August 7, 2008 (by Justin Oakes) - Approximately 20 French air force aircrews, 60 maintainers and support personnel and four Rafale aircraft visited Luke AFB to participate in an exercise July 28 to Aug. 8.
Capt. Matt Spears, 309th FS F-16 pilot, and Lt. Col. Fabrice Grandclaudon, French air force squadron commander, stand in front of two French Rafale aircraft preparing for their media interviews at Luke AFB on July 29th, 2008. [Photo courtesy of Pete Pallagi, Daily Sun-News]
The major coalition exercise at Luke provided a unique opportunity for the French Rafale pilots and Luke's F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots to familiarize themselves with combined operations.
Pilots from both countries took advantage of the opportunity to fly in an aircraft they were not accustomed to operating, and they got to see first-hand the capabilities of the other country's aircraft.
"It was an amazing opportunity," said Capt. Matt Spears, an F-16 pilot with the 309th Fighter Squadron here. "I was impressed with the capabilities of the aircraft."
The Rafale is a twin-engine aircraft capable of carrying out a wide range of short- and long-range missions, including ground and sea attack, air defense and reconnaissance. The F-16 is a single-engine, compact, multi-role fighter aircraft. It is highly maneuverable and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack. The F-16 also has the ability to fly more than 500 miles deliver its weapons with superior accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft and return to its starting point.
The U.S. and French air force partnership is not limited to aircraft exercises, but also the entire spectrum of interoperable maintenance and proficiency training, logistics and sustainment of these aircraft.
The maintainers and support crews also had the chance to interact with the other country's aircraft and crews. French support personnel received a tour of Luke's engine shop during their visit.
French military have been fighting alongside American forces in Afghanistan since October 2001 and continue to play a supportive role today.
"Every U.S. and French Airman who took part in this deployment is better for the experience", said Col. Kurt Neubauer, 56th Fighter Wing commander. "Training with the French air force provided us the invaluable opportunity to learn from each other's operational experience, improve our combat skills and strengthen the bond of friendship between our great air forces and our great countries."
"The French visit provided an excellent opportunity to strengthen our social relationship and enhance future relations," said Lt. Col. Peter Bilodeau, 309th Fighter Squadron commander. "There should be as many combined operations as possible before there are lessons learned in combat."
The French airmen shared the same view of working and training together and reiterated the fact that France has been a long time ally of the U.S.
"The cooperation between France and the U.S. goes all the way back to World War I," said Col. Philippe Poireault, French air force detachment commander. "This was an extraordinary opportunity for both the French and U.S. to learn from each other, and we look forward to strengthening that relationship."