Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet
|An Alpha Jet of the French Air Force|
|Role||Light attack jet and advanced trainer|
|First flight||26 October 1973|
|Introduction||4 November 1977|
|Primary users||French Air Force
Cameroon Air Force
Royal Thai Air Force
Portuguese Air Force
The Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet is a light attack jet and advanced trainer aircraft co-manufactured by Dornier of Germany and Dassault-Breguet of France. Adopted by many air forces worldwide, the Alpha Jet continues to be widely used even though its useful service life is over in France and Germany, its primary operators.
Design and development
In the early 1960s, European air forces began to consider their requirements for the coming decades. One of the results was the emergence of a new generation of jet trainers to replace such aircraft as the Lockheed T-33 and Fouga Magister. The British and French began a collaboration on development of what was supposed to be a supersonic jet aircraft in two versions: trainer and light attack aircraft. The result of this collaboration, the SEPECAT Jaguar, proved to be an excellent aircraft, but its definition had changed in the interim, and the type emerged as a full-sized, nuclear-capable strike fighter, whose two-seat variants were used for operational conversion to the type, not for general training.
This left the original requirement unfulfilled and so the French began discussions with West Germany for collaboration. A joint specification was produced in 1968. The trainer was now subsonic, supersonic trainers having proven something of a dead end. A joint development and production agreement was signed in July 1969 which indicated that the two nations would buy 200 machines, each assembled in their own country.
Proposals were generated by three groups of manufacturers:
- Dassault, Breguet and Dornier submitted the "TA501", which had been developed through a merger of the Breguet 126 and Dornier P.375 concepts.
- SNIAS/MBB submitted the "E.650 Eurotrainer".
- VFW-Fokker submitted the "VFT-291".
All the proposals were to be powered by twin SNECMA Turbomeca Larzac turbofans. The German air force had insisted that the trainer have two engines after suffering severe attrition from accidents with their single-engine Lockheed F-104 Starfighter.
The Breguet-Dassault-Dornier TA501 was declared the winner of the competition on 23 July 1970, with full development approved in February 1972. Two prototypes were to be built by Dassault in France (that company having bought out Breguet in the meantime) and two were to be built by Dornier in Germany. The first French prototype performed its first flight at Istres on 26 October 1973, with the first German prototype following from Oberpfaffenhofen on 9 January 1974. The remaining two prototypes were in the air before the end of 1974.
The French Air Force decided to use the Alpha Jet primarily as a trainer, and the first production Alpha Jet for the French made its first flight on 4 November 1977. The French variant was known as the Alpha Jet E (the "E" standing for Ecole, French for "School") or Alpha Jet Advanced Trainer/Light Attack aircraft. Initial deliveries to France for service trials were in 1978, leading to introduction to line service in May 1979, replacing the Canadair T-33 and Fouga Magister in jet training and the Dassault Mystère IVA in weapons training. The Patrouille de France, air demonstration team of the French Air Force, fly the Alpha Jet. A total of 176 production Alpha Jet E machines were delivered up to 1985, not the 200 that had been planned. While an excellent aircraft, French air force commanders of combat units did have one complaint against the Alpha Jet, in that it was a very forgiving aircraft to fly, resulting in a lengthier and steeper learning curve when assigned to fly combat aircraft which were not so forgiving.
The Luftwaffe decided to use the Alpha Jet mainly in the light strike role, preferring to continue flight training in the southwestern United States on American trainer types instead of performing training in Germany, although Germany also used Alpha Jets based at Beja, Portugal for weapons training. The first production German Alpha Jet performed its maiden flight on 12 April 1978, with deliveries beginning in March 1979. It was designated the Alpha Jet A (the "A" standing for Appui Tactique or "Tactical Strike") or Alpha Jet Close Support variant. The Luftwaffe obtained 175 machines up to 1983, with the type replacing the Fiat G91R/3. Manufacture of Alpha Jet sub-assemblies was divided between France and Germany, with plants in each country performing final assembly and checkout. The four prototypes remained in service as testbeds, for example evaluating a composite graphite-epoxy wing and improved Larzac engine variants.
The different avionics fit makes French and German Alpha Jets easy to tell apart, with French planes featuring a rounded-off nose and German ones featuring a sharp, pointed nose.
Foreign service and improved variants
Considerable foreign sales were expected for the Alpha Jet, with the type becoming available before its main rival, the United Kingdom's BAe Hawk. The Hawk ended up winning on sales, but as it was commented:
What Europe must avoid is the kind of wasteful competition that has the Hawker Siddeley Hawk and Dassault-Breguet/Dornier Alpha Jet battling against each other in the world market.
