Michel Gérard has returned to the Flightsim scene and has begun providing periodic photos and
information relating to Mirage aircraft and his experience with the Armée de l'Air.
To view and read the previous contributions by Michel please visit these pages.
In a previous article Michel Gérard described
a flight with the Mirage 4000 prototype and alluded that there were more photos
available. Michel recently shared them with me and here they are for others
to view as well. - Frank Safranek
These were taken during February 25, 1982 while Escadron de Chasse 3/2 "Alsace" was dispatched
for a few days to Istres AFB in the south of France. Istres is not only an Armée de l'Air
base, but also the home of the French test pilot school, École du Personnel Navigant d'Essais et
de Réception (EPNER), and it houses both a government flight test establishment and
Dassault's private flight test center.
The pilot in the Mirage 4000 was the then Dassault chief test pilot, Jean-Marie Saget,
who celebrated this day his 10,000th hour of flight.
The pilot of Mirage IIIE n°521 (2-LA) was Saget's own son, Claude Saget, who later went on
to be the Commanding Officer of the Armée de l'Air's Aerobatic Teams, after having been
himself a test pilot and flight test instructor for 10 years. Both father and son
are pictured after the flight in the bottom right photo.
Two more photos show aircraft from the three Mirage III units stationed at
Base Aérienne 102 Dijon Longvic in formation with Mirage 2000 prototype n°4.
The aircraft and units represented are Mirage IIIE's from Escadron de Chasse 1/2
"Cigognes" and Escadron de Chasse 3/2 "Alsace" as well as a Mirage IIIBE from Escadron
de Chasse de Transformation 2/2 "Cote d'or".
Look at the attached pictures of a natural metal IIIBE in flight with a Libyan
pilot at the controls on his first solo flight.
This guy saved my life and the life of the pilot in the front seat (CDT Chataigner)
on that day of July 1977. Both Chataigner and myself were very busy
monitoring this Libyan on finals. GCA was the usual way to do, there
was no ILS at Dijon in 1977 and the ATCS monitored the airspace. We
didn't even think of looking at what might happen in front of our aircraft.
We were intended to keep close formation with him until he touched down, yet
leaving him the entire width of the runway, and then to put full throttle
again to make a circuit and land in our turn as was usual practice on a first
Yet on short finals we heard him shouting on the radio "Airrrcrrrraft in
frrrront !!!!". We just had time to break away and to see a furtive
white aircraft silhouette with HB-??? painted on the fuselage passing a few
yards beneath our Mirage. The Libyan trainee landed safely, and we
made our airport circuit. Further investigation revealed that a Swiss
private pilot had announced that he was transiting at two nautical miles
parallel to the runway at 6.000 ft, yet he was parallel to the other runway,
i.e. 20° from our course, and at 1.500 ft.
As explained in one of my earlier articles, the Mirage
IIIE could be fitted with a rocket engine (SEPR 841) which boosted its performance.
In order to fly these missions, the pilots had to wear a special flight gear
which was unofficially dubbed the "habit de lumière" (light suit). This
consisted of a very smart white leather flying suit to which an astronaut-like
helmet was mated just prior to boarding the aircraft.
Yes, when wearing this "habit de lumière" they could be regarded as Knights
of the Sky (according to the name of a well known French
comic strip which later turned into a popular TV series). And
indeed they were, flying fast and high. A rocket-engined Mirage IIIE could
reach up to 75,000 ft, and it did have astonishing climb and sustained turn
rate performance at high altitude. But at high altitude only!
I remember we had in 1978 in Dijon the visit of an F-15A coming from Bitburg
for an open day. A rocket engined IIIE was scrambled to welcome him,
together with a twin-seater for photographic purposes (I still have the
picture but I can't scan it, it is a large size negative which doesn't fit
in my scanner). They joined-up at approximately 7,000 ft, the guy
in the IIIE (Capitaine Gérard Resnier as far as I remember) fired his
rocket engine but the Eagle driver was surprised by the rocket flash,
thought he was being intercepted and put full throttle forwards. At
this altitude the IIIE, although with the rocket engine, couldn’t do
anything and the pilot just had to look at the F-15 with its two P&W F100
climbing steadily out of range.
