Régiment de Chasse 01/030 Normandie - Niémen
Words and photography Michael van der Mee and Nico van Remmerden.
On March 10 Touchdown Aviation were guests at BA 132 Colmar-Meyenheim in the Alsace to experience an operational day with the legenadary Régiment de Chasse 01/030 Normandie - Niémen flying with the Mirage F1B and F1CT.
The history of the unit originates six months after the Germans invaded the USSR in June 1941 when talks aimed at closer co-operation between the Free French and the Soviet Union resulted in setting up a special squadron with an initial core of twelve fighter pilots for service on the Russian-German front. De Gaulle officially promulgated the Groupe de Chasse GC 3 Normandie on September 1, 1942, with Commandant Pouliquen in command.
Transformed on the Vulture II NR, the unit was assigned to EC 30, after the disbandment of EC 6, to become EC 02/30. The unit departed North Africa on March 13, 1962 and moves to Orange, before moving to Rheims, in 1966.
In December 1973, the unit traded its Vulture 11s for the first Mirage F1Cs for the Air Defence role. In 1993, within the framework of the reorganizations, EC 02/30's nameplate is officially taken by the EC 01/13 “Artois” based at Colmar. At the time of the disbandment of EC 13, the traditions of the “Normandie-Niémen” turn over to the reactivated EC 02/30 and continues to fly to Mirage F1 untill today.
Régiment de Chasse 02/030 Normandie - Niémen
During our visit we had the chance to join the pilots on their daily meteo briefing, the technical briefing of the base's systems and the general status of the other airbases in France. At the end of all briefings one of the "rookie" pilots must answer a question of the day. In this ocassion it was about flightsafety. During a short presentation he or she will judged by his experienced colleagues.
After this general briefings we returned to the squadron operations centre where we joined an aspirant and his instructor on their mission preparation and followed them to their aircraft to make the final checks before start-up and taxiing out to the runway.
As the unit also took over the role of its sister unit GC 01/030 "Alsace" last year, it was renamed RC 01/030. The unit now also operates Mirage F1Bs for fast jet conversiontraining. With the operational commitments of four F1s permanently based in Africa and two jets on QRA alert, the unit has a limited amount of aircraft available to commit the day to day training. With the growing age of the Mirage F1 it becomes more and more difficult to get parts for the jet. With such a strain on the recourses, a big compliment to the maintenance crew must be given on the achievments they make keeping as much aircraft in the air, so that the training won't be compromised.
With the new restructurations announced by the French Government in July 2008, all flying activities at BA132 Colmar-Meyenheim will end for good in July 2009. From that moment the base will gradually being transferred from the Air Force to the Army who will station a mechanized regiment on the base. This process is planned to be completed in 2010.