Pictures: First French air force Rafale squadron operational, Patrouille de France flypast

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By Justin Wastnage in London

Five years after the French Navy received its first aircraft, the Dassault Aviation Rafale fighter has entered French air force service, with the first squadron inaugurated on Tuesday.

In a ceremony at Saint-Exupéry air base 113 at Saint-Dizier close to Paris, French prime minister Dominique de Villepin formally received the Rafale, which had flown in from Dassault’s facilities at Istres air base. Two fighter squadrons based at Saint-Dizier will operate the Rafale including 1/7 Sqn Provence that took the official hand-over, plus a further unit based at Mont-de-Marsan near Marseilles for pilot training. The sqadron has now taken delivery of 10 Rafales, and will receive a further 10 by the end of the year, when it will attain its full operational strength.

Six further Rafale squadrons will receive the aircraft by 2020. The air forces has ordered 82 aircraft (44 single-seaters and 38 two-seaters) to date, with a further 38 ordered by the French navy. The total requirment for the French military is currently 234. The Rafales will replace 1/7 Sqn’s Sepecat GR3 JaguarA/Es.

The ceremony saw the fly-past of the Marcel Dassault Breguet Aviation / Dornier Alphajet trainers of the Patroulille de France in front of a crowd of around 8,000 people (pictured below).

rafale flypast cross w445
© Alexandre Paringaux 

 rafale flypast w445

 rafale plat flypast w445
© PAF - Hubert Lecinski

 rafale in flight w445

 rafale crew ec1/7 w445
© Alexandre Paringaux