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Ecole de l'Aviation de Chasse 314; Tours Val-de-Loire, May 28, 2000

Training with the Alpha-Jet; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The French air base Tours Val-de-Loire is nowadays home to the Ecole de l'Aviation de Chasse 314 (EAC 314). This unit is equipped with the French Dassault Alpha-Jet which is used for the training of new pilots. Besides Tours, the other half of the Alpha-Jets are based at Cazaux for the tactical part of the pilot training.

It was April 1943, when the "Section Chasse" (Hunting Section) was created in Marrakesh in Morocco. The unit was immediately equipped with the Curtiss H75A. This unit would become important by equipping itself with the Dewoitine 520 and A24 Dauntless. The unit was then referred to as "Hunting Department", and moved to Meknes on January 10, 1944. In January 1947, the hunting school was merged with the "Center de Perfection Chasse" (CPC) and the flight school was named "Christian Martell". The unit then flew with modern fighters such as the P-47D Thunderbolt and the Spitfire Mk V. Only in 1951, the first jet fighters arrived at the fighter school in the form of the TF-80C Shooting Star. The successor to this aircraft was the T-33 T-Bird and this aircraft would play an important role at the hunting school. The DH-100 Vampire was also added to the pilot training and the thousandth pilot was trained on October 31, 1953. At the end of that year, the five operational units were respectively referred to as "Jean Maridor" (1 escadrille), "Henry Jeandet"(2 escadrille),"Henri Arnaud " (3 escadrille), "Marin de Meslée"(4 escadrille) and "Marcel Lefèvre" (5 escadrille). The MD 450 Hurricane was added to the fleet at the beginning of 1957. On May 31, 1961, the hunting school left Meknes in Morocco and the unit moved with the T-33 and the Hurricane to Tours. In August 1961, the newly assigned Mystère IVA made its appearance.

The French Tours is now home to a large part of the French Alpha-Jet fleet, the other half of the fleet is based at Cazaux. The Alpha-Jet was developed in the early 60s with the aim of replacing the Lockheed T-33 and the Fouga Magister. Several countries in Europe were looking for a subsonic jet trainer and soon two big candidates came forward, namely the French-German Alpha-Jet and the British BAe Hawk. Both aircraft would be great success numbers and serve in many countries around the world. Initially, the SEPECAT Jaguar was developed as a modern jet trainer, but it soon

became clear that this aircraft was a fully deployable fighter plane. The need for such a jet trainer therefore remained. The French started a dialogue with the West Germans and in 1968 there was a joint specification for such an aircraft. A production agreement was concluded between the two countries in July 1969, both countries would purchase 200 aircraft which would be built for both in their own country. In July 1970, the Breguet-Dassault-Dornier TA501 was presented as the winner of the competition for the joint need. The first two prototypes were built by Dassault and would fly for the first time in 1972 from the French airbase Istres. The following two prototypes were built by Dornier in Germany and flew from Oberpfaffenhofen in October 1973. The French Air Force decided to put the Alpha-Jet in service as the primary operational trainer for the training of their future fighter pilots. The first flight of a production model of the Alpha-Jet took place in November 1978.

The French variant of the Alpha-Jet was the Alpha-Jet E where the letter E stands for Ecole which means school in French. The Alpha-Jet E entered service within the French Air Force in May 1979 where the aircraft replaced the Canadair T-33 and the Dassault Mystère IVA. So far, 176 Alpha-Jets have been built for the French Air Force instead of the initial 200 which were planned. On October 1, 1965, the first planes with code 314 on the fuselage of the aircraft appeared. On September 15, 1973, the unit "Marcel Lefèvre" was disbanded with the disappearance of the Mystère IVA in the French Air Force. On May 4, 1979, the first Alpha-Jets arrived at Tours who would take over the tasks of the Mystère. After more than thirty years of loyal service, the Lockheed T-33 T-Bird said farewell to the hunting school and thus also to the French Air Force on November 12, 1981. 3327 students were trained in 478,118 flying hours on this type. In February 1986, the first trained fighter pilots were eventually assigned to the operational combat units which were trained according to the new system. This new system was training pilots on the TB30 Epsilon and the Alpha-Jet E. The French hunting school "Christian Martell" is now more than thirty years present in the countryside near the French city of Tours. The complete overhaul of the infrastructure of this airbase was completed in January 1991. The hunting school has already completed more than 200,000 flight hours on the Alpha-Jet and steadily delivers pilots for the operational units.

The most important mission of EAC 314 is nowadays the training of new fighter pilots and navigators (ENOSA). The fighter pilots who are trained will eventually be assigned to the operational types such as the Jaguar, the Mirage F1 and the Mirage 2000 at the French Air Force. The second training goal of EAC 00.314 relates to the training of instructors for flight simulators. All future air force instructors on the simulator undergo a 9-week training course in Tours during their training. For the aspiring pilots, the training at Tours is their first experience on a fast plane. In addition to learning to fly with the Alpha-Jet, the pilots also receive the necessary theoretical courses and they learn the English language for flying in cooperation with the European partners. The success of the pilots that is achieved on the various components determines what the pilots are certified for. The pilot can receive a certificate for a specific navigation system or a fighter system by awarding the fighter plane ticket. This certificate determines how they will continue their training at the Ecole de Transition Opérationnelle (ETO) (operational transition school). This ETO is based in Cazaux and houses an eskadron for the operational transformation on the Mirage F1, Mirage 2000 or Jaguar. Eventually the pilots are placed in operational units. The total duration of pure vocational training lasts about five years for an operational pilot and more than seven years for a pilot who can perform all types of missions.

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