One more time, Saint-Dizier & Nancy AFB 2017
During the months of July and September I made two trips to France and spend some time at the airbases Nancy and Saint-Dizier to see the activity over there.
On July 18 I made my first stop at Saint-Dizier were runway 11 was in use and I noted fifteen different Rafales during the day. One flying Rafale B 325 4-HX was a bit special, because it was temporary stored for almost three years at BA 279 Châteaudun which is responsible for the temporary storage of many airworthy aircraft, in humidity controlled hangars, from the Armée de l’air. Before noon and a second time in the afternoon there was an practice exercise with a AS555AN Fennec from EH 03.067 which had two snipers on board to intercept a Robin DR-400-160F with registration F-GEKD and forced it to land at Saint-Dizier. With this so called MASA (Mesures Actives de Sûreté Aérienne) exercise, pilots are practicing to intercept potential light aircraft (helicopters, ULM, aircraft) whose behaviour might seem dangerous or suspect. Helicopters are sometimes more effective and less expensive than fighters like Mirage 2000 or Rafale to do these jobs. During the day, blessed with nice weather but sometimes also some low clouds, several Mirage 2000 from Nancy did a fly-by or made an ILS approach on runway 29. When I almost drove away to look for a hotel in the neighbourhood, I suddenly heard the start up of two engines from a Rafale. Equipped with four Mica air-to-air missiles under its wings the Rafale B chased five minutes later to the runway and departed immediately sky high. Within 40 minutes this PO came back and landed.
To increase the operational capabilities of Base aérienne 113 at Saint-Dizier several new investments were done here over the last years, such as the renovation of the runway, taxiway and parking, new sun sheds, a new shooting stand and a new control tower from the last generation.
Also a new area was created with buildings and a hangar nearby runway 11 to lodge the PO ‘permanence opérationelle’ or ‘police du ciel’. These investments improve also the living conditions of the crews on alert 24/24.
Nowadays operational continuity is organized into four main blocks of alert. In the East, ‘Saint-Dizier’, the South ‘Orange’, the West ‘Mont de Marsan’ and the Northwest ‘Tours’ or ‘Lann-Bihoue’ near Lorient. To protect the capital Paris there are also detachments from the PO at Base aérienne 105 Évreux-Fauville since they closed in 2016 Base aérienne 110 Creil.
On alert 24 hours on 24, two interception aircraft (Mirage 2000B/C, Mirage 2000-5F or Rafale B/C and M) are ready to fly out from each of these spots in less than seven minutes. This means that eight aircraft are capable to depart in a few minutes to intercept, identify and escort of distressed or suspicious aircraft above the French territory.
A PO Rafale and Mirage 2000-5F is nowadays equipped with MICA air-to-air missiles from manufacturer MDBA for both short and long range use.
MICA stands for 'Missile d’Interception et de Combat Aérien', or interception and aerial combat missile and can be used in the dogfight and in the long range role.
MICA has a totally dual role. It is able to cope with both BVR (Beyond Visual Range) and SR (Enhanced Short Range) combat situations and exhibits very high performance in both situations. The weapon covers beyond Visual Range situations and in addition offers 2 guidance systems with its 2 interoperable seekers. RF MICA with radar seeker providing all weather shoot-up / shoot down capability and IR MICA with dual waveband imaging infrared seeker surpassing latest generation AAM missiles. The MICA has a range of 0.5 to 60 km. In the near future Rafale will BE capable to be armed with the MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile. The new, ramjet-propelled Meteor will offer a no-escape zone several times greater than that of today’s missiles. A Mirage 2000B/C uses nowadays only the older Matra R-550 Magic II air-to-air missiles since they withdraw from service the Matra S-530D in 2012.
On the following pictures you can see the various aircraft with their respective armament configurations. These pictures were taken over several visits over the past years to these bases.
After a good sleep I drove in the morning from July 19 towards Nancy, which is located one hundred km to the east. After I parked my car nearby runway 20 and finished my breakfast I noted some noise from a distance. Within seconds two Rafales from Saint-Dizier were visible and did a touch and go and left the scene with full afterburners. A few minutes later several local Mirage 2000D departed and with the recovery I was happy to see two special painted Mirage 2000D which commemorate 100 years SPA 95 and 153, which are the first and second escadrille from Escadre de Chasse EC 01.003 Navarre. These aircraft were also seen many times during air shows in France and Europe with the Couteau Delta tactical display team.
After the recovery from five other Mirage 2000D I drove back to Saint-Dizier where the weather turned to be much better than expected. Here I spotted in the afternoon twelve different Rafales, mostly from EC01.004 ‘Gascogne’ and two Mirage 2000D. The Navy Rafale M 33 was a new resident for ETR 03.004.
Two months later on September 21 I paid another visit to Saint-Dizier. With some delays, because of road works, I arrived just in time to see several Rafales departing heading west. After their recovery at runway 29, which included another new navy Rafale M 37 for ETR 03.004, the red PAPI ‘Precision Approach Path Indicators’ lights went out and barrier was installed at the beginning of the runway it was about time to move to Hallignicourt on the other side. Here I arrived just in time to see the landing from a special painted Socata TBM700A from Escadron de Transport 43 ‘Medoc’ based at Bordeaux. This TBM700A had a special scheme to commemorate 70 years ‘ELA 43 1947-2017’ and was a nice catch between all the flying Rafales, mostly from EC01.004 ‘Gascogne’, that I saw today. In the afternoon the PO was started up and to my surprise it was a Rafale C from EC.03.030 Lorraine, normally based at Mont de Marsan, which departed to the east for a flight that lasted 1 hours 20. It was funny to hear some days later from a Swiss spotter that he saw this Rafale on the same day above Payerne intercepting the Falcon 900EX-EASy T-785 from the Lufttransportdienst des Bundes/Swiss Airforce. With four incoming Rafales, which made a very nice formation flyby above the airbase, and the last arrivals it was time to say goodbye to the visiting gendarmes which recognized me from the earlier visits. With the sight of a beautiful sunset in the rear view mirror from my car I departed home.
Text & Photography: Edwin Huskens
Source weapons: website MDBA