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20 Secrets about Naval Aviation and its Rafale M

Welcome to the fascinating world of naval aviation and its gem, the Rafale M. In this article, we will delve into the captivating details that distinguish this French carrier-based fighter. From technical peculiarities to operational challenges, join us as we explore 20 enlightening facts about the Rafale M and its unique environment within naval aviation.


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1.Ejection Direction

We've talked a lot about the cockpit... But here are some differences between single-seaters and two-seaters: a two-seater is inevitably better ventilated and also quieter inside. For the Rafale M, the ejection seat deploys to the left to avoid the Charles de Gaulle's island. In a two-seater, the pilot's seat ejects to the right, and the navigator's seat to the left to prevent any collision.


2. TELEMIR

The small antenna or dome located at the top of the Rafale M's tail is the TELEMIR for Infrared Telemetry. This tiny difference between the Rafales of the Air Force and the Rafale Marine is useful on the R91. During the aircraft's startup on the deck, it helps recalibrate the plane's position on the aircraft carrier.


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3. Arrested Landing Simulation

Let's talk about ASSP. But what is it? It stands for Simulated Arrested Landings on Deck in French. This training is crucial for the future deployment on the CDG. These exercises are essential because they are impractical on the aircraft carrier. Pilots practice according to three pillars: speed, glide path, and alignment. The exercise consists of one to two sessions per day with an average of 6 passes. The validation of a pass is based on a specific point marked on the ground; if the Rafale touches within plus or minus 1.5m laterally and plus or minus 8m longitudinally, it's a success!


4. High-Performance Landing Gear

For its landing gear, the Rafale M is equipped with Safran Landing Systems (formerly Messier Bugatti). This technological feat allows acceleration from 0 to 240 km/h in 3 seconds 😎 and can withstand a load of 100 tonnes! The catapult's breaking point, however, is designed to yield at 35 tonnes of traction. These 35 tonnes of traction are achieved thanks to the engines and the catapult.



5. Aeronautical Wear and Tear

To withstand catapult launches and especially arrested landings, the Rafale M is equipped with Michelin Air X tires. Despite their impressive durability, they are regularly replaced. But when do we change the tires? The lifespan of tires (and any other aeronautical component) is estimated in "cycles" rather than years (some planes fly more than others). A cycle includes takeoff, pressurization, depressurization, and landing. Thus, the tires of a commercial aircraft are changed after approximately 250 cycles (considering the aircraft has a lifespan of about 100,000 cycles). For fighter jets, wear indicators are quickly erased, requiring prompt replacement. The same goes for arresting cables, given their daily wear, they are often replaced.


6. Dassault Siphon

There is another difference between the Rafale C/B and the Rafale M. But more subtle... It's the "vide-vite"! The "vide-vite" is a device used to quickly drain the fuel from an aircraft. It is located on the right side of the engine. This device can drain the aircraft's main fuel tank at a rate of 3,000 liters per minute! Indeed, the Rafale M must land with an allowable mass, and if it is heavier than expected, the pilot activates the "vide-vite."


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7. Night Raptors!

Rafale M pilots with night landing qualifications are called "owls". They must validate between 60 and 100 daytime landings to earn this qualification. A squadron usually consists of around 70% "owl" qualified pilots. As for the pilot with the most night landings, he is called the "Grand-Duke" 😎 Currently, the record is held by "Tino" with 221 night landings on SEM!


8. Reinforced Engines

The Rafale M has added small protective plates around its engines. This subtle difference from its counterpart in the Air Force is used to protect the fuselage and especially the engines from potential collisions with arresting cables. Each engine has a small metal arrow-shaped piece welded to its belly. The arresting cable is often just a few centimeters from the fuselage, and a "sporty" arrested landing might cause them to collide.



9. Rafale M's Maiden Arrested Landing

While the Rafale M is closely associated with the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, its first arrested landing actually took place on the Foch! It happened on Monday, April 19, 1993, at 2:43 PM with Yves Kerhervé. After 4 touch-and-go, a wave-off (go-around before landing), and a pass with the tailhook down, the Rafale finally lands! This marked its 201st flight!


10. Boarding a Rafale

Let's talk about the ladder! It is retractable on the Rafale Marine, unlike the Air version. This choice by the Air and Space Force was justified by the potential mission abandonment if the ladder retraction system were to malfunction. For the Rafale M, due to the carrier environment, the deck personnel would have had difficulty carrying ladders around the deck. To minimize its weight, the Rafale M's ladder is not a typical one; it's a simple bar with 2 steps on the left and 1 step on the right.



11. Jump Strut

The Rafale M's Jump Strut is a system that stores energy during catapulting and releases it during takeoff by slightly bouncing the front landing gear. But what about the Super Étendard? Without a Jump Strut, the Super Étendard pilot would overinflate the front shock absorber! This kept the catapult trajectory straight, and this overinflation had a similar effect on the plane's lift as the Jump Strut.


