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The Last French F-1 Base; Reims-Champagne, June 22, 2010

Adieu ER01.033 Belfort 1914-2010; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

On Tuesday, June 22, 2010, I was allowed to make a visit to the air base of Reims-Champagne which is located in the north of France. Reims is the last operational Mirage F-1 base in France and offers shelter to two squadrons. Ultimately, the base will close in one year and the French Air Force will stop flying with the Mirage F-1.

The French air base of Reims is the only French base which is still operational with the Mirage F-1. Colmar in the east of northern France was closed in the spring of 2009 due to the announced cuts in fund. The Mirage F-1CT and the Mirage F-1B which were stationed at Colmar were assigned to Escadron de Chasse 30. The aircraft of this unit moved to Reims when Colmar was closed. They were reassigned into Escadron de Reconnaissance 33 at Reims. At Reims the Mirage F-1CR fleet had already been stationed next to the Mirage F1-CT and the Mirage F-1B. Escadron de Reconnaissance 33 consists of two units which are each divided into three flights. The first unit is Escadron de Reconnaissance 1/33 Nicknamed “Belfort”. This unit consists of three flights, namely; the 1ère escadrille 'La Hache' (no 1 Squadron ‘The Axe’), the 2ème escadrille 'Petit Prince' (no 2 Squadron ‘The Small Prince’) and the 3ème escadrille 'Léopard' (no 3 Squadron ‘Leopard’). The second unit at Reims is Escadron de Reconnaissance 2/33 “Savoie”. Also this unit is divided into three flights, namely; the 1ère escadrille ‘Mouette Rhénane' (no 1 Squadron "Rhineland Seagull”), the 2ème escadrille ‘Cocotte de Gueules' (no 2 Squadron “Tie”) and the 3ème escadrille 'Fanion' (no 3 Squadron "Ribbon"). Escadron de Reconnaissance 1/33 “Belfort” was disbanded on June 24, 2010. Escadron de Reconnaissance 2/33 “Savoy” will move to Mont de Marsan in 2011. Because of this there is no reason for existence anymore for Reims and therefore the base will be closed. A Mirage F-1 is painted in the colors of the unit to honor Escadron de Reconnaissance 1/33 “Belfort” before it will be disbanded. This unit has an age of 96 years which is not enough to celebrate a century of its existence.

Reims Air Base was established by the French Ministry of Aviation in 1925 and was used for the first time in October 1928. There was much work needed to recover this

area after its devastation during the First World War. There were numerous trenches present which all needed to be removed. In addition, there was much unexploded ordnance which had to be removed. Reims became one of the main airfields of the French Armée de l'Air. The base had platforms and concrete hangars and a grass runway for take-offs and landings. The base was reactivated in 1949 as an active French Air Force Base. The infrastructure of the base was heavily damaged by allied bombing of the Junkers factories during the war. These halls were demolished and replaced by new buildings. The American runway and the grass runways were removed. A modern runway replaced the old infra structure. Also dispersals and support buildings were constructed next to the new runway. Initially, de Havilland Vampires were stationed at Reims. Later on in 1950, the Republic F-84 Thunderjet was introduced which was replaced by the F-100 Super Sabre in 1959. In 1973, the Mirage F1 was assigned to Reims. Reims is the home base of the Mirage F-1 since that period until now.

There were many requests for a visit at Reims and therefore the French Air Force had decided to invite all the different groups at the same moment. I was also invited to visit the last French Mirage F-1 basis. I arrived at 10 am at this air base. Just when we arrived, we saw two Mirages at the taxi track. It appeared this was the first movement of the day; I had not missed anything when we arrived. It is possible to stand almost on the taxi track at Reims. Photographing the Mirages is therefore very easy. Reims is also one of the few fields in France where the police will not send you away near the fence of the base. There was a sound on the flightline at Reims after a short period of silence. Not less than four Mirages started their engines. The first two Mirages which taxied out were Mirage F-1B’s. These blue two-seaters are the oldest Mirages which are still in operational service. Two Mirage F-1CR's followed behind the two Mirage F-1B’s. These two aircraft were checked off first before they took off. All four Mirages were back at Reims within one hour after take-off. It was a busy day at Reims, full with flying activity, because the next flight was already planned. This next flight contained a pair of Mirage F-1CT’s. The wind changed direction in the meanwhile and the Mirage landed therefore from the other side. Fortunately, the Mirages stayed low above the runway after take-off. This brought me a few spectacular take-off shots of this aircraft.

During the afternoon, I was able to follow all the movements on the airfield. First we were brought to a hill halfway the main runway at Reims. The Mirages which took off came loose from the ground right in front of us. This brought me some typical spectacular take-off shots of these aircraft. I was lucky that six Mirages took off when I stood at this location. There was one Mirage which was painted in a special color scheme to honor the disbandment of ER 1/33. This Mirage F-1CR was painted in the white and blue colors of the unit called Belfort. We were brought to the flightline after take-off of all these Mirages. The platform was full with Mirages; there were more than ten aircraft present at this platform. It did not take long before some were started for their flights. Also a few Mirages turned back which I have seen during take-off. Again I was lucky that I managed to catch the special painted Mirage at the platform. This machine came back from his photo flight halfway our photo tour at the platform. I was able to shoot an extensive series of pictures of this particular machine. The pilot parked his Mirage in front of a shelter; this was a nice background for the photos. We walked along the complete Mirage flightline after I had photographed the special paint Mirage. The visit to the flightline brought me many detailed pictures of the Mirage F-1. My visit to Reims was over after the visit of the flightline. We returned to the main entrance of the base and we said goodbye to our guide. The visit to Reims was again a very successful visit with a lot of movements.

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