The French Air Force and Navy are evaluating a terrain-following capability for single-seat variants of the Rafale multi-role combat aircraft.
The new flight control mode has been developed by the air force’s military aircraft test center (CEAM) and the navy’s naval aviation flight trials detachment (Det CEPA). After integration into the aircraft, the new feature will enable the aircraft to fly at high-speed and low-level over the ground or sea.
An advanced autopilot allows the fighter to operate safely at very low-level by day and night and under all weather conditions, ensuring crew safety by preventing the aircraft from impacting natural and artificial obstacles such as antennas, bridges, and cables, among other things.
The trials aim to provide air force and navy staffs with a training profile that offer lower costs, and includes flight operations as well as simulator flights.
Specifically, the testing enables the air force to assess the feasibility of allowing combat squadrons equipped with the single-seat Rafales, and based at Saint-Dizier and Mont-de-Marsan, to execute fire support missions and aerial interceptions in all weather conditions.
The trial focuses on performing ‘show of force’ demonstrations by flying high-speed, low-level passes over enemy forces, similar to those routinely used by Mirage 2000D Rafale two-seat fighters during foreign missions.
The terrain-following capability is currently authorised on two-seat Rafales, whose crews include both pilot and navigator. It is also expected to enable air defence pilots to safely intercept unidentified aircraft flying at very low altitude, even through low cloud cover.
Power for the Rafale is provided by two SNECMA M88 engines. The aircraft is a delta-wing multi-role jet fighter designed to conduct air-to-air combat, reconnaissance flights and nuclear bombing missions. It can also carry anti-ship, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.
The aircraft entered service with the French Navy and Air Force in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
Image: A French Air Force Rafale fighter aircraft in flight. Photo: courtesy of Tim Felce (Airwolfhound).