Lafayette Is Back
After exercising with other forces, including exchanging deck
landings with American carrier forces, France's latest capital
ship, the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, was steaming for home
yesterday, off the Atlantic coast of the USA. It might have cost
the French over $4 billion and taken twenty years and three sets of
propellers, but they have got their nuclear supercarrier going.
The mission has generally been a success for the new French
ship, its new Rafale M fighter (the pilots were excited to finally
replace the 1950s vintage Crusaders), and its crew. It's been a
great vindication for a ship that has had a lot of teething
problems (in 2003, military expert James Dunnigan used it as key to
an article he called "How NOT to Build an Aircraft Carrier").
And then they couldn't, er, land the planes.
This happens more often that one might think in carrier
operations. In this case it's because the predictably unpredictable
North Atlantic weather closed the "airport," the French carrier's
flight deck. High winds and low visibility, stirred up by an
unpredicted storm, were the problem when the aircraft tried coming
back to their ocean home from combined exercises with American and
Canadian naval forces off the coast of Virginia.
Navies plan for this, and the ten aircraft -- sleek Rafale M
fighters and Super Etendard strike planes, along with an E-2 radar
control aircraft -- recovered to Atlantic City International. (A
bureaucratic foul-up with getting the French a clearance number
prevented them from landing at a military field. To the amazement
of all, the State Department worked quicker arranging diplomatic
clearance to land that the military did).
According to radio 1010 WINS in New York, two of the pilots
stayed with the planes overnight on the FAA ramp; other news
sources said that French marines were dispatched along with
translators and officials from the French embassy in Washington.
Accommodations were arranged in a local hotel.
One wonders what the French airmen did to pass the time in
Atlantic City, which is known for its casinos and gambling dens.
According to radio stations WINS and WPVI, airport regulars claimed
that one of the pilots attempted to pay for the fuel, his credit
card was declined: the purchase was over his credit limit. (I
wouldn't want to tank a jet squadron on mine either). But the
station couldn't confirm that report, and neither could the AP or
If you're in New Jersey today, you might still be able to see
the French naval aircraft, rare visitors to these shores. The
French Navy plans to demonstrate their planes at the McGuire AFB
airshow in Southern NJ. The aircraft will rejoin Charles de Gaulle
Earlier this week, the de Gaulle's group exercised with the US
Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier battle group, including making
"bolters" -- think of them as high-energy touch and goes -- on the
flight deck of the "Ike." A French and E-2 actually "cross-decked,"
which is to say, landed on teach other's carrier. This required an
arrested landing and a catapult launch.
The E-2 was an obvious choice for this because it's the one
airframe used by both navies, but the French report with pride that
they also recovered and launched a US Navy F-18 "without any
difficulty. It's the first time in 60 years that an American
fighter has touched down on a French carrier."
The purpose of Multi National Maritime Exercise (MNME) 05-01 was
to ensure that NATO navies could interoperate with one another; no
surprises were expected as the French, American and other Coalition
navies have been operating together in Operation Enduring Freedom
for four years.
Finally, has anyone else noticed that Eisenhower and de Gaulle
were working together again after sixty-one years?