Chateaudun Air Base Visit

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Chateaudun Air Base (Base Aérienne 279) is home to Entrepét de l’Armée de l’air 601, founded in 1951. EAA 601 is the largest storage for military aircraft in Europe. For test flights, the airfield is open on a daily basis.

The base can be compared to the AMARG in Tucson, Arizona, but aircraft in flyable storage are contained in a specially air-conditioned hangar. At the moment, about 440 aircraft of all types are stored, of which about 200 are in the Polmic hangar. These include Mirage 2000B, 2000C, 2000-5F, 2000N, 2000D, Dornier Alpha Jet, Socata TB 30 Epsilon and Embraer EMB-312 Tucano airframes. In recent years, some bases in France have been closed (Cambrai, Reims and Dijon) and thus the influx in Chateaudun was very large. The Mirage 2000Ns have now also been retired, but the jets of Istres have been scrapped because they want to use the wings for further use. Some of the Mirage 2000Cs have already been retired, and the rest will be retired by 2022. A “second” life will be given to 64 Mirage F.1s, in 2012 the F.1CT was retired and in July 2014 the Mirage F.1C followed. Now the company ATAC (Airborne Tactical Advantage Company) has bought 64 of these retired Mirages, intending to fly some 45 of them as tactical combat trainers, as well as for development and research. Most likely, the rest will be used for spare parts.

The huge Poulmic hangar is the largest single hangar in Europe. It is located in the southeastern corner of the airfield, surrounded by decks and trees with three lines of electrified barbed wire fences. Built in 1937, its modern metal cladding hides its original concrete and steel construction. In the European climate, it is very difficult to store warplanes in such a way that there is no consequential damage. Six industrial dehumidifiers keep the environment at a strict humidity of 45% to prevent moist air corrosion on the sensitive components of the aircraft. Smoke detectors, sprinklers and television cameras are all directly connected to the fire brigade, and are intended to protect a large part of the reserve air force of the country. At Poulmic, Corporal Cheron, one of four electrical engineers, is solely responsible for maintaining the safe environment for the occupants of the hangar. He opened a side door where a sign warned that mobile phones must be left outside because electromagnetic radiation is apparently not desirable.

Once you pass through the airtight door and enter the inside of the three cells, you will be met with a strong smell of kerosene. Turn on the light switch, and the shelter illuminates… and you are amazed at the amount of aircraft that are placed here. However, the jets are all without ejection seats and engines, as these are stored separately in a different hangar. The Air Force jets stored here are basically the war reserve of the French Air Force and the aircraft can be reactivated at any time. The aircraft in the Poulmic are in the hangar for at least one or two years, but it can be extended or shortened if necessary. Aircraft manufacturers have stated that an aircraft can stand in storage for a maximum of two years, after which time it must be returned in full flight order. A month before an aircraft is to be activated, a list of missing parts is drawn up, after which the aircraft comes into the maintenance hangar and is re-prepared for flight operations. This work usually takes 4-6 weeks. After flight tests in Chateaudun, the aircraft can then be returned to the force. The pilots in Chateaudun must be able to fly all aircraft models.

Adjacent to the Poulmic hangar there are other facilities on the huge airfield where planes are parked. There are also some large shelters where 3-5 jets have been parked. Furthermore, there is a very large museum, in which all types of aircraft of the French Air Force are parked, some with colorful paint schemes too. The museum will be preserved after the closure of the Air Base.

One of the main storage areas is the southern end of the closed runway known as the “German runway.” At its southern end there are over 100 abandoned aircraft cells at various stages of dismantling: Mirage 2000C/N, Mirage F.1, Alpha Jet, SEPECAT Jaguar, Fouga CM-170 Magister, Falcon 20 and the hulls of 13 former French Navy (Aeronavale) North 262E transportes the last that flew in 2009.

Outside on the nearby Nivouville side are another 19 Nord 262D Frégate, which operated with the AdA until 2004. In addition, there are about 20 partially disassembled Transall C-160s on the airfield. Then, there are 2 scrapyards on which a total of 70-100 aircraft are standing, some of which are already unrecognizable. These two areas will probably be the first to be cleared.

From 2014, the French government will be able to sell the remaining airframes to recyclers at scrap prices, so that some money will come into the coffers. When a plane arrives in Chateaudun, it is first maintained and thoroughly examined by a team before storage. The technical documentation then advises what work or maintenance needs to be done on the aircraft. The large GERSA hangar is divided into three cells, the first part is where planes are dismantled. The avionics team work on the electrical systems including the radars; weapons systems and hydraulic systems experts have to perform their own tasks. Weapons, ejection seats and engines are all removed. The fuel tanks and hydraulics of the aircraft are then emptied to 90% to ensure that these systems do not fail during their storage times.

In 2017, ATAC had already purchased 63 Mirage F1 jets, 6 million euros-worth of spare parts and 150 Atar 9K50 replacement engines, worth 25 million euros from the French Air Force. About 40 of these aircraft should be back in service, while the rest will be used for parts.

In 2018, it has been announced that the Chateaudun Air Base will be closed. The only question now is where the planes will be stored in the future.

For your support in our report, we would like to thank our hosts warmly! Without your assistance, our two visits would not have been possible.

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