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Elementary Pilot Training; Cognac-Châteaubernard, June 1, 2010

Le Tour de France 2010 Part 4; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The last visit during my trip to the south of France was on June 1, 2010 at Cognac. All Epsilons of the French Air Force which are currently still in operational service are based at Cognac. The TB-30 Epsilon is used for basic pilot training within the French Armée de l’Air.

The French airbase of Cognac-Châteaubernard is called by the French Base Aérienne 709 "Cognac Châteaubernard" or BA 709 as an abbreviation. This base of the French Air Force is located next to the village of Châteaubernard which is 2.8 km south of Cognac. Both locations are towns in the county of the department of Charente which is located in the region of Poitou-Charentes in the southern part of France. The base is home of the pilot training school of the Armée de l’Air. This is the initial pilot training school for the French Air Force. The military airport at Châteaubernard was founded in 1938 as a request of the town of Cognac. In June 1940, the French army was forced to leave the camp. The airport was still not finished at that time. The Luftwaffe occupied the airport from 1940 until 1944 and created in Cognac a modern military air base. The allies started to bomb the airbase from 1943 and the base was because of this partly destroyed. The base was completely destroyed by the Germans when they left it in 1944 during their withdrawn. Immediately after the liberation, the base came back into French hands. The French immediately started to repair the runway and the airbase was very quickly operational again. In 1945, the first flying school was established at the airport of Cognac. This was the flying school for fighter pilots of the Morocco Air force who received their training in France. The French flying school is still present at this base and is operational with the TB-30 Epsilon. In 1992, Cognac received the name of commander Menard (1909-1945).

The maintenance of the French Air Force aircraft at Cognac is nowadays done by the EADS Company. This ensures that a local subsidiary called ECAT (Stevenage Training Services) can benefit from EADS. The Grob 120 flies next to the TB-30 Epsilon and the aircraft are maintained by ECAT. The French Air Force has a lease contract with this company to fly this aircraft and to do its maintenance. These aircraft have a civilian registration because they are not owned by the French Air Force. Both

the TB-30 Epsilon and the Grob 120 are used for the basic pilot training for the French Air Force. The students at this school who start a career as a military pilot will learn their basic skills with the Grob 120. This aircraft is ideal for this task, because it is small at first and very easy to handle. When the pilots have passed the first stage of the training, they will start the second part. During the second part of the basic training, the students fly the TB-30 Epsilon. This aircraft is a bit heavier than the Grob 120 and therefore it is more difficult to handle. The students will go after the basic pilot training to the advanced pilot training at Salon de Provence, where they continue their training on the Tucano. Here the pilots will see if they become a fighter or a helicopter pilot.

Our visit to Cognac began in the early morning. We had to report ourselves at the main gate of the base at 8 AM. The weather wasn’t good today. The sky was dark and it seemed it could start to rain at any moment. Our tour would start in the big hangar next to the operational platform. There were three Epsilons in this building which included two white ones. The white color scheme is the old scheme of these planes, because nowadays they have a dark gray color scheme like the Tucano's. The Epsilons were in a very nice position for a few nice pictures. We made a tour over the platform when we had photographed the Epsilons inside the hangar. There were five rows of aircraft on the platform. The two left rows contained the new Grob 120 aircraft, and the three right rows were the Epsilons. I started from the left row at the end of the flightline. The planes were fortunately parked far enough from each other, which was good for a nice photo report. Unfortunately, a number of Epsilons was covered with cloths and other covers. This is not good for the picture quality, because a covered aircraft does not look nice on the picture. There were almost twenty Epsilons on the flightline. This was good because I didn’t have much of these aircraft in my collection. I walked along all these aircraft for a few pictures. Also at this line were several Epsilons with the old white color scheme. It was much easier to photograph the white Epsilons than the gray ones because of the bad weather conditions.

After our tour over the platform we walked to the second hangar. Also this hangar was filled with Epsilons. It was very dark inside the hangar. Our guide told me that the Epsilons were stored in this hangar. They were still operational because they are regularly exchanged with the Epsilons from the other hangar. The aircraft needs to be cleaned every time, because the floor and other parts of the hangar were littered with leaves and bird droppings. In total there were six Epsilons and a Grob 120 in the hangar. One of the Epsilons was completely split into small parts. This aircraft showed some clearly visible damages of a crash landing. It was very dark inside the hangar, but luckily I had my tripod with me and I could take great photographs. Within ten minutes I was ready in the hangar and we could walk to the next hangar. Also over here there were a few Epsilons ripped into loose parts. It was clear that this was the maintenance hangar. There were technicians working on the aircraft. There was not much to shoot with my camera and I was quickly finished at this place. The last place we would visit was the dump on the other side of the field. Here were sixteen Epsilons on a big dump yard. There was really nothing left of these planes. I decided to take some pictures of these scrapped aircraft. The components of the aircraft were completely covered with a thick layer of weed so it was not easy to take a few decent pictures. Next to the dump was a big truck and I could stand on top of it. From here it was much easier to take a few decent shots. On the way back from the dump to the exit of the base, we saw some gate guards which we could capture on photo. Most of them were Epsilons, but there were also some Fouga Magisters between them. Once at the exit our visit at Cognac was ended. It was a small but worthy visit to this training base.

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