But things were not as simple as it might seem. The white leather
suit was just an over wear, beneath it there was pressurized suit which
had to be closely adjusted to the pilot's body as the accompanying picture
shows, and then tested under pressure. You will notice that the
methods used to adjust this pressurized suit were quite rudimentary!
The bearded pilots did have some trouble putting the stratospheric helmet on, too...
Here are some unusual pictures I have had the opportunity to take in September
1987. My Squadron, EC 3/2 "Alsace", was practicing Air-to-Air gunnery in
Solenzara (Corsica). One of the best known tourism resorts in Corsica is
the village of Bonifacio, at the extreme South of the island, with its unmistakable
cliffs. Bonifacio is only 35 NM away from Solenzara (a mere 5 minutes of
flight), so it was common practice for us to make a flypast and take a few pictures.
Such was the case on that September day, with a four-ship formation taking-off
for gunnery training. I was supposed to make a back seat ride in a Fouga
Magister, we would join-up with the Mirages on their way back from the gunnery
range somewhere over the open sea between Corsica and Italy, and then let's
go for the pictures over Bonifacio.
Yet, prior to take-off, my friend Claude Saget, who was N°4 in this flight, told
me: "Hey Michel! You better have your camera ready, I'm gonna fly inverted
in the diamond formation...".
I was a little bit amazed but, knowing him as I did, there was no pun: he would do it!
So we took-off in the Fouga, joined-up with the four Mirages and made a first very
clean flypast over Bonifacio. After that, the four-ship formation split into
two two-ship formations. Claude rolled inverted behind his leader and kept
this mirror formation for a while (A way to practice, I guess! But I knew
it was not his first attempt at this kind of flying; he has told me a few months
before that he few inverted as often as possible).
Then we flew a few miles away from Bonifacio in order to make things less conspicuous,
the four-ship diamond formation built up once again and... here are the results!
I hadn't shown those pictures before, they were taken more than twenty years ago,
Claude (who later became a test pilot and ended his career as the C.O. of the
French Air Force aerobatic & display teams) has retired several years ago.
I wonder whether such pictures would be possible in the present day Air Force, although some
very low flying videos
I have found on the web make me think that the Fighter spirit is always still at its peak!
Here is the story of a Pink Harrier. Although not strictly speaking a
Mirage story, it is very closely Mirage-related.
Things happened in October 1976. A Squadron Exchange had been arranged
between EC 3/2 Alsace and RAF N°1 Sqn. Our British friends had sent
four Harriers (two GR.1s, one GR.3 and a T.2 twin seater).
Unfortunately on the French side the exchange had been cancelled at the last
moment because of budgetary constraints and no EC 3/2 Mirage went to the U.K.
The twin seaters of EC 2/2 were used to provide British pilots some experience
of the way a delta behaves. The Squadron Exchange was to last one week.
Unfortunately, on arrival the T.2 (XW934) made a heavy landing and broke
something on the ventral fin as far as I remember; therefore it became
unserviceable and was stored in a hangar where it should remain until the
necessary parts were sent from the U.K.
Never mind, those parts were expected to be received very soon. The
Squadron Exchange went on very smoothly, at least during the first days.
We took this opportunity to learn more about the way the RAF was facing a
drastic reduction in its overall size. For instance, one of the Air
Traffic Controllers with the British detachment was a former HS Andover
pilot who had been offered no other opportunity than switching to ATC.
This told much about the "shrinkage".
During the whole week the weather was very bad, and this accounts for the
poor quality of the pictures. Only one afternoon of fair weather
allowed our British friends to make a two-ship display which was much
But, as time went one, the spare parts for the T.2 still did not
arrive and the machine remained in its hangar, much to the displeasure
of French pilots who hoped to make a few back side rides in this very
unusual aircraft. As for them, British pilots kept on flying in
Mirage IIIBs and IIIBEs. That was kind of frustrating! The parts
finally arrived on the day before the British detachment was to leave.