— John W. R. Taylor, Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1975-1976
The first major foreign customers were Belgium and Egypt, each performing final assembly of French-configuration Alpha Jet E machines. Belgium ordered 33 aircraft under the designation Alpha Jet 1B, with assembly by SABCA of Belgium and deliveries in 1978–1980.
The Belgian aircraft have been updated by SABCA to Alpha Jet 1B+ configuration, featuring a laser-gyro inertial navigation system with a GPS receiver, a HUD in the front cockpit and a HUD repeater in the rear, a video recorder and other small improvements. The initial 1B+ was redelivered in 2000 and the Alpha Jets are expected to remain in Belgian service until at least 2015.
Egypt ordered 30 aircraft designated Alpha Jet MS1 in the early 1980s. Four complete aircraft were supplied by Dassault, with the other 26 assembled in Egypt from knockdown kits by AOI.
Several other nations also obtained the Alpha Jet E, including the Ivory Coast (seven aircraft), Morocco (24), Nigeria (24), Qatar (six) and Togo (five). All of these machines were from French production except for the 24 Nigerian aircraft, which were from German production. Pictures of Qatari Alpha Jet E machines show them painted in neat brown-and-sand ripple desert camouflage on top and light blue on the bottom, and also featuring an unusual long spine running from the tail fin up to about mid-wing. The spine may house additional avionics.
The Luftwaffe began to phase out their Alpha Jet A machines in 1992, reserving 45 for lead-in fighter training. A total of 50 were passed on to Portugal in 1993, replacing the Northrop T-38 Talon and Fiat G.91, with five of these used for spares. The rest of the Luftwaffe's Alpha Jets were gradually phased out, with the last leaving service in 1998. In 1999, 25 more were sold to Thailand to replace North American OV-10 Broncos in the border patrol role, while the British Defence Evaluation and Research Agency obtained 12 as chase aircraft and flight test platforms. Both the Thais and the British used five of their aircraft for spares.
The Alpha Jets were sold cheaply since they were soaking up funds simply sitting in mothballs, though Fairchild-Dornier received a contract worth US$43 million to refurbish the machines and provide support to the end users. Apparently 32 more, including two spares hulks, were sold to the United Arab Emirates, though details are unclear, and three went to private owners, to be used by the "Flying Bulls" flight demonstration team, which operates out of Austria and flies a range of classic aircraft.
In 1980, work began on an "Alternate Close Support" version of the Alpha Jet, featuring a SAGEM ULISS 81 INS, a Thomson-CSF VE-110 HUD, a TMV630 laser rangefinder in a modified nose and a TRT AHV 9 radio altimeter, with all avionics linked through a digital databus. Initial flight was on 9 April 1982. Cameroon obtained seven (some sources claim 6) and Egypt obtained 15. As with the original Egyptian order for MS1 machines, Dassault provided four such machines under the designation of MS2 and AOI of Egypt assembled the other eleven from knockdown kits.
H211, a private company which manages the planes owned and leased by Google execs Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt, operates an Alpha Jet for them, based at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.
There were a number of other Alpha Jet proposals that never reached production:
- The Alpha Jet 2, originally the Alpha Jet NGEA (Nouvelle Generation Appui/Ecole or "New Generation Attack/Training") featured the basic avionics of the MS2 plus compatibility with the advanced French Matra Magic 2 AAMs and the more powerful Larzac 04-C20 turbofans refitted to Luftwaffe Alpha Jet A machines. A prototype was flown, presumably a modification of one of the original Alpha Jet prototypes.
- The Alpha Jet 3 Advanced Training System, originally the "Lancier", featured twin cockpit multifunction displays (MFDs) and potential carriage of AGAVE or Anemone radar, a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) imager, a laser targeting system and a modern countermeasures suite. A prototype was also flown, again presumably an upgrade of an original Alpha Jet prototype.
- Dassault also proposed a carrier-based trainer, with arresting hook and stronger landing gear, for the French naval air arm, the Aeronavale, and for the U.S. Navy.
- Alpha Jet A: Attack version originally used by Germany.
- Alpha Jet E: Trainer version originally used by France and Belgium.
- Alpha Jet 2: Development of the Alpha Jet E optimized for ground attack. This version was originally named the Alpha Jet NGAE (Nouvelle Generation Appui/Ecole or "New Generation Attack/Training"),
- Alpha Jet MS1: Close support-capable version assembled in Egypt.
- Alpha Jet MS2: Improved version with new avionics, an uprated engine, Magic Air-to-Air missiles, and a Lancier glass cockpit.
- Alpha Jet ATS (Advanced Training System): A version fitted with multi-functional controls and a glass cockpit that will train pilots in the use of navigation and attack systems of the latest and future generation fighter aircraft. This version was also called the Alpha Jet 3 or Lancier.
