All is nice and peaceful in Evreux, a French airbase 90 kilometers west of Paris. A single C-160 Transall, callsign Cujan 30, is flying circuits as part of a currency flight for two pilots. On the ground, other C-160s are being looked after or just quietly parked, doing nothing. But the peacefulness is deceiving; in reality, the two based Armée de l’Air transport squadrons are involved in Operation Serval in Mali and Operation Sangaris in the Central African Republic. It’s hard work for the people in Evreux, which is now the epicentre of all French Transall operations. Last but not least, a new airlifter is coming to town.
AHF↑Inside is a series of exclusive insights in the world of aviation.
This time, AIRheads↑Fly editor Elmer van Hest and
AIRheads↑Fly photographer Dennis Spronk
capture French C-160 Transall operations
in Evreux and foresee an Airbus A400 shaped future.
Previous AHF↑Inside features are to be found here.
Both C-160 Transall squadrons at Evreux have quite a history behind them. “Our squadron is the most decorated transport squadron in the Armée de l’Air”, says Fréderic Leca, commander of l’ Escadre de Transport (ET) 01.064 ‘Béarn’ squadron. The 85 men and women strong squadron has been decorated in the past for operations in Cambodja and Afghanistan, among other places. Coming June, ‘Béarn’ squadron celebrates 70 years of existence along with sister squadron ET02.064 ‘Anjou’. However, a busy schedule keeps both squadrons occupied for some time to come.
The daily flying schedule is mainly decided upon by European Air Transport Command (EATC), a cooperation between the forces of France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands that puts the combined air transport and air to air refuelling fleet under a joint command. Now, 90 percent of all flights is done by request of EATC. Also, ET01.064 is the lead Transall squadron in the air-to-air refueling role.
Since February last year, both Evreux units are involved in Operation Serval in Mali. Initially, up to ten C-160s were based in Mali, but this number has now been reduced to three, with an identical number of crews. Leca: “At the start of Operation Serval, we sent only our most experienced pilots to Mali. But now, all our combat ready pilots go there for a maximum of two months at a time. Our mission in Mali is to perform transport flights, medical flights and tactical assignments.”
Last December, the French government also decided to intervene in the civil war-torn Central African Republic under the name operation Sangaris. But Mali and the Central African Republic are not the only regular destinations for French Transall crews. “I was in Djibouti last week”, continues squadron commander Leca. “We flew from Evreux and after two hours performed air-to-air refueling in the skies over Corsica. We then flew on to Djibouti , where we took part in tactical training missions with helos and fighter aircraft. We flew from unpaved strips typical for operations in Africa.”
It’s illustrative of the ever strong C-160 Transall’s capabilities. The French made prototype C-160 first flew on 25 February 1963, with the German made prototype following three months later. A total of 210 aircraft were eventually built by the French-German Transporter Allianz, consisting of French Nord Aviation (later Aérospatiale) and German VFW and HFB (who later both merged into MBB). The Armée de l’Air version was designated C-160F, wich after modifications became C-160R or C-160G ‘Gabriel’ for ELINT ops and C-160H for the airborne communications variant. The total French fleet counted 79 aircraft. Other operators are or were Germany, Turkey, South Africa and Indonesia.
“It’s a fantastic aircraft, well-shaped and still quite up to date”, says Leca. “It’s an easy and forgiving plane to fly and it has a massively strong landing gear, stronger than that of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules.” The belly of the Transall can hold either 16.000kg of cargo, up to 93 troops or 62 stretcher patients on medical flights. The Rolls-Royce Tyne Mk 22 turboprop equipped Transall has a range (without air to air refuelling) of 1,800 kilometers while carrying the maximum payload. Empty, the range is an impressive 8,800 kilometers. Defensive countermeasures and newer avionics were added to the Transall over the years.
All in all, 2014 sees not only the celebrations of 70 years of ET01.064 and ET02.064, but also 50 years of flying the C-160, and according to the people at Evreux, at least nine more years are to follow before the final Transall sees retirement. However, the new Airbus A400M strategic airlifer has already been introduced in Orleans, the other major French Air Force transport airbase. In preparation, all 35 or so French C-160s transporters now reside in Evreux. Every year, about four C-160s will be retired. Next up is a C-160R with serial R159, which has a handfull of hours left and is therefore only used for local training flights.
While on subject of training, several members of ET01.064 are already being trained on the A400M, of which 50 were ordered by France. ‘Béarn’ squadron will be the second Armée de l’Air squadron to operate the new Airbus airlifter, following in the footsteps of ET 01.061 ‘Touraine’. Leca: “We expect our first squadron crews to be fully qualified in 2016, and in 2017 we will move to Orleans Airbase to fly the A400M from there.”
But, at Evreux the C-160 Transall will be seen for some time to come, flying in support of operations such as Serval or Sangaris, be used for para- or cargo drops, flying as an airborne refuelling platform, practicing short field landings or just flying currency missions such as Cujan 30. So actually appearances do deceive; it’s not all nice and quiet at Evreux. It’s a hive of French C-160 Transall activity.
© 2014 AIRheads’ editors Dennis Spronk & Elmer van Hest