Time to fix the damaged ventral fin and to make a test flight, and the
day was over. So not a single French pilot flew in the Harrier,
and people were quite upset.
Add to this the fact that one British engineer had painted on the same
afternoon on the fin of Mirage IIIE N°425 / 2-EE a cartoon rendition of
a Harrier "doing things" to the Stork of SPA 3 (it would be indecent to
reproduce here a close-up of this painting), and the tension was at its
In the meantime another event had gone unnoticed. Four Etendard
IVMs had landed during the afternoon to refuel, but one of them had a
technical problem. This plane happened to be flown by a British
Fleet Air Arm pilot on exchange with the French Navy. So the
leader remained with him overnight in Dijon until the necessary parts
arrived the next morning whilst the other two Etendards made their way
to Southern France.
On that night a party was organized at the Officers' Mess.
Everybody in ceremony suit, the ladies in evening dress, this was
intended to be a very smart party indeed. But it was without
accounting with the small detail that can ruin everything…
When we arrived at the bar we found the two Etendard pilots in
flying suit (they never could have expected to stay overnight in
Dijon); the FAA guy already was in advanced state, and he was drinking
beer in one of his flying boots.
It soon turned out that this FAA pilot had made his flight training
course with one of the Harrier pilots. So the meeting again
was very enthusiastic… So enthusiastic that what was initially
intended to be a smart party soon became something much warmer.
On the French side spirits turned warmer too, and we soon decided to
pay back the honour to our British comrades. The twin-seat
Harrier was to be the obvious victim. Only a few tags were
intended at first glance, but as things went on the entire airframe
was repainted with various shades of pink, white and red.
Our engineers had very carefully masked the various vents and the
markings so that no problem should occur. But the paint we
used was not a washable distempter, it was emulsion – we had
nothing else at hand!
Early in the morning, once this paintjob was over, the T.2 was towed
to the apron. Just after breakfast the British
aircrews discovered it with some stupefaction. A great part
of the Dijon Airbase staff was already there, hilarious.
Realizing that it was too late to do anything, the British detachment
leader was very fair-play. The four-ship formation took off,
they went to join-up South of the Airbase and then they made a very
clean (and very low) diamond flypast over the Base. The pink
twin-seater was the leader, and very appropriately this flight's
callsign was "Pink"!
I have heard that this machine had had to be returned to BAe for a
complete scraping and a new paintjob.
Soon after this Squadron Exchange we received a thankful letter
from N°1 Sqn, stating that the exchange had been a true delight,
that never on any other airbase they had been received with so much
warmness, and so on, BUT… that if ever a Mirage pilot had to land
at Wittering one day or another, he would have to return by feet!
A couple of years later we had another Squadron Exchange, with N°92
Sqn RAF Germany this time. The detachment coming from
Wildenrath included a party from the RAF Regiment, and their Phantom
FGR.2's were guarded night and day. One really wonders why…!
But this exchange with N°92 Sqn was the opportunity to re-establish
a very cordial relationship between Dijon and the RAF, as can be
seen from the picture I have taken in January 1979 showing the
hearty arrival of a Wildenrath Phantom at Dijon.
The aircrew (Flt Lt Chris Dennis and Flt Lt Denis Marshall-Hasdell) had come
to spend the week-end with us in Burgundy. Happy times when
it was still possible in western air forces to "borrow" a fighter
aircraft and go to spend a week-end abroad!
Please have a close look at this Mirage IIIB. This is what can be called a "single
seater twin-seater". A rather uncommon sight indeed.
When the Mirage IIIC first entered operational service in 1961 it already had been
realized that stepping from the swept wing subsonic Mystere IVA to the delta Mach 2
Mirage was not a simple affair. Attrition soon turned out to be very high, so a twin-seater
trainer was designed as a stop-gap measure in order to cope with that.
The Mirage IIIB, as it was known, shared all the difficult flying characteristics
with its single-seater counterpart. Very high take-off and landing speeds, unusually
high AOA on finals, hairy landing. That was what it had been designed for, by the way!
