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BA705, French Meeting Nationale; Tours-Val de Loire June 14, 2009

Airpower the French Style; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

On Sunday, June 14 another Meeting National was held at the French airbase of Tours-Val de Loire. A Meeting National is an air show where the French Air Force shows its equipment to the general public. Think about what role France plays in the national and international society and how they do things in this theatre.

Tours is the home base of 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 60's with the aim to replace the Lockheed T-33 and the Fouga Magister. Several countries in Europe were looking for a new subsonic jet trainer. Soon there were two major candidates for this, namely the French-German Alpha-Jet and the British BAe Hawk. Both aircraft became a big hit and entered service 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 had the capability of an operational fighter. The conclusion was that there still was a need for an advanced jet trainer there. As a result of this need, the French began a dialogue with the West Germans and in 1968 there was a common specification for such an aircraft. A production contract was signed in July 1969 between the two countries; both countries would buy 200 of these aircraft and both countries would build their own aircraft.

In July 1970, the Breguet-Dassault-Dornier TA501 was presented as winner of the competition for the shared needs. The first two prototypes were built by the French Dassault and the first take-off of the aircraft was at Istres in 1972. The next two prototypes were built by the German Dornier and they flew from October 1973 at Oberpfaffenhofen airbase. The French Air Force decided to use the Alpha-Jet as their primary trainer for operational training of their future fighter pilots. The first flight of a production model of the Alpha-Jet was held in November 1978. The French Alpha-Jet variant was called the Alpha-Jet E, in which the letter E stands for École, which means ‘school’ in the French language. The Alpha-Jet E entered service within the French Air Force in May 1979. The aircraft replaced the older Canadair T-33 and the Dassault Mystere IVA. 176 Alpha-Jets have been built so far for the French Air Force instead of

the initial 200 that were planned. The most famous unit which flies the Alpha-Jet is the Patrouille de France. The French are working together with the Belgians nowadays during the training of their new fighter pilots. The French and the Belgians were using the same methodology in the past and both countries use the Alpha-Jet as their main training aircraft. In 2000 Belgium and France decided together that they have to cooperate in training pilots to reduce costs. The 28 Belgian Alpha-Jets moved to France in November 2003 and together they founded the AJeTS (Advanced Jet Training School). The AJeTS is the international cooperation between Belgium and France and is based at Cazaux and Tours in France. The relation between these two countries is very close during the training. The future pilots of both countries will follow almost the same path during their training. The initial pilot training takes place at Tours in the center of France and the operational flying course takes place at Cazaux in the south of France. The Belgian Alpha-Jets are operational at the last phase of the course at Cazaux.

My visit at Tours started at the beginning of the afternoon. After a trip by car of over seven hours we finally arrived at the base around noon. It was quite busy and finding a spot along the taxi track was a big challenge. After a while I found a spot next to the taxi track. I was able to stand on the front row of the spectators. I didn’t know how I managed this, but I was there. The air show at Tours was for me a short show, but it was a good show. Especially the French aircraft made many flights. Only the number of Alpha-Jets that I saw was a little bit disappointing if you compare the number of flights with the amount of aircraft on base. There are over 60 Alpha-Jets based at Tours and they are all assigned to EAC00.314 which is part of the AJeTS.

The highlight of the show for me was the French airpower demo. A large amount of French aircraft took off at Tours. All the participating aircraft passed the public area over the taxi track right in front of me. The first participant was a French Tucano from Salon de Provence which is located in the south east of France. I was very happy with this aircraft because the amount of pictures of this aircraft in my collection is low. The pictures of this aircraft were amazing with a beautiful green background under a beautiful summer sky. The Tucano was shortly followed by as many as four Mirage 2000's from Orange. Three of the four aircraft were of the type Mirage 2000B, the other one was a Mirage 2000C. A nice surprise because most of the times you’ll see the one seat Mirage 2000C. I was able to shoot some beautiful photographs of these blue machines. They passed us in pairs of two aircraft taxiing very close to each other. A C-160 Transall from Evreux appeared right behind the Mirages. The four Mirages took off with full afterburner after a few minutes of waiting at the head of the runway. The Mirages performed a base attack and then they showed us how to intercept an aircraft. Of course, the Transall was the aircraft to intercept.

After a period of three hours next to the taxi track, the air show at Tours was over for me. I had to drive in the direction of Saint-Dizier which is quite far from Tours. Tomorrow I will have a visit at this base where I will be able to take photographs of the Rafale. I walked back to the exit after the demo of the Hungarian Grippen. I walked along the massive flight line during my walk to the exit. There were a few very interesting aircraft on this line. A part of that flightline was not accessible because the planes were lined up in four rows. But a significant part was accessible if you're a little bit creative with the camera. The air show at Tours was a short and nice visit for me. I saw many interesting planes; especially the French aircraft were very special. Therefore it was a pleasant afternoon at the French air base of Tours.




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