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IWC Schaffhausen

Sailor of the Sky (Part I)

Find out about fighter pilot Etienne Bauer’s missions, aircraft, training, and daily life.

 

Commander Etienne Bauer is currently the deputy director of operations at Landivisiau Naval Air Base. He has been in the French Navy for more than 20 years, spending 15 of those as a fighter pilot in Super Etendard aircraft, then the Rafale. The trained pilot spoke with the IWC Journal.

What is the difference between naval aviation and the air force? People often get them confused…

Naval aviation is an arm of the navy which works in parallel with the air force on specific missions. As naval aviation fighter pilots, we operate Rafale Marine aircraft, posted on-board the aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle. The air force operates out of its land bases; we operate from Landivisiau, and from aircraft carriers during operational missions.

 

Do you work alongside one another?

Yes, there is a lot of crossover. Some of our training program is shared. We also have the air force's fighter pilots come to us, as we send our fighter pilots to them for exchanges of around two years in duration. We train in the US Navy, so we are fighter pilots like our American friends. We have points in common with the air force, but also with the Navy, which is where our expertise lies.

 

Would you say that you are a seaman first, and a fighter pilot second?

Yes, that’s right. We call ourselves the “sailors of the sky”.

 

Training aside, what makes you say to yourself “I am going to become a fighter pilot”?

You must have a passion for aviation; first and foremost, you must really want to fly. As for me, when I was younger, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. Later on, I discovered aircraft carriers. I wanted to do that because it really is the ultimate, the absolute pinnacle. 

 

Fighter Pilot Etienne Bauer wears the IWC Pilot’s Watch “Aeronavale Edition” on a daily basis
— Fighter Pilot Etienne Bauer wears the IWC Pilot’s Watch “Aeronavale Edition” on a daily basis

In terms of career path, fighter pilots come via two main routes. There are those who join the navy straight out of school via a selection process, and there are those with a similar career path to me, who join the naval academy after sitting an exam, and firstly become a naval officer, and then a pilot.

We train a lot. I can't emphasize this enough. A pilot will train every day. The base never closes; training flights for pilots start every single day at eight in the morning and carry on late into the evening. Day and night.
Fighter pilot in front of his aircraft wearing an IWC Pilot’s Watch based on the Automatic Top Gun IW326901
— The fighter pilot in front of his office

What does a typical day look like for you?

A fighter pilot has two lives. A life on land, at Landivisiau, where training takes place. Every day, the pilots will have a flight or simulator session scheduled. So, they prepare, execute and debrief training missions. Alongside this, the pilots have missions on the ground, because, today, all pilots are also officers. They take on a variety of tasks. They write documentation, manage personnel, perform an annual assessment of their troops, technicians, etc.

 

Five months of the year, pilots are stationed on board the Charles de Gaulle, and their days are similar to those spent on land. This means one flight each day, and managing the personnel on board. We train a lot. I can't emphasize this enough. A pilot will train every day. The base never closes; training flights for pilots start every single day at eight in the morning and carry on late into the evening. Day and night.

What is the difference between a runway and an aircraft carrier?

A runway is made of concrete and is several kilometers long. An aircraft carrier runway is metal, shifting on the sea, and just 265 meters long. Physically, it is a completely different challenge to take off from a moving point on the sea, that you have to relocate, and then land on, and maneuvering on a completely static runway.

 

Landing on the deck really is a challenge; the mission is only complete once you have landed safely on the vessel. Unlike on land, where you can relax once you are returning to base, working on an aircraft carrier requires you to remobilize. Landing on deck is never the same twice; you have to re-evaluate the situation every time. The sea is always different, and so are the conditions.

In an office job, you can say ‘OK, I'm tired today. I'll do better tomorrow’. A pilot can't. If you are flying a plane, you need to be at your sharpest.

What does a fighter pilot’s training consist of?

Basic training is required to understand how to pilot the aircraft. After this, training is supplemented with what we call “tactical” training. We take on missions. These can be air defense missions, or ground attack missions. The goal is to be able to do everything, and to switch with ease between them.

 

Then, you need to be in good physical condition, but there are no supermen. A fighter pilot is no superhuman, let me bust that myth. We don’t spend all day lifting weights in the gym, but we need to stay in good shape. One of the key points is endurance. Why? Because missions are sometimes long, with a high level of physical engagement. Every day, we must be ready to get up in the morning and fly. We need to be rigorous with our lifestyle, as we can’t turn up tired. In an office job, you can say “OK, I’m tired today. I’ll do better tomorrow”. A pilot can’t. If you are flying a plane, you need to be at your sharpest. 

The IWC Pilot’s Watch is based on the Automatic Top Gun Ref. IW326901
— The IWC Pilot’s Watch is based on the Automatic Top Gun Ref. IW326901

What mental training is provided?

The mental preparation takes different forms. I need to prepare for the mission, for the flight, to ensure that my mind is as alert and active as possible when I fly. Then, I also need to put any worries out of my mind when I am flying. Your personal life needs to be in order to ensure that you are fully available and that your mind is 100% on your mission, rather than elsewhere. On land, of course, but also when you head off for several months to train on board the aircraft carrier, you need to be fully available for the mission.

 

Is the child who dreamed of planes still there?

You cannot do this job unless you are driven by this passion. I think it would be impossible. When I hear the sound of planes passing overhead, my eyes automatically scan the sky for them. I cannot not look.


Stay tuned for Part II of the interview with Etienne Bauer, where he talks about taking critical decisions during a mission and why fighter pilots use mechanical watches during their flights.

 

Interview and images by Brice Goulard, MONOCHROME-WATCHES.


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