First graduation of French Air Force PC-21 pilots

On 16 September 2020, French Air Force (FAF) Jet Fighter Pilot Academy witnessed the first graduation of student pilots undertaking training on the Pilatus PC-21 aircraft at a formal ceremony at Cognac AB 709.

​The pilot wings ceremony, which symbolizes the start of their service as fighter pilots in the Force, was attended by family and friends of Class 2019A as well as the newest class of student pilots.

The audience included Authorities, military dignitaries and industry partners of which Babcock France and F-AIR 21 were representatives.

The ceremony held in front of hangar HM3 was presided over by Air Chief Marshal Général Philippe Lavigne, FAF Chief of Staff, in the presence of new Air Base Commander, Colonel Nicolas Lyautey, and Head of the FAF Jet Fighter Pilot Academy, Lieutenant-Colonel Stanislas de Roquefeuil.

In his address, Général Lavigne acknowledged F-AIR 21 for the fast ramping up of the program and the efficiency and quality of the support provided in its implementation. He also emphasised the crucial role plaid by the system developed as the French Air Force is in a modernisation phase.

Following Général Lavigne’s address, individual awards and pilot wings were presented to the graduates. The new pilots were then introduced to a Babcock-F-AIR 21 delegation led by Air Chief Marshall (RET) Général Thierry Caspar-Fille-Lambie who offered them a PC-21 scale model as a souvenir of their training period.

Then Général Caspar-Fille-Lambie delivered a brief speech:

”Industry partners who are gathered here today are happy and proud. Happy because many of us were at your place years ago at Tours air base. Proud, because, as we say at Babcock, our success is the success of our customer.

”Today we have a profound sense of achievement. However, this is not the end. We will continue, every day, to make you glad for having selected us.

”This is a consecration of an adventure that started five years ago in Paris when Babcock handed over its first offer to the DGA [General Directorate for Armament] and when we were awarded the contract. The adventure continued with Pilatus, CAE, Pratt & Whitney and, finally yet importantly, with Dassault Aviation who were determined to continue supporting jet fighter training and with whom we set up F-AIR 21.

”Today, F-AIR 21 is not a simple service provider. This is a unit of your base featuring a special status. We are pleased you consider us as such.

”With Pierre Basquin, CEO for France, Bruno Mandon, Head of F-AIR 21 and the whole team who managed this project, we are extremely proud and pleased to share this celebration with you all.” He said.

An air show concluded the ceremony offering guests the opportunity to admire a flypast of Rafale, the FAF Display Team and the Patrouille de France.

Bruno Mandon, Head of the F-AIR 21 team commented:

”Over the last couple of years, with our team and partners, we’ve been developing a new generation training system for a new generation of pilots.  The pilot who will fly modern combat aircraft needed training that best prepares them for that mission. We are proud to have contributed to building the next generation of combat aircrew for the French Air Force.”

Pierre Basquin, CEO for France added:

”Today was also very special for Babcock France, attending the ceremony of the first class of students graduating on PC-21. Receiving their wings is a moment that every pilot treasures. I wish them every success and an exciting future in the French Air Force.”

Later that day graduates welcomed senior representative of the FAF, honoured guests, family and friends at a VIP dinner and party. 

Introduced to the FAF in 2018, the PC-21 has been the foundation of Basic Fast-Jet Training at the Cognac base. The new syllabus managed by the DGA for the FAF is part of the French Military Flying Training Programme aimed at modernising the entirety of the French military’s flying training system. It places greater emphasis on synthetic training and video training aids blended with piloting of aircraft.

The event marked a historic milestone for FAF aviation, Babcock France and F-AIR 21 team.