Yet, according to the pilots who flew it, once airborne it was the most pleasant of
the whole Mirage III family to fly. Devoid of any military equipment (no radar, just
a ballast weight in the nose, no guns, no provision for a rocket engine), it was kind
of a supersonic flying-club machine! Many pilots reported it as the most maneuverable
of the whole bunch.
At that time, twin-seaters were designed as pure flying skill trainers and were not
intended to provide any kind of weapons system proficiency.
The operational Mirage IIIC was essentially intended as the spearhead of France's Air
Defence, so the basic mission was: "Take-off, climb, acquire, shoot, forget, and get
back home as soon as possible". For this purpose it had even been designed from the
outset to be fitted with a rocket engine (see one of my earlier posts). This rocket
engine helped it to climb high and fast, despite obvious endurance shortcomings.
Yet the twin seaters were quite sufficient to help pilots get accustomed with the very
demanding performance of the new deltas. In the early sixties electronics were basic, to
say the least, and armament system training was conducted at Squadron level once the
trainee pilots had learned how to master the machine.
Things got much more complicated seven years later, when the "multi-role" Mirage IIIE
was introduced into service. The new aircraft was no longer a pure interceptor, it had
been designed for air-to-air, air-to-ground and nuclear strike missions.
Just to help understand how things were going on, soon after the Mirage IIIE's entry
into service a couple of Mystere XXs were fitted with the Mirage IIIE's navigation &
armament system (Systeme de Navigation et d'Armement). They received the Cyrano IIbis
nose radome which significantly modified the aircraft's appearance. The Doppler fairing
was located under the tail of the aircraft.
Those aircraft were dubbed Mystere XX SNA and the first one entered service in 1969
(C/N 432 - 339-WL), nicknamed "Boule de Cristal". The second machine (C/N 186 - 339-WM)
was nicknamed "Aladin". Later, additional aircraft were fitted with the Mirage F1CR and
Mirage 2000N systems.
So pilots were trained to fly the Mirage III in twin-seaters (IIIBs and IIIBEs), and then
they learnt how to use the IIIE's systems on Mystere XXs. Those Mystere XX SNAs had a
specially modified cockpit where the right seat received a Mirage IIIE panel for fighter
pilot training, whilst the aircraft was flown from the left seat during take-off and landing.
In the rear cabin there were two or three additional Mirage IIIE radar scopes (I don't
remember the exact number) so that several pilots could be trained on the same mission.
Yet this still left space for a couple of passengers too, and I several times took the
opportunity of flying on those unusual machines for some quite unusual flights.
The Mystere XX had plenty of petrol, so a typical high-altitude mission would involve taking-off
from Dijon heading South, climbing towards FL300 over the Rhone Valley with the snowy Alps on
your left, overflying many cities in southern France heading West towards the Atlantic Ocean,
then turning North-North-East for a cross-country flight of some 400+ NM at FL300 towards the
Saint-Inglevert NDB in the northernmost part of France. There, if the weather was good, you
could see the City of London at a distance of approximately 30 NM and you even could see boats
on the River Thames - providing the weather was clear enough and your own built-in "Eyeball Mk.1
device" was of good quality, obviously! Then you turned South-South-East to make your way back
to Dijon, overflying such bases as Cambrai-Epinoy and Reims-Champagne.
Such a typical flight involved 1100 to 1200 NM and had a duration of 2½ to 3 hours. You could
be intercepted by several Combat Air Patrols, and you invariably were intercepted by the QRA
aircraft too, for which those Mystere XX SNAs were ideal high-flying targets. So, seeing a
Mirage F1 flying close formation with a Mystere XX is quite an unusual sight, isn't it?
Although the Mystere XX was a transport aircraft, those Mystere XX SNAs belonged to the
Tactical Air Command (Force Aérienne Tactique, or FATac). They were operated by CPIR 339 whose
home base was BA 116 in Luxeuil-Saint-Sauveur and flown by fighter pilots.