- Cameroon Air Force (Alpha Jet MS2) – 27 ( 11 are in service)
- Discovery Air Defence Services – 16 "Top Aces"(former Luftwaffe Alpha Jet Aircraft) based in Montreal and operated by Canadian Air Combat and Electronic Warfare Support Services Company as well as 414 Squadron
- Egypt Air Force (Alpha Jet MS2 and E) – 14 MS2 and 40 E (MS1), All upgraded to (MS2)
- French Air Force (Alpha Jet E) – 99
- Royal Moroccan Air Force (Alpha Jet E) – 24
- Nigerian Air Force (Alpha Jet E) – 24
- Portuguese Air Force – 50 (Alpha Jet A, former Luftwaffe aircraft)
- Qatar Emiri Air Force (Alpha Jet E) – six
- Royal Thai Air Force (25 Alpha Jet A – former Luftwaffe aircraft)
- Togo Air Force – 12 (Alpha Jet E)
- QinetiQ – six (Alpha Jet A, former Luftwaffe aircraft)
- German Air Force – 93 (Alpha Jet A)
- Côte d'Ivoire Air Force (Alpha Jet E) – seven
Specifications (Close-support version)
|Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet cutaway|
|Hi-res cutaway of the Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet by Flight Global.|
Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1982-83 
- Crew: two
- Length: 13.23 m (43 ft 5 in)
- Wingspan: 9.11 m (29 ft 10¾ in)
- Height: 4.19 m (13 ft 9 in)
- Wing area: 17.50 m² (188.4 ft²)
- Empty weight: 3,515 kg (7,750 lb)
- Loaded weight: 5,000 kg (11,000 lb)
- Max. takeoff weight: 7,500 kg (16,535 lb)
- Powerplant: 2 × SNECMA Turbomeca Larzac 04-C5 turbofans, 13.24 kN (2,976 lbf) each
- Maximum speed: 1,000 km/h (540 kn, 621 mph) at sea level
- Stall speed: 167 km/h (90 knots, 104 mph) (flaps and undercarriage down)
- Combat radius: 610 km (329 nmi, 379 mi) lo-lo-lo profile, gun pod, underwing weapons and two drop tanks
- Ferry range: 2,940 km (1,586 nmi, 1,827 mi)
- Service ceiling: 14,630 m (48,000 ft)
- Rate of climb: 57 m/s (11,220 ft/min)
- Guns: One 27 mm Mauser BK-27 Revolver cannon in centreline gun pack with 120 rounds or one 30 mm DEFA in centerline pod with 150 rounds
- Rockets: Two Matra rocket pods with eighteen SNEB 68 mm rockets each or two CRV7 rocket pods with nineteen 70 mm rockets each
- Missiles: Two AIM-9 Sidewinders; two Matra Magic IIs; two AGM-65 Mavericks;
- Bombs: 2,500 kg (5,500 lb) of payload on five external hardpoints, including a variety of bombs (such as the Hunting BL755 cluster bomb) or Drop tanks for extended range.
Notable appearances in media
Alpha Jets appeared in the 2005 French movie Les Chevaliers du ciel.
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Aermacchi S-211
- Aero L-39 Albatros
- BAE Hawk
- CASA C-101
- FMA IA 63 Pampa
- PZL I-22 Iryda
- Soko G-4 Super Galeb
- "Alpha Jet." Dassault. Retrieved: 30 December 2012.
- Braybrook 1984, p. 270.
- Taylor 1982, p. 105.
- Braybrook 1984, pp. 275–276.
- Christophe Gasztych, "Savoie's AUTUMN" Air Force's Monthly, March 2013, pp. 40-45
- Braybrook 1984, pp. 270, 276.
- Taylor 1976, p. 63.
- Sijger 1994, pp. 128–129.
- "Alpha Jets." Alpha Jets USA. Retrieved: 17 July 2012.
- Alex Hern (12 December 2013). "Google execs saved millions on private jet flights using cheaper NASA fuel". the Guardian. Retrieved 12 Dec 2013.
- "Dornier Alpha Jet." 'Discovery Air Defence Services Retrieved: 5 February 2012.
- Taylor 1982, pp. 105–106.
- Braybrook, Roy. "Training Maturity". Air International, Vol. 26, No. 6, June 1984, pp. 269–276, 312–313. Bromley, UK: Fine Scroll. ISSN 0306-5634.
- Eden, Paul, ed. The Encyclopedia of Modern Military Aircraft. London: Amber Books, 2004. ISBN 1-904687-84-9.
- Stijger, Eric. "Alpha Jets for Portugal". Air International, Vol. 46, No. 3, March 1994, pp. 128–131. Stamford, UK: Key Publishing. ISSN 0306-5634.
- Taylor, John W R (ed). Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1982-83. London: Jane's Yearbooks, 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0748-2.
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