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France’s Dassault Rafale M fighter on 19 April made its first arrested landing at sea on the French carrier Foch with Dassault chief test pilot Yves Kerherve at the controls. The aircraft is scheduled to enter service with the Aeronavale in 1999, a date that has slipped several
years because of reductions in defense spending.
The Rafale Ms will be assigned initially to the conventionally powered Foch, then deployed on the Charles De Gaulle, France’s first nuclear-powered carrier, which is being fitted out in Brest. The French Navy’s other conventionally powered carrier, the Clemenceau, is expected to be phased out after the Charles De Gaulle is commissioned.
The Rafale M-01 prototype underwent two separate preparatory series of tests at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey, site of the U.S. Navy’s land-based test catapult installation. [See “France’s New Naval Fighter, author in Proceedings, March 1992, page 98.]
The Rafale is scheduled to return to Lakehurst in October for a third series of land-based catapult launches, followed by more sea trials on the Foch early in 1994. In addition to the Rafale M-01 flight activity, the development program includes static evaluations with a dedicated test airframe at the Centre d'Essais Aeronautic de Toulouse in southern France. The airframe has sui cessfully passed tests equivalent to 10,000 flights, 3,Of catapult launches, and 3,000 arrested landings—twice tf Rafale M's planned operational life.
Although the various ground-based tests were imp0 tant, they were no substitute for actual trials on the Fo0 because the carrier’s catapults and arresting gear are di ferent from those at the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Cents From the start of the sea trials on the Foch, the Rafale 1 demonstrated that its flying and handling qualities w°! as predicted, including the aircraft’s U.S.-inspired jutfl strut nose gear, which is a new feature for French carrif based aircraft. The Foch was fitted with a 5° ski jump f( the tests.
Tests were particularly important because the Aerd avale has been disappointed before. In 1973, the servi1 stopped sea trials with the Jaguar M-05 aircraft ev* though a major wing modification program was undent to adapt the Franco-British fighter for a new role as a shif borne fighter. Even though land-based catapult trials wi1 the Jaguar M-05 at the Royal Aircraft Establishment B°s ford, England, indicated the fighter was seaworthy, first two series of tests on the Clemenceau revealed ous operational shortcomings stemming from the
design and from
limitations of French aircraft ers themselves carrier’s deck too short for navalized Jaguar, the Aeronavale to admit failure.
Based on Rafale M’s first erational tests on Foch, it is clear new combat will not suffer same fate. The Ftf will undergo a cof plete service-life tension program ff°l mid-1995 to if'j 1996 that will ind^q specific modificati0' to accommodate Rafale M. Constd1
tion of the nuclear-powered Charles De Gaulle is tinuing, although two more years will be needed to her fully ready to receive aircraft.
J.M. Guhl is the editor-in-chief of the authoritative French aviation |1'J azine Air Action.
Proceedings / September