I remember one of the CPIR pilots telling me: "That Mystere XX has been designed by Dassault
as a real fighter. It only lacks a couple of 30 mm guns!". In fact CPIR pilots
often maneuvered their Mystere XXs as though they were fighter aircraft, to such an extent
that one machine was heavily damaged after pulling too much "Gs".
But the Mystere XX is beyond the scope of this site, so back to the Mirage IIIB now. As told
earlier, the IIIB was probably the most pleasant version to fly. Yet, as a counterpart, it was
completely devoid of any military equipment.
It had been evolved from the IIIC pure interceptor airframe and, to sum-up in brief, changes were as follows:
Therefore, a Mirage IIIB flown as a twin-seater couldn't be armed with guns (this comment
applies only to the IIIB; the later IIIBE, evolved from the IIIE airframe, had a different
arrangement and it could be flown with its guns).
- Deletion of the radar (replaced by a ballast - the black painted "radome" was completely fake)
- Installation of the instructor's (back) seat in place of the radio equipment (the front
part of the fuselage had to be lengthened a little bit too)
- Then, where to put the radio equipment? The plane needed it. So the radio equipment was
installed in place of the gun chassis
Yet, those Mirage IIIBs were needed for gunnery training on some instances too. And, in case
of hostilities, it would have been a great pity not to be able to use those machines as combat
aircraft. Therefore, a special rack was designed to be fitted in place of the rear seat, housing
the radio equipment which in normal time was fitted in place of the guns.
The Mirage IIIB could be flown with guns, but when armed it became a single-seater! The attached
pictures show how things worked. So here is the "single seater twin-seater". The aircraft
depicted is Mirage IIIB N°204 which happens to be the first IIIB that received a grey-green camouflage
instead of the overall natural metal livery in early 1979.
But the IIIB could be flown as a stratospheric machine too, as two of the attached pictures testify!
Here is what happened during June or July 1979, I don't remember the exact date. This Mirage
IIIE of EC 1/2 "Cigognes" (N°423 / 2-EL) was flown by a pilot of EC 3/2 "Alsace", Sergent-Chef
Serge Gaerni, on an air combat patrol against two Jaguars. Serge ended up making a full rear
sector gun pass against one of the Jaguars with high closing speed. He ended his gun pass
so close to the Jaguar's tail that he got caught inside its wake, not managing to break away.
At the very last moment he succeeded and avoided collision, but he pulled so hard on the stick that
he exceeded by far the allowable g-limit, bending the main spar in the process. The entire
airframe suffered, some rivets popping away here and there. Fortunately he managed to land
This Mirage was damaged beyond repair capability at Wing level and had to be dismantled prior
to transportation by truck to the Atelier Industriel de l'Air in Clermont-Ferrand/Aulnat for
a complete overhaul.
The light side of the thing is that it allows us to see a Mirage under a very unusual aspect,
and to discover some details that are usually hardly visible. These pictures should be
useful for modelers and painters alike.
Here are some pictures I took in September 1980 at the Centre d'Essais en Vol (Air Test
Centre) in Bretigny (LFPY), an airbase located approximately 20 miles South of Paris
and that boasted one of the longest runways in France. Aerial activity has been
brought to a halt in 2001 due to the vicinity of Paris.
Worthy of note on these pictures is the Mirage IIIE prototype (N°01) which spent all
of its career with the Centre d'Essais en Vol. This machine was used to test various
equipments, and therefore was adorned with a great variety of nose shapes.
Another plane of interest is Mirage IIIB N°235. Yes, it is a Mirage IIIB, as the
serial number, the tail fairing and the fin shape indicate, and definitely not a IIIBE
as the nose cone would tend to suggest. Remember: CEV aircraft most of the time
were adorned with unusual nose shapes!
The unusual position of the fuselage roundel on both aircraft is worthy of note, too.
