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CHATEAUDUN (Porte Ouvert 1999), 19th September

Chateaudun's impressive gate guard, Mirage IIIRD 367Roger Cook & Andrew Bates report that although originally scheduled for mid June, the ‘open door’ at Chateaudun was postponed until September, which thus undoubtedly saved this event from cancellation, much to the relief of many enthusiasts. Like so many other European countries, operations over Kosovo severely curtailed military shows in France during 1999, with planned events at airfields such as St. Dizier and Avord all falling by the wayside.

Chateaudun Air Base, Base Aerienne 279 ' Lieutenant Beau', lies about 170 miles south-east of Paris and is the main storage and repair facility for the French Air Force. It is home to the ferry squadron of the French Air Force, l'Escadron de Convoyage 00.070 'Chateaudun', which is responsible for the delivery and collection of all aircraft to the squadrons.

On 19th September, for the first time in about five years, the base opened its doors to the public. Being a storage depot there were a number of interesting out of service aircraft as well as a number of preserved types on the base. Unfortunately the weather conspired against the crowds, with grey clouds and occasional drizzle being the order of the day. However, judging by the number of non-French cars in the car park (British, Dutch and Belgian being prevalent), this had not dissuaded a large number of enthusiasts from making the trek, although this was perhaps inevitable considering that this was the only French air force show to go ahead in 1999.

Mirage IVP 1/APAs a consequence of the role of the airfield, all the ‘spotters’ amongst the enthusiasts were rewarded with some multiple line-ups of stored aircraft, including Magisters, Jaguars, Mirage III’s & Mirage IV’s. Admittedly, these had to be viewed from a distance, but where else is it possible to see about twenty Mirage IV’s parked together?

As could be expected, the static display was dominated by French aircraft, but whilst it was pleasing to see a good selection of Mirages and other common types, it was especially welcome to see some of the other lesser seen aircraft featured prominently in the static park.

Including a dramatically mounted gate guard in the shape of Mirage IIIRD 367/33-TP, there were eleven different marks of Mirage in the static display proper, most noticeable being Mirage IVA 1/AP. Other retired airframes included Mirage IIIC 7/2-FD, Mirage IIIR 360/33-TI, Mirage IIIE 584/4-AN and Mirage IIIB 250/DD. The latter was adorned in special markings, proclaiming that this aircraft had accomplished the last flight of a Mirage IIIB in 1993.

With so many aircraft in storage at Chateaudun, it was no surprise to see that some of the residents had also been positioned in the static park. These included Alpha Jet E124, Cap 10B 03, MS.760 Paris 92, and Mirage 2000C 107. As a means of displaying the ‘sharp end’ of the front line, Mirage 2000D 665/3-XV of EC 03.003the Mirage had been parked alongside all the other Mirage variants in attendance, which comprised of Mirage F1B 511/33-FF from EC 03.033, Mirage F1CR 611/33-NN from ER 02.033, Mirage F1CT 248/30-QQ from EC 02.030, and Mirage 2000D 665/3-XV from EC 03.003.

The modern types were not forgotten in the static display as apart from the expected various marks of Mirage F1 and 2000s there was a good variety of aircraft from the French Air Force. Such included Xingu 092/Yl, MS760 Paris 92, TBM 700 124/XJ, a pair of Tucanos (477/312-JU and 492/312-UK from GI 00.312), Epsilon 112/312-YC, DHC-6 786, Mystere 20 115/339-JG, Jaguar A115/T, AS355N 5466/67-VW and Allouette 2054/67-CI, both from EH 03.067. The RAF and Royal Navy supported with Tornado GR1s ZA585/AH and ZG771/AZ from 9 Squadron, HawkT1A XX190 from 208(R) Sqn, Sea King AEW2 ZE418/CU182 from 849 Sqn and Jetstream XX487/CU568.

Click for sunshine!Germany brought two nicely marked up aircraft in the form of Tornado 45+93 and F4F 37+86, as well as an all grey F4F 38+69 from JG74. 37+86 had been painted in a special red and black colour scheme to celebrate 40 years of JG71, and 25 years of F4F operations. This aircraft was undoubtedly the star item for most of the photographers, together with rather more familiar Tornado 45+93 from AKG51, still resplendent in the tiger scheme it had worn for the RIAT at Fairford in 1998.

The flying display was dominated, as expected, by many Armee de l’Air types, including all the familiar performers such as the Mirage F1C duo from EC 03.033, Mirage 2000B from EC 02.005, and, of course, the Alpha Jets of the Patrouille de France. However, there were some less familiar types performing in the flying programme, including CN.235 128/62-IK from ET 01.062, and C135FR 38470/93-CA from ERV 00.093.

B17G 'Lucky Lady'Similarly with the static, foreign participation in the flying programme was also limited to two countries, with aircraft being provided by Belgium and Switzerland. It was no surprise to see that the FAB had despatched a pair of Magisters to Chateaudun, so that this distinctive shape could again be seen performing in the skies, as a reminder of the AdlA’s long association with this type.

Greatest applause from the audience was for the Swiss display team, the Patrouille Suisse, and their brightly coloured F-5E Tigers. Their obvious French connections were an advantage, but it was the trademark finale which really stole the show. Performing their usual ‘bomb burst’ break, the dispensing of flares, as they usually do, seemed even more spectacular than normal, thanks to the grey clouds which seemed to accentuate the intensity of the flares, much to the delight of all the spectators present.

Historic aircraft were also in evidence, with a variety of types on the flightline, some of which flew in the display. These included B-17G 44-8846/F-AZDX, AT-6G Harvard 14387/F-AZEF, MD312 Flamant 276/F-AZER, MH1521 Broussard 104/307-FG/F-GHFG, AD-4N Skyraider 125716/22-DG/F-AZFN, and ex-Swiss Air Force Vampire FB6 J-1159/F-AZHJ in a French Navy colour scheme as ’57.S.9’.

So, after all the airshow cancellations in France, for many of those present this show was well worth the wait, and with things seemingly back to normal it is hoped that ‘business as usual’ will enable the authorities to sanction a return to the usual quantity of French military shows for the 2000 display season, especially if they are of the same calibre as Chateaudun. What lies in open storage on the far side of the airfield is quite mouth-watering and would make a huge and very interesting static display on its own.

All photos by Roger Cook, Pynelea Photo Bureau unless stated otherwise.


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