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Mirage F1, the Final Live Firing Training; Cazaux, November 22, 2013

Campagne de Tir, part 2; Text and Photograph’s by Alex van Noye

During the Campagne de Tir at Cazaux, Mirage F1 aircraft were equipped with some Mk82 unguided bombs and GBU-12 laser-guided bombs. The aircraft would drop these live weapons at practice targets on the Captieux Range. This large shooting range located at a distance of about 100km away from Cazaux.

After the briefing, the pilots walked from the squadron building to the aircraft. For each flight, the pilots will perform together with the ground crew a check of the aircraft. In this case, the checks of the mounted weapons were an important exercise. Not only for pilots, but also for the ground crew is the handling of real weapons a proper and necessary exercise. This training will be performed throughout the whole year; there is a briefing and the aircraft will be armed by specialized mechanics. Mk82 and GBU-12 bombs were mounted on the Mirages during the inspections of this mission. The pilot will fly after take-off in a direct line to the target area, because they fly with a real payload under their wings. During the mission in the practice area, the bombs are dropped according to established procedures which have been trained for many years. There are several young pilots in this group who never dropped live bombs before. Dropping bombs for the first time in their career is a real milestone for these young pilots says Souberbielle. The goal is to be prepared for all types of missions carried out in France and abroad. The pilots are accustomed to a deployment in other countries and they are constantly trained for this.

Captain Damien explains various tactics; he has 1500 flying hours on his name. The F1 pilots use the loft technique to drop the unguided bombs during this training. When lofting the bomb, the bomb will be hurled with a bow to the target over a long distance. The Mirage will fly at low altitude with a high approaching speed towards the target. Once the goal is clear, the pilot will pull the stick and the aircraft will climb at an angle of almost 45 degrees. The bomb will be released from the airplane as soon as the target designator on the HUD of the aircraft crosses the target. The bomb will fall because of the speed and the climb angle of the aircraft with a bow towards the target. The major advantage of this technique is the aircraft stays further away from its targets. The aircraft will stay in many cases outside the range of the anti-aircraft

artillery which is placed around many targets. The loft technique is not a simple technique and requires practice because everything depends on the right timing. There are three tactics which can be applied by the pilots of the Mirage F1 for the dropping of laser-guided weapons. The first tactic is to illuminate the target with the laser designator on the own aircraft and drop the bomb from the own aircraft; this tactic is called self lasing. The second tactic is the illumination of the target with the help of a forward air controller on the ground while the pilot will drop the bomb on the designated laser spot; this tactic is called ground lasing. Finally there is the third tactic. The illumination of the target is done by an aircraft while the bomb is dropped by a second aircraft; this tactic is called buddy lasing. All of these tactics are regularly practiced by the French fighter pilots on the practice range at Cazaux.

The ground crew and the pilot will check the plane after landing to get an actual status of the aircraft according to Captain Damien. Also they will fill in a report after the flight to ensure incidents and defects which occurred during the flight will be resolved quickly and safely. After this inspection, the pilot will return to his squadron building for a debriefing. The debriefing of the bombing exercise is based on two main elements. The first part of this debriefing is to determine the accuracy of the bomb which was dropped on the target. This is done by measuring the distance between the crater of the impact and the target. The second evaluation which is carried out is the study of the flight data with respect to the briefing before the mission. The main aspects which are in the second part are the used tactics and flight routes. This part of the debriefing is conducted with visualization on a computer based on the inclusion of flight parame- ters on the HUD of F1CR. The aspiring pilots need to achieve their bombardment skills by dropping a live bomb 2 times a year. They must drop 1 unguided bomb and 1 laser guided bomb to get their qualifications. The more experienced pilots need to drop only 1 live bomb a year to get their qualifications; it doesn’t matter if this bomb is guided or unguided. Finally, there is also a tradition in the French Air Force which is kept alive with respect to the number of hits in the bombing campaign. The units have an internal competition based on the individual scores during the training campaign at the shooting range at Cazaux. This internal competition is traditionally celebrated with a party in the squadron at the end of the exercise.

In the summer of 2014 the curtain falls for the Mirage F1 within the French Air Force after a career of almost 40 years. The versatile Mirage F1 and its crews delivered for many years a loyal contribution to the French Air Force and have been deployed in various conflicts. The last Mirage F1s will be phased out in July 2014. The retired Mirage F1s will be flown to Chateaudun where they go into storage. It is not yet clear if several aircraft will be sold to other countries after their retirement in France. Most of the aircraft will be dismantled and eventually scrapped. The last flight of the Mirage F1 is scheduled during the parade in Paris on July 14. The aircraft will fly their final mission during this famous parade. The Mirages will open the aerial parade as a tribute to the F1 during this parade in Paris. The final farewell ceremony of the Mirage F1 will take place at Mont-de-Marsan on July 13. There are currently still 17 Mirage F1CR and 3 Mirage F1B aircraft in service with ER02.033. From January the Mirage fleet will shrink every month until the parade in Paris. The tasks of the Mirage F1 are taken over by the modern Rafale. The Rafale is already operational for several years in France and will be qualified for reconnaissance missions soon. Savoie is the last unit which is still flying the legendary Mirage F1. Until July 2014, this unit will continue to perform their operational tasks in a professional way. It is not yet known if Savoie will receive the Rafale or will be disbanded in the near future.

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