At that time (1980) CEV still used several Gloster Meteor twin-seaters, both NF.11s
and NF.14s. Although more than 30 yeas old the Meteors were much appreciated as
test aircraft, for three reasons:
- First and foremost, they had a huge nose cone that could house a wide variety of
- Being twin-seaters, they allowed for a back-seat operator to take place and test
the systems whilst airborne (it was still light-years away from data link)
- Their flight endurance could exceed 1 ½ hour, they could reach FL400 and maintain
400 Kts at low altitude
All of them were kept in pristine condition, they seldom flew more than 60 hours a
year, and several airframes had been acquired from the U.K. solely for cannibalization;
therefore, there was no shortage of spare part.
But the Meteor is definitely beyond the scope of this site!
Here are some pictures I took a very long time ago (it was in 1981). We were
celebrating our Squadron's 40th Anniversary – it had been created as part of the Free
French Forces in 1941 and then served within the RAF as 341 Sqn "Alsace" – and we had
tried to gather as many types of planes having served in our markings as possible.
One not very obvious choice was the Vampire. Our Squadron had been one of the very
first flying Vampires in France. At that time, many Vampires were still flying
in Switzerland. So I made a request to the Swiss Embassy, albeit with no hope
at all. Those guys are neutral, and they never (at that time) had allowed military
aircraft to fly outside of their boundaries.
Yet, much to my surprise, we got a positive answer a few weeks later! Although
the answer was a little bit surprising: "Well, you know, I'm the Commanding Officer
of the Flying School in Sion, I have been requested by my Headquarters to send two
Vampires for your airshow. But the Vampires are by no means recent aircraft,
this is not very representative of the Swiss Air Force. Would you mind if we
repaint them in French Markings?"
You can imagine my answer! The next day I sent them a file with all necessary
details (which they didn't send back, unfortunately).
For some unknown reason, they painted a single seater Mk.6 and a twin-seat trainer Mk.55
(the "unknown" reason been that our Squadron C.O. had requested a twin-seater in the
hope of making a right seat ride, which he didn't do).
But, 26 years later, his preposterous request finally makes sense. This obviously
has been the only military – I mean not civilian owned - twin-seat Vampire ever to fly
in French markings!
Just look at the picture with a Mirage IIIE (the pilot was CDT – and later GEN - Nicolas)
overshooting the two Vampires with the SEPR 841 rocket engine on; looks to me like a Tomcat
overshooting a Zero in
"The Final Countdown",
yet this was pure reality, not like in the movie picture.
Here are at last the photos of the Vampire Flight including the flypast over Dijon Air
Force Base – and of what happened afterwards too. We were definitely unlucky that
day, the weather was very poor.
Above are the participants of this flight, from left to right: Hauptmann Egger (the driver
of the twin-seater), Oberleutnant Bohnenblust (as far as I remember, the pilot of the single-seater),
Commandant Jean-Michel Nicolas (the one who managed to ignite his SEPR 841 rocket engine), an NCO
whose name has escaped me (it was 26 years ago!) and who was riding right seat in the twin-seater
Vampire, and Capitaine Patrick Porchier (the one who didn't manage to fire his faulty rocket engine).
Missing on the photograph are Lieutenant-Colonel Laporte, the pilot of the twin-seat Mirage IIIBE
and myself obviously, since I'm taking the pictures.
One small detail is worthy of note: our engineers had prepared "Alsace" badge stickers which
they were instructed to put on the fin of all aircraft taking part in the Anniversary celebration.
So, as soon as the Vampires took a halt on the apron, they were quick to apply their stickers,
as can be seen from some pictures. Quite obviously those stickers were totally irrelevant
to the Vampires, so I soon instructed them to remove the stickers, as can be seen from the later
Well, 26 years later, when having a look back at these old pictures, it appears to me that the
documents I had sent to our Swiss friends to help them repaint the aircraft were rather accurate.
To read the description by Michel of the flight to escort
the Swiss Vampires from the France-Switzerland border to Dijon
click here. - Frank Safranek
Here are some pictures of what happened in Dijon at the beginning of a sunny Friday afternoon
during the Spring of 1977.
Two Mirage IIIE's belonging to Escadron de Chasse 3/2 "Alsace" had been fitted with 1700 litre
drop tanks to practice low altitude navigation in Northern Germany; as far as I remember, air
to ground gunnery at Hechteren in the Netherlands was scheduled too.
