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Video - Drone Squadron of the French Air Force

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Set amid the Châteaubernard Charente vineyards, not far from from Cognac, 709 Air Base is one of the largest in France. It is here that the air force flying school is located, not only unavoidable for all future pilots, but also home to the only French Air Force Drone Squadron.

Squadron Leader Arnaud, Operations Manager - French Air Force Drone Squadron :

"The mission of the squadron concerns everything that is surveillance, information, intelligence and reconnaissance."

Established at Cognac since 2009, the squadron now comprises 120 men. Half are flight operators, pilots or intelligence specialists. The other half are mechanics performing maintenance and preparation tasks on the variously referred to as, amongst others, drones, U.A.V.'s ( unmanned aerial vehicles ) or R.P.I.'s ( Remotely Piloted Aircraft ).  

Four of the squadron's six ''M.A.L.E.'s'', ( Medium Altitude Long Endurance ) drones, are Airbus Defence & Space, and Israel Aircraft Industries ''Harfangs'', equipped with day / night cameras, able to deliver real-time images from more than 4,000 metres ( 13,000 ft. ) altitude.

Captain Christian, Pilot - French Air Force Drone Squadron :

"The drone has a wingspan of 16.60 metres ( 56ft. ), a maximum take-off weight of 1.25 tonnes, and a 24-hour flight autonomy with 400 to 450 litres ( 100 - 120 gals. ) of fuel on board".

To ensure such long missions, relays of several crews are needed, every every four hours, in a ground based remote cockpit, just few metres from the runway.

Captain Christian, Pilot - French Air Force Drone Squadron :

"The crew consists of three people; a pilot who is also the camera operator, an intelligence officer who manages the mission, and an image analyst, responsible for the analysis of real-time videos, preparation and file assembly of the objectives in deferred time."

Domestic surveillance missions of major events, such as July 14th., the anniversary of the Normandy landings, or even the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI at Lourdes in 2008, are carried out here at Cognac. Crew training, including that of drone pilots, all of whom are already airforce pilots, is also undertaken here.

Operating primarily outside the country in ground troop support, drones have already been deployed in Afghanistan and over Libya, and today in Niger, where four of the six drones are based.

 

Squadron Leader Arnaud, Operations Manager - French Air Force Drone Squadron :

"There are approximately thirty people involved in the implementation and execution of the exterior operations missions, for which the aircraft, together with all the necessary and accompanying material and equipment, is transported by container to the theatre of operations; following which it takes off from the departure point to be directed by satellite over the area of interest."

Due to its autonomy allowing missions of over 24 hours, the drone's use is being called upon more and more. Two faster U.S. Reaper drones, carrying a more precise onboard camera, have supported the squadron's four Harfangs since January. Ten others will join them in 2019.

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