The French aircraft carrier 'Charles de Gaulle' (R91) was on an exercise in the Mediterranean Sea, leaving the port of Toulon on Monday morning December 4th 2006. Soon after leaving port, 10 Super Etendard Modernisť (SEM), 1 E-2C Hawkeye and 2 Search-And-Rescue helicopters (the older Alouette 3 and the newer Dauphin) arrived onboard. The 10 Dassault 'Super Etendard Modernisť' (SEM) aircraft of the 11F Flottille were preparing for their upcoming cruise with the 'Charles de Gaulle' into the Middle East region. The older Super Etendards are used in the ground-attack en photo-reconnaissance roles. French Navy's new Dassault Rafales (not on board during small cruise) will provide air-cover to the Super Etendards during operations.
Four days long, the 'Charles de Gaulle' would sail along the south coast of France, keeping the coastline in sight. From sunrise until after sunset missions were planned. Main target for this exercise were the first carrier landings and catapult take-off's, flown by the enhanced NorthropGrumman E-2C Hawkeye. The French Navy flies with 3 E-2 aircraft and number 3 (BuNo 166417) was fitted with the new 8-bladed propellers and it was flown during these exercises by testpilots of NorthropGrumman.
Before flight operations, one of the two SAR helicopters (callsign 'Pedro') would take-off and position itself near the left side of the aircraft carrier. Always prepared to act in case of problems with the aircraft.
Operational since 2001, the 'Charles de Gaulle' has 2 nuclear powerplants, delivering a speed of 27 knots. The length of the ship is some 290 meters and the flight deck has 3 arresting wires (US Navy carriers have 4). There are 2 steam catapults (US Navy carriers have 4), 1 on the angled deck and on 1 the front of the deck. The ship has an advanced stability system, just like a commercial cruise ship. During a turn, the flight deck will remain nearly horizontal.
After this short cruise, the 'Charles de Gaulle' will prepare for a 3-month cruise into the Middle East region. And after mid 2007, the ship will go into a dock, for a 1.5 year maintenance period. Pilot qualifications will be performed on other aircraft-carriers, perhaps American or Brazilian carriers.
The Super Etendards were preparing for the middle-east cruise early 2007. During the one-week cruise, all pilots of 11 Fottille prepared for catapult take-off and cable recovery. Many short missions were flown. After the launch, a few circuits were flown and the aircraft landed again. Often the aircraft were back on deck within 30 minutes after the launch.
3 newcomers in the 11 Flottille did their carrier qualifications. If they were successful after the week, they would become member of 11 Flotille. (As I left before the week was over, I do not know if they succeeded). 11 Flottille has 2 exchange pilots; 1 pilot is a former US Navy F-14 Tomcat pilot and 1 pilot normally flies the French Air Force Mirage F1.
Wearing a nice orange watersuit, before leaving with the Super Frelon.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to Luchtmacht Voorlichting, Buro Voorlichting Leeuwarden for their support.
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