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It has a crew of nearly 2,000 people, is 262 metres long and has a flight deck bigger than a football pitch: welcome on board the Charles de Gaulle! The French aircraft carrier is now on her way home. Since December, it has been operating in the Persian Gulf as part of the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. Life on board an aircraft carrier at war is intense. For five days, our reporters got a close-up look at daily life on board the pride of the French Navy.
As soon as the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier arrived in the Persian Gulf on December 19, 2015, France took command of the naval operations of the coalition against the Islamic State group. The French handed command over to the Americans two months later. “This is a first, which is the fruit of long cooperation with the United States”, explains Admiral René-Jean Crignola.
The aircraft carrier is a floating city, with 2,000 people on board. Among them, the fighter jet pilots are trained like athletes, and are pampered and privileged. They must not lose concentration during their operations. Each mission can last up to six hours. Life on the runway is organised around them to ensure a safe take-off and landing. This feels like a feat every time, as the catapult – the device that launches the planes – is just 75 metres in length. Since December, nearly 400 sorties have been carried out, either bombing terrorist targets or on intelligence missions in Syria or Iraq.
►►On France24.com, also watch our report: “On board a French frigate in the Persian Gulf”.
On the bridge, the ship’s navigation is geared towards the aircraft, which have to take off against the wind. The ship must constantly seek that position. At the workshop, nearly 500 technicians and mechanics are busy 24 hours a day. They need to repair each fighter jet, each technical glitch.
The crew set sail just after the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris. When they leave on a mission, they never know how long it will last. Nor their next destination.
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