale pilot who is relishing the opportunity to fly with the RAF:
For me, flying with the RAF will be very prestigious and I will also be honoured to wear RAF badges,” he said. “It’s going to be awesome.
Travelling in the opposite direction is Flight Lieutenant Matt Johnstone, a Typhoon pilot who recently left 11 (Fighter) Squadron at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire to spend two years flying the Rafale in the south of France:
I applied for Rafale for the experience” he said. “It’s a privileged place to be flying the Rafale but it will also be a challenge to fly a different aircraft in a different country. It will certainly broaden my horizons both as a fighter pilot and as an officer.
The exchange pilots will be fully integrated into their new squadrons and will deploy on operations.
In November 2011 the RAF’s Flight Lieutenant Ian Abson received the Croix de la Valeur Militaire (Cross of Military Valour) from the French Prime Minister for actions in Afghanistan when, in a French Mirage jet, he came to the aid of troops under Taliban attack.