These 1700 litre drop tanks were very unusual in Dijon; our planes performed mostly air defence
missions, and therefore the 1700 litre tanks (dubbed "Grosse Couilles" in French, i.e. "Big
Testicles", or whatever you call it in a more imaged language) were very unusual indeed.
Most of the time they were used by some high ranking Staff Officers who had to perform their 30
hours yearly allocation in order to keep their flying bonus. Some of those guys preferred
to make high altitude navigations of 2½ hours duration just to burn some petrol.
Just for the sake of memory, this configuration was called "6-Bravo". In the Mirage III,
configuration was indicated by a combination of figures and letters. Figures indicated the
armament, and letters indicated the petrol layout. Here are some examples:
- 6 : 30 mm DEFA guns
- 7 : AIM-9 Sidewinder
- 8 : Matra 550 Magic
- 11 : Matra 530
So, for instance, a plane flying in "6+8-Echo Zulu" would have guns, Magic missiles, 500 litre
tanks and leading edge tanks too. A plane flying in "11-Golf" would have the rocket engine
and the Matra 530 missile but no guns (it was not possible to fly with both the rocket engine and
the guns, anyways, as I had explained in one of my earlier postings).
A "Pure Alpha" would be an unarmed plane flying on internal petrol only – this configuration was
used mainly to perform aerobatic displays.
- Alpha : no underwing tanks, internal petrol only
- Bravo : 1700 litre tanks
- Echo : 500 litre supersonic tanks
- Golf : SEPR 841 rocket engine
- Hotel : 625 litre tanks
- Juliet : 1300 litre tanks
- Zulu : leading edge tanks (for those planes that were fitted with L.E. tanks, I don't remember
with which serial N° this started, somewhere in the 450+)
Now let's return to what happened on that Friday afternoon. The two-ship formation was manned
by two very experienced pilots. The leader was Capitaine Henri de Waubert de Genlis, who was
at the time one of the two Flight Commanders of EC 3/2 and who later became a test pilot, and the
wingman was Sergent-Chef Prime Martin, who was the official Air Force display pilot for the Mirage IIIE.
The leader took off without problem, but the wingman suffered a nosewheel tire blow just before
rotation. As the procedures implied, he then aborted his take-off and went to finish into
the crash barrier, as the accompanying pictures show. This was quite a hairy maneuver because
of the very high take-off weight in this configuration, but Prime made a sterling job as usual and
he managed to maintain the aircraft in line down to the very last moment.
So the plane went to a halt in the position shown and nobody was hurt. Yet, this was the
beginning of some very serious problems! Quite obviously, with a plane into the crash barrier,
Dijon's 18/36 Runway was unusable. The other runway (02/20) was not suitable for landing a Mirage.
So, the airborne leader probably would have to divert to an alternate, such as Luxeuil, 60 NM away.
That would have been a normal procedure.
BUT!!!! But remember, we were on a Friday afternoon; on that Friday night Henri de Waubert was organizing
a big party at his place. Henri's parties were well known in the Air Force, there were plenty of
people invited, including some Generals coming from Paris.
Therefore, diverting to Luxeuil was out of question, he HAD to land in Dijon, and the runway had to be
cleared as soon as possible. Flight time for the airborne aircraft was approximately 2½ hours,
so things were feasible. Except for one slight problem: a Mirage III with full 1700 litre drop
tanks could not be hoisted by a crane. Tanks had to be drained first, otherwise there was a risk
of the main wingspar bending.
So the tanks had to be drained into a refueling truck. The idea sounds simple, doesn't it?
Yes, but refueling trucks on an air base are intended to refuel aircraft, and not the contrary.
So all available trucks were full, obviously. And a truck had to be drained prior to draining the
airplane itself, and so on. Quite a complicated task…
Nevertheless the engineers managed to do everything in time, Henri de Waubert cruised at the most
economic speed possible, the runway was cleared and he could land at the opposite QFU without any
The party was very successful!
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