An MQ-9 Reaper flies above the US Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The French Air Force conducted its first flight of a Reaper from a drone based in Niger. (DGA)
PARIS — The French Air Force Thursday flew a first flight, lasting 40 minutes, of a US-built Reaper surveillance drone based in Niger, an Air Force spokesman said.
That flight was dubbed Dress Down Six, the flight name used by World War II French pilot and author Antoine Saint-Exupery.
“Teams of the [Direction Générale de l’Armement] and the Air Force have worked flat out,” the spokesman told journalists. “The result of their work was a first flight this morning at 7:30 a.m. for 40 minutes.”
The flight was in a “local zone,” the spokesman said, without giving details.
“We are still in the preparation phase of the first operational flight,” said Defense Ministry spokesman Pierre Bayle.
Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian Jan. 1 visited the French Air Force’s two Niger-based General Atomics Reapers, acquired last year to deliver a high-speed, long-endurance eye in the sky over neighboring Mali and the sub-Saharan region.
A study by Airbus Defense and Space on French modifications and costs on the Reaper could be commissioned by the government in three or four months, an industry executive said.
France has options to buy 10 additional Reaper units, which the government wants to modify to fit French or European payloads, including sensors and datalink transmission.
The two unarmed French Air Force Reapers, dubbed Block 1, use US equipment.
On the tactical UAV front, Sagem said Jan. 15 that France ordered at the end of December three more Sperwer drones and took options for two more units, to maintain the strength of the present four systems operated by the French Army. A Sagem spokesman declined to give financial details. The order follows acquisition of four units in 2013.