An MQ-9 Reaper flew over France for the first time on 4th July, marking the first flight by the U.S.-built remotely piloted aircraft in French airspace.
MQ-9 Reaper n° 612 flew over France for the first time on 4th July, marking the first flight by the U.S.-built remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) in French airspace. The medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) RPA is attached to 1/33 “Belfort” squadron based in Cognac.
The Reaper is one of three aircraft in the second batch of Reapers delivered by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in January.
The squadron already operates five Reapers, based at Niamey, Nigeria, in support of Operation Barkhane, the French-led operation to combat terrorist groups in the Sahel-Saharan region of Africa.
According to the French Air Force, this initial flight was intended to verify the operation of the aircraft and two ground stations (calibration of emergency parameters, verification of satellite links, etc.) and to extend the Launch and Recovery Element (LRE) qualifications of French personnel. In Niamey, Reaper launch, recovery and maintenance operations are handled by General Atomics personnel.
This first flight should clear the way for Reaper operations in French airspace for training and occasional surveillance missions. The aircraft will be used as part of special security arrangements for the Bastille Day parade in Paris on 14th July.
Current plans call for the French Air Force to be equipped with 12 Reapers and associated personnel by 2019. During operations, each Reaper crew can count up to four people – two pilots, one image interpreter and one intelligence officer.