The Armée de l'Air et de l'Espace (AAE, French Air and Space Force) Rafale fighters and support aircraft reached the United States after a long transit phase over Iceland, Greenland and Canada. They landed at Travis AFB (CA) after a 9,000 km flight.
While the crews were recovering from this approximately 12-hour flight which required six refuelling sessions, the Rafale mechanics arrived before 04:00 hrs (LT) to put the aircraft back online.
After such a long flight, restarting the engines is critical. No incident is to be deplored, and the mission can continue because time control in battle is the key.
Before arriving in Polynesia, the Dassault Rafale triggered a fictitious strike against a hostile country with a robust anti-aircraft defence. The Centre Air de Planification et de Conduite des Opérations (CAPCO, Air Center for Planning and Conduct of Operations), based at Lyon-Mont Verdun (France), transmitted orders through the accompanying Airbus A330MRTT Phénix (Phoenix) using the satellite communication (SATCOM). In theory, the Rafale could launch six Scalp cruise missiles. Instead, the fighters carried out a deep penetration mission of 250 km. Obviously the Rafale did not fire weapons, but all engagement procedures were followed, such as electromagnetic discretion and targeting.
From 21 June to 27 June 2021, the HEIFARA mission continued on the island of Tahiti, where the Airmen trained alongside the Armed Forces in French Polynesia (FAPF) such as air policing missions with the Marine Nationale (French Navy) Dauphin helicopter. HEIFARA ends with around forty missions carried out and nearly 250 hours of flight time. The CAPCO sent orders with new the link 16 JRE via the Phénix Command Post. These orders comprised the Rafale raiding Bora Bora atoll, and the A400M conducting sea rescue training with the French Navy patrol vessel "Manini" by dropping a rescue kit. During the week in Polynesia one of the Rafales experienced a pressurisation problem.
On 27 June 2021, after a 4,000 km flight the French contingent arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam (HI) as part of the WAKEA mission. In Hawaii, the Rafales and Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptors of the 19th Fighter Squadron Gamecocks / Mytai Fighters ('HH') trained together for aerial combat missions. Besides the flying drills, subject matter experts from both nations exchanged best practices on maintenance, medical operations, and flight training. It was an excellent opportunity for the French crews to share their operational experience with the Airmen of the 15th Wing.
The French left Hawaii after an intense week of training with the US Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) accumulating more than 90 hours of flight time. The only downside to the exercise was that the American pilots could not receive fuel from the A330MRTT Phénix, as the Phénix is not (yet) certified for US fighter aircraft. On the other hand, the Airbus A400M Atlas crew was able to practice dropping simulations with their counterparts from the 535th Airlift Squadron operating the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III. According to some US media, it seems that USAF personnel was impressed by the capabilities of the European transporter.
The AAE aircraft initiated their return to France, and after a technical stop at Nellis AFB (NV) they landed at Langley AFB (VA) for a historical celebration. The French were invited to commemorate 240 years of the Battle of Yorktown, the symbol of the victory of the Americans and the French against the British troops.
On 6 July 2021, F-22A Raptors and Rafale fighters performed a flyover at the Battle of Yorktown Victory Monument commemorating those who fought and died during the battle for US independence at Yorktown in 1781. US Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., alongside French Air and Space Force Chief of Staff General Philippe Lavigne, participated in a wreath-laying event to honour French and American forces.
Photo by AAE, USAF and Darcy Fiero Photography