French Air Force flew its General Dynamics MQ-9 Reaper surveillance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over France for the first time on Tuesday.
The recently delivered Block 5 Reaper with tail no 612 featuring more redundancy to fly in civilian airspace took off from the Cognac air base in Southern France and flew for 5 hours and 10 minutes.
Stringent European Airworthiness rules does not allow military UAVs to fly over national airspace due to safety and compliance issues.
France plans to certify the MQ-9 fleet for operation from the country, as 1/33 Belfort Squadron currently operates them from a African base in Niamey, Niger.
The flight tested various safety and emergency features required while flying in a commercial airspace. Calibration of emergency parameters, verification of satellite links, validation of landing and take off qualification of French crews were performed.
The other five French MQ-9 Reapers based at Niamey are Block 1 variants, which will be upgraded to Block 5 in future.
The Belfort Squadron will train French crews to fly the Reaper from the Cognac air base. By 2019, France will receive all the 12 Reapers it is acquiring through Foreign Military Sale from United States.
The Africa based French Reaper fleet provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support for Operation Barkhane, an ongoing French anti-insurgent operation in Africa's Sahel region. The fleet have clocked more than 15,000 flying hours since commencement of operation in January 2014.
French Air Force crew is also preparing to fly the Reaper on surveillance mission over Paris during France’s Bastille Day celebrations on July 14.
|Reaper flying with French Socata TB 30 Epsilon turboprop trainers|