Special Report : 100 Year Anniversary Escadrille Br 11 'Cocotte'
100 Year Anniversary Escadrille Br 11 'Cocotte'
In April 2013, the French Air Force (Armée de l’Air – AdlA) Escadron de Reconnaissance (ER) 02.033 'Savoie' with its constituent Escadrilles (Sal 6, Br 11, and C 53) celebrated the 100 year anniversary of Br 11 ‘Cocotte’, a century of flying reconnaissance. This year also marked 30 years of service of the Mirage F1CR and ER 2/33 flying the type. Helmut Richter contributes his photo report.
Spotter Day and F1CR N°104/118-CF Anniversary Special
On April 11, the day before the official celebration on 12 April 2013, ER2/33 ‘Savoie’ organized an event at its base for aircraft spotters. Mont-de-Marsan had been on my list for a visit ever since BA118 became home for ER 2/33 and the last Mirage F1 jets in French service. In addition to ER 2/33, the base is nowadays also home to Escadron de Chasse et d’Expérimentation (ECE) 5/330 ‘Côte d’Argent’ operational test and evaluation unit and the recently re-activated Régiment de Chasse (RC) 2/30 ‘Normandie-Niemen’ with its brand new Rafales. In 2012 I decided to give up my plan to visit the announced meeting national de l’air when it was downgraded to be a portes ouvertes. So the spotter day provided the opportunity to see multiple Mirage F1s in action, at their final home, before the retirement next year.
In good tradition of French spotter days, the event was well organized and an excellent lunch was provided. Several stands with memorabilia were there to serve the spotter’s appetite for books, videos and patches.
There were three allocated spotter areas, one south of the taxiway and two between the runway and the taxiway. Unfortunately, the weather already started with overcast and deteriorated during the day until the place was awash due to heavy rain after 3pm. However, by then we had seen a lot of flying of ER 2/33 and the other local units, plus a range of visiting aircraft providing additional photo opportunities. The lack of sun even had its positive side, because the taxiway and the runway had nearly identical light conditions from the two spots next to the runway. The spot next to the shelter lines at the west side of the runway was on a mound with nice perspectives on the aircraft movements around the shelter area.
The star of the day was of course Mirage F1CR N°104/118-CF with its fresh “pixel” paintjob and the badge of Br 11 and “1913-2013 100 ANS DE RECO“ on the fin. While it could later be seen at other events throughout the year, the day at Mont-de-Marsan provided some of the best opportunities to take action shots. Number 104 was one of the two Mirage F1CRs that had been deployed to Chad and subsequently Mali, flying the F1CR’s latest and probably last combat missions. The aircraft is destined to become part of a museum planned for the base, retaining the anniversary scheme.
My favorite, however, was the display of Mirage F1B N°117/118-SC which showed the sleek lines of this classic plane to very good effect.
Overall, the organizing team of the Armée de’l Air needs to be thanked for a great event, which was really worth attending.
100 Years Reconnaissance and Escadrille Br 11 ‘Cocotte’
Flying the Caudron G-3, the 11th Escadrille was established as C 11 on June 10, 1913, at Brayelle. The vulnerable single-engined biplane was mainly used for reconnaissance, observation of enemy movements, and fire spotting for the artillery. C 11 went into combat when the First World War broke out with the G-3 and then the dual-engine Caudron G-4 biplane reconnaissance bomber. The Br 11 designation was adopted in November 1917, when the unit received the Breguet 14 replacing the Caudrons. From the First World War onwards, the Br 11 has been involved in every major conflict in France’s history. For the last 20 years it has been an Escadrille of ER 2/33 flying the Mirage F1CR.
Mirage F1CR 30 Years of Service
ER 2/33 ‘Savoie’ was the first squadron to be equipped with the recce version of the Mirage F1. Back then the unit was based at BA124 Strasbourg-Entzheim and received its first six F1CR aircraft in July 1983.
The unit went on flying its F1CRs based at BA112 Reims-Champagne, until it was decided to relocate to Mont-de-Marsan for the final years of the F1’s operational career in French service. The AdlA regrouped all its remaining Mirage F1 aircraft under ER 2/33 in 2010, when the other remaining F1 unit, RC 2/30 ‘Normandie-Niemen’ at Colmar, deactivated. This resulted in ER 2/33 receiving the last seven F1B dual-control two-seaters and eight F1CT strike-fighters (upgraded F1C fighter interceptors) to be operated alongside its 20 F1CRs. Normandie-Niemen had previously taken over from the EC 3/33 ‘Lorraine’ operational conversion unit, so ER 2/33 has since then also been responsible for the operational conversion of the last F1 pilots of the AdlA, instructor training, and checks of Moroccan Mirage F1 pilots under the training agreement between France and Morocco. ER2/33 operated from both BA112 Reims-Champagne and their new home at BA118 Mont-de-Marsan until the move was completed in 2011 when Escadron de Transport 3/62 ‘Ventoux’ and its CN-235 transports left Mont-de-Marsan and ER2/33 took over its building.
During this time, ER 2/33 was deployed with its F1CR to Afghanistan providing reconnaissance, electronic signals intelligence, and close air support (including ‘show of force’). A Mirage 2000D or Forward Air Controller provided the laser target designation to allow the F1CR to use the GBU-12 laser-guided bomb. In 2011, France also launched Operation Harmattan in support of the Libyan uprising, followed by the international Operation Unified Protector. The F1CRs were called upon to provide vital reconnaissance with its PRESTO stand-off recce pod, while also carrying out some strikes with laser-guided bombs guided by accompanying fighters. ER 2/33 carried out reconnaissance or strikes against some 1,000 targets, dropping 33 laser-guided bombs. For the strike role, ER 2/33 also deployed Mirage F1CTs, which enabled flying missions at night owing to the F1CT’s NVG-compatible cockpit. Libya became the last operational deployment of the F1CT. In October 2012, the last F1CTs were withdrawn after some 20 years of the variant’s service.
By January 2013, Savoie operated 17 F1CRs and four F1Bs. Two of the F1CRs were then on deployment in Chad under Operation Épervier, the Chadian-French defense agreement. These aircraft, along with the Mirage 2000Ds based in Chad, were called upon for Operation Serval, the intervention in Mali following the country’s call for France’s help after rebels had captured the town of Konna in early January 2013. On January 16, the two F1CRs deployed to Mali’s capital city Bamako. Again the ageing F1CRs would provide vital reconnaissance while being able to carry out strikes.
The AdlA will retire the last Mirage F1 in 2014, the tactical reconnaissance role of the F1CR is taken over by the Rafale using the Next Generation (NG) Recce pod.
- La «Cocotte», une centenaire bien conservée - defense.gouv.fr
- Air Forces Monthly, March 2013, pp.40-45
Report by Helmut Richter and Niels Hillebrand. Photos by Helmut Richter ( view portfolio )
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Last Modified: 27 November 2013
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