Geoff Stockle reports on Cazaux's 'Meeting Aerien', held on 12 June 2005
Usually there is only one good reason for enthusiasts to visit any show at this base - Singapore Scooters! However this year, along with these wonderful, rare little jets, the line-up for the show was one of the best of any French show and the final appearance of Mirage III, Mirage IV and Jaguar was the icing on the cake!
A huge complex that boasts its own attached bombing range on the adjoining lake, Base Aerienne 120 is home to ETO 008 flying Alpha Jets in the weapons instructor role; EH 01.067 equipped with Pumas in the Search and Rescue role and armed support mission; and the varied fleet of DGA (Délégation Générale pour l'Armement) part of the Centre d'Essais en Vol (CEV), whose aircraft moved in from Bretigny Sur Orge a few years ago; plus a Gendarmarie section that uses two AS350 Squirrels. Lodgers here are 150 'Falcon' squadron of the Royal Singapore Air Force with fifteen A/TA4SU Super Skyhawks and the École de Pilotage Franco-Belge, a detachment of 11 Smaldeel, Belgian Air Force with Alpha Jets in the advanced and weapons training role. This will be enlarged in September when all of the remaining Alphas move south from Beauvechain.
The Meeting Aerien was held on the Sunday, but on the Saturday the base was opened up for three-hundred spotters for an exclusive tour of the static park. Both days were blessed with superb weather and the spotters were treated admirably, with a veritable feast of a packed lunch thrown in for the entry cost of 20 Euros and some superb photographic opportunities laid on. Some one hundred and fifty visiting aircraft attended with about fifty in the static, boosted by the presence of the flightlines being on the public side for some intimate, noisy action. The static featured an Austrian Skyvan, Belgian F-16s, Danish T-17s, German F-4F and Tornado, Italian P166DL3, Moroccan CN235, Dutch Cougar and Singapore A-4s, with ten being visible either on the flightlines, static or in the hangar.
The huge French Air Force participation featured an aircraft from just about every front-line squadron, along with a CEV Mirage 2000B and beautiful hi-viz Falcon 20 with a RDY radar nose and early production Puma. On view were two brand-new aircraft operated by the CEAM for evaluation - a Rafale B and Eurocopter EC725 (improved Cougar). Both seemed very bland in their lo-viz drab grey when compared to all the other front-line French types in their camouflage and colourful unit markings, most colourful of all was this year's EC 01.012 tiger-schemed Mirage 2000C. Oddly no Naval aircraft were present and the only army ALAT machine was a single Gazelle with dayglo trainer marks. Based Alpha Jets featured two special scheme aircraft and some inscriptions on one of the Belgian machines.
Before the show, the excellent, accurate website was frequently updated and so we knew before hand of the inevitable cancellations which included a Rafale M, CEV Casa C212, E-3F, C-135FR and worst of all for us - the privately owned OV-10 Bronco. The flying display was continuous from the 10:00 greeting flypast of two French and two Belgian Alpha Jets to the 18:00 closing flourish by the Patrouille de France. Other teams comprised the Frecce Tricolori, Jordanian Falcons, Moroccan Marche Verte - now flying eight aircraft, and the Patrouille Suisse. Foreign solo acts were the Austrian Draken, Belgian Magister, Belgian, Dutch and Danish F-16s, interspersed with civilian items - Pitts, Flamant, Argus, Harvard, T-28, Corsair and Skyraider. Two civilian items proved to be very much highlights - the Canadair CL-415 disappeared from view after take-off to pick up water from the lake before its display including a huge water drop. The Conair turbo Tracker (or Firecat as they're called by the Securite Civile) was thrown around in a very tight display whilst full of water and tightened up even more after the water drop - superb stuff!
The Armee de l'Air participation included the Alpha Jet, Mirage 2000 and CAP232 solos, along with some set pieces and formations. These included a four-ship Mirage 2000D airfield attack, four 2000Cs performing an air-air demo and formation work and two of the same 'intercepting' a Tucano to show that a slow moving target is as easy for a 2000 to keep up with as a fast one - excellent flying by all.
Two more items proved to be memorable for different reasons - the sight and sound of two Skyhawks airborne is one to be savoured! They flew a co-ordinated airfield attack with two French and two Belgian Alpha Jets before joining up for a 'home team' flypast. Finally, the 25,000 crowd, including vast numbers of foreign visitors and the three hundred or so spotters on the Saturday, bade farewell to three stalwarts of the French Air Force:
First, the Mirage III, which first entered service in 1959 and some 350 were procured in B, BE, C, E, R and RD versions, leaving front line service in 1995. The CEV still had three, although the R version on static had no engine and the IIIE in the flying featured a recce nose.
Second, its big brother, the Mirage IV, which entered service as a nuclear supersonic bomber in 1964 and took on the strategic recce role in 1978, being retired from the nuclear role in 1999. Three IVPs remained in service in 2005 and one had received a wonderful special paint job. We waited on the Saturday for its arrival (a static example had already arrived and a wfu airframe was in a hangar) but to our disappointment a standard camouflaged example turned up - apparently the Paris airshow was the more important event and the special job went there instead - sacre bleu!
Last, but not least, the Anglo-French Jaguar, which has always appeared something of an unloved child in French service and, although giving sterling service in the Gulf, Chad and Bosnia, it always seemed to be overshadowed by its Mirage cousins. It entered service in 1974 and equipped two complete four-squadron wings, although it was never developed as fully as the RAF aircraft. EC 01.007 has been the sole Jaguar user for the last three years and finally retirement had arrived as St Dizier gears up for Rafale. Fittingly a special paint job had been applied to a twin-seater for the event and it looked magnificent, both sides having different artwork.
All three aircraft types performed a couple of formation flybys and a sporting go-around before taxying back to the ramp and shutting down. C'est magnifique!
With thanks to the press and spotters day organising team.