Wings over paradise

Armed Forces in French Polynesia

In French Polynesia, half a dozen military aircraft share a wide range of missions on a territory the size of Europe. As Frédéric Lert explains, there’s a permanent battle against the ‘tyranny of distance’.

The CN235’s range allows it to reach New Zealand or Hawaii with intermediate stops. The aircraft, which almost always fly over open water, are carefully
maintained in order to avoid any corrosion problems. Serial 072 ‘62-IF’ is one of 19 CN235M-200 aircraft remaining in air force service. Photographe-FAPF

Tahiti… While the name is suggestive of an island paradise, the reality of patrolling French Polynesia is a major challenge. It has a population of a medium-size city – 280,000 inhabitants – spread over five archipelagos and 118 islands, 76 of which are inhabited. All this in a maritime area that, if it was transposed onto a map of Europe, would stretch almost from London to Helsinki, and east to Athens. This confetti of islands scattered across the map presents a big headache when it comes, for example, to recovering a premature baby from an isolated island, a fisherman adrift in a boat, or assisting the population after the passage of a cyclone.

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