It’s August in southern France. The weather has been sunny and hot for weeks, but things are changing today as dark clouds appear over Orange airbase. An omen for the Dassault Mirage 2000s of Escadron de Chasse (EC) 02.005 “Île de France”, otherwise known as the Orange Masters? This unit, which first stood up in 1941, plays an important role in the history of the Armée de l´Air (French Air Force), being the first unit to land in unoccupied France after World War II. Tragic headlines were also made last March.
In the past the unit trained many Mirage 2000 pilots, also for foreign operatos such as Brasil. Nowadays, as newer aircraft types are getting operational, the only foreigners at Orange are exchange pilots. Our guide – nickname Kanoe – is training hard to become a fully qualified Armée de l’Air Mirage 2000C pilot. He’s halfway now. He started his pilot training at Cognac airbase on the TB30 Epsilon basic trainer, then he moved to Tours and Cazaux airbase to fly the Alpha Jet, another type in the autumn of its career.
Early next year, ‘Kanoe’ hopes to become fully qualified on the C model. “I personally prefer a single seat aircraft over a two seat aircraft, as I like to be fully in control of every decision to be made.” He then proudly tells about the progression he’s making, as just this morning he got his first Mirage 2000D kill during a 2 vs 2 air to air combat mission against Mirage 2000D’s from Nancy airbase. Unfortunately, after the first D left the scene, the two C’s were killed by the remaining D. But anyway, after the debrief of the mission he also gained experience from this. An everage one hour mission costs about 15.000 euro and takes five hours in total including briefing, flight preparations and debriefing.
More recently, the Orange-based Mirages made international headlines on 24 March this. That day, a single Mirage was scrambled to intercept an unresponsive Airbus A320 flying from Barcelona to Düsseldorf. That flight was of course Germanwings flight 4U 9525, which tragically crashed by the hands of its own co-pilot, only half a minute before the Mirage was able to reach it.
The intercept was part of EC 02.005’s air defense task over southeastern France. There are two Mirage 2000C on 24/7 Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) . Pilots on duty remain on a separate part of the base, close to the special aircraft shelter, next to the main runway. In 2014 the unit also performed QRA for NATO’s Baltic Air Policing misson, operating from Malbork airbase in Poland.
It’s planned the Mirage 2000C with its Magic-2 air-to-air missile will continue to fulfill the QRA until 2018. At that time, this mission will most probably be taken over by the Mirage 2000-5. This aircraft, which is a modified version, flies with EC 01.002 Cicognes from Luxeuil airbase. It is assumed they will have a detachment at Orange from that time.
In the meantime, it started raining cats and dogs at the airbase, as a pair of resident Mirages return from an afternoon mission. ‘Kanoe’ said he never saw a Mirages taxying through such large water pools before. Lets hope the future has better things in store for the historical unit that is EC02.005. As the unit seems to lose its air defence role from 2018, the C model Mirage mainly will be used to keep more experienced pilots current on flying combat aircraft. Will that be enough? Time will tell.
© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Dennis Spronk
Featured image (top): In front of its shelter this Mirage is waitint to leave for another sortie. (Image © Dennis Spronk)