Pictures: Qatari Dassault Rafales takes off

The third Dassault Rafale fighter aircraft for Qatar Emiri Air Force has taken off for the first time, from the Bordeaux-Merignac airport in France.

The single seat aircraft EQ02 completed its maiden flight on Apirl 20, while the EQ01 took off on March 27. The first aircraft a twin seat DQ01 fighter/trainer had completed its first flight in January 2017.

Due to significant difference from the French Air Force versions, the Qatari Rafales will undergo extensive flight trials ahead of planned delivery from mid-2018.

© Jean Goubet
QEAF Rafale will be integrated with a Lockheed Martin Sniper targeting pod instead of the French Thales Talios pod (under development) and will also feature a Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS).

Operational Rafale jets has been missing the HMDS, which is integrated with all its rivals including the Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and the F-15 Strike Eagles.

The QEAF Rafale DQ01 has been spotted flying with a Israeli Elbit Targos II HMDS, which features a color day and night vision capability.

The rear seat pilot sporting the Elbit Targos II HMDS on DQ02 © Swingwing / Defens'Aero 
Qatar signed a contract with France to acquire 24 Rafale fighter jets, including 18 single seat EQ and 6 twin seat DQ variants in May 2015. The US $7.5 billion deal along with weapon package, also include training for 36 Qatari pilots and 100 technicians by France.

The weapon package include MBDA missiles short range MICA IR, MICA ER, the long range Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air to Air missile (BVRAAM), SCALP-EG air to ground cruise missile and the Sagem Hammer ASSM air to ground GPS/Laser precision guided munitions.

The fully versatile Rafale is able to carry out all combat aviation missions: air defense, interception, ground support, in-depth strikes, reconnaissance, anti-ship strikes and nuclear deterrence.

SNIPER integrated Rafale undergoing flight trails, Also along with 3 external fuel tanks, six GBU-12 laser-guided air-to-ground bombs, two air-to-air MICA IR missiles and two MICA EM © Swingwing / Defens'Aero.
The Rafale entered service with the French Navy in 2004 and with the French Air Force in 2006. The Egyptian Air Force received its first aircraft in 2015.

Powered by two Snecma M88 low bypass turbofan engines rated at 75 kN thrust each with afterburner, the Rafale can carry 9.5 t external ordinance on its 14 stations and have a maximum take-off weight of 24.5 t.