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12. Break!

Let's talk about the landing circuit with some interesting data! Pilots approach vertically with an axis parallel to the aircraft carrier slightly shifted to starboard. They start at 600 feet and 280 knots. Once 20 seconds past the vertical point, the Rafale M breaks and transitions to the downwind leg! It begins its final approach 1.2 nautical miles from the deck, descending at a 27-degree glide slope.



13. Catapult Ready!

The arrival of the Rafale M has greatly benefited the deck personnel and the pilots! The SEM had a non-steerable nose wheel, complicating taxiing on the deck. Here are some interesting facts about the catapult launch of our Rafale: its canards are in a neutral position during launch, and the pilot only goes full throttle when the officer gives the green flag.


14. Deck Landing Precision

During a deck landing, only a few seconds separate two Rafales in succession. The number of corrections (stick + throttle) during the final approach is estimated at 200 to maintain a perfect trajectory.


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15. Oscar Point

Upon returning from a night or adverse weather deck landing, all aircraft rendezvous at Oscar Point. This Oscar Point is a rallying point aligned with the carrier's angled deck. Its distance and altitude allow pilots to position themselves correctly for the arrested landing. The entire landing group can then land without any issues. This point is located in line with the angled deck and helps sequence the return from a deck landing.


16. Blue, Red, and Green

During deployments on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, pilots engage in fierce competition where each landing is scored. Every year, from early August to late July, pilots are individually ranked, and the season's best receives the prestigious "blue sweater" as a reward. The ranking also takes place in teams: the Blues, Reds, and Greens, led respectively by the Unit Commander, the Second-in-Command, and the Operations Chief. Pilots are randomly assigned to these teams. Points are awarded for each landing, with the second wire (arresting cable) earning the most points, followed by the first and finally the third, represented respectively by Aphrodite, Athena, and Andromeda for the connoisseurs. At the end of the season, a grand dinner is organized, where the second-place team pays for their meal, while the team in first place is generously invited by the third-place team.


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17. Energy Dissipation

The Rafale uses a sophisticated system to be decelerated during deck landing on an aircraft carrier. Two main cables, located to port and starboard, are attached to regularly replaced arresting cables. These cables pass through 9 pulleys before reaching an anchor damper on an intermediate deck under the flight deck. The kinetic energy of the Rafale is converted into mechanical energy by the cables, which are connected to a braking press using a hydraulic cylinder. Much of the mechanical energy is transformed into hydraulic energy. The residual part continues to the port and starboard anchor dampers, where it is converted into oleopneumatic energy, returning the system to its initial configuration. The final press is an adjustable hydraulic cylinder, composed of an ethylene-glycol mixture. Since each landing aircraft has different speeds and masses, engineers added a bleed valve to adjust the braking system's resistance. This effectively adapts the arresting cables to each approaching aircraft.


18. Emergency Arrested Landing

We often hear about aircraft carrier arresting cables, but the emergency barrier is less talked about! If one of the aircraft is unable to land normally (non-operational tailhook or damaged aircraft), then the emergency arresting barrier will be deployed. It can be installed in 10 minutes by the deck team and can stop any aircraft in any configuration.



19. Cold Nose?!

Cold Nose! Are you familiar with this term? Literally, "Nez froid" in French indicates the momentary shutting down of the radar to limit interactions between the radar and humans who might be a few meters in front of it: catapulting, maneuvering on the deck, in-flight refueling...


20. Red Carpet

Do you know the "red carpet" procedure? During a night landing in EMCON SILENCE (Emissions Control = Radio Silence) conditions, the pilot can announce "red carpet". This means the pilot takes control of their integration until the landing signal officers announce the landing mirror. They no longer need radio guidance contacts from the controller.



Through this informative journey, we have explored the technical subtleties, operational challenges, and fascinating anecdotes that define the world of the Rafale M and naval aviation. From the crucial role of TELEMIR to the fierce competitions for the "blue sweater", every aspect of life on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier reveals the complexity and precision needed to ensure the success of aerial missions. The Rafale M, with its unique features such as the "vide-vite," Jump Strut, and night landings qualifying pilots as "owls," embodies the excellence of French naval aviation. Clever details, like the sophisticated arresting cables and the emergency barrier, highlight the ingenuity required to operate in such a confined and dynamic space as an aircraft carrier deck.


In summary, the Rafale M stands as a symbol of French naval air power, ready to face the most demanding challenges with elegance and efficiency. By embracing innovation, precision, and the dedication of its pilots, French naval aviation continues to push boundaries, ensuring its place at the forefront of the global stage.


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Photo credit:

Wikimedia - Alan Wilson; Georges Seguin; Eric Salard; Nathan Laird

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