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French air force train at Luke

Two French air force maintainers work on their Rafale aircraft during visit to Luke AFB, July 29. Four aircraft and more than 100 personnel deployed for the first time on U.S. soil to participate in a joint exercise at Luke. (Photo courtesy of Pete Pallagi/Daily News-Sun)

Two French air force maintainers work on their Rafale aircraft during a visit to Luke AFB, July 29. Four aircraft and more than 100 personnel deployed for the first time on U.S. soil to participate in a joint exercise at Luke. (Photo courtesy of Pete Pallagi/Daily News-Sun)

Lt. Col. Fabrice Granclaudon, French air force squadron commander, stands in front of a French Rafale aircraft while being interviewed by TF1 (French media) at Luke AFB, July 28. Four Rafale aircraft and more than 100 French airmen deployed for the first time on U.S. soil for an exercise July 28-Aug8 at Luke. (U.S. Air Force photo by TSgt. Nabor)

Lt. Col. Fabrice Granclaudon, French air force squadron commander, stands in front of a French Rafale aircraft while being interviewed by French media at Luke AFB, July 28. Four Rafale aircraft and more than 100 French airmen deployed for the first time on U.S. soil for an exercise July 28 - Aug 8 at Luke. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Steve Nabor)

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Never before has the French Rafale aircraft deployed to U.S. soil...until recently. 

Approximately 20 French air force aircrews, 60 maintainers and support personnel and four Rafale aircraft visited Luke to participate in a warm-up exercise July 28 through today. 

France is one of the few countries able to independently deploy and effect military operations outside of its borders, and this makes them an important, valuable partner to the U.S. in the global war on terror. French military have been fighting alongside American forces in Afghanistan since October 2001 and continue to play a supportive role today. 

"Every U.S. and French Airman who took part in this deployment is better for the experience", said Col. Kurt Neubauer, 56th Fighter Wing commander. "Training with the French Air Force provided us the invaluable opportunity to learn from each other's operational experience, improve our combat skills, and strengthen the bond of friendship between our great air forces and our great countries."

The major coalition exercise here provided a unique opportunity not only for the French Rafale pilots, but also for Luke F-16 pilots as well. 

Pilots on both sides experienced the chance to fly in another aircraft in which they were not accustomed to operating and got to see first-hand the capabilities of the other country's aircraft. 

"It was an amazing opportunity," said Capt. Matt Spears, 309th Fighter Squadron F-16 pilot. "I was impressed with the capabilities of the aircraft." 

The Rafale aircraft itself is a twin-jet aircraft capable of carrying out a wide range of short- and long-range missions, including ground and sea attack, air defense and reconnaissance. The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a single jet, compact, multi-role fighter aircraft. It is highly maneuverable and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack. The F-16 also has the ability to fly more than 500 miles deliver its weapons with superior accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft and return to its starting point. 

The U.S. Air Force and French air force partnership is not only limited to aircraft exercises such as Red Flag, but also the entire spectrum of interoperable maintenance and proficiency training, logistics and sustainment that these aircraft. 

The maintainers and support crews also participated in a similar experience to the pilot's where they were allowed to interact with the other countries' aircraft and crews; French support personnel were also given a tour of Luke's engine shop during their visit. 

"The French visit provided an excellent opportunity to strengthen our social relationship and enhance future relations," said Lt. Col. Peter Bilodeau, 309th Fighter Squadron commander. "There should be as many combined operations as possible before there are lessons learned in combat." 

The French air force shared the same view of working and training together and reiterated the fact that France has been a long time ally of the U.S. 

"The cooperation between France and the U.S. goes all the way back to World War I," said Col. Philippe Poireault , French air force detachment commander. "This was an extraordinary opportunity for both the French and U.S. to learn from each other, and we look forward to strengthening that relationship."