Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet

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Alpha Jet
Dassault alphajet Solo.jpg
An Alpha Jet of the French Air Force
Role Light attack jet and advanced trainer
Manufacturer Dassault Aviation/Dornier Flugzeugwerke
First flight 26 October 1973
Introduction 4 November 1977
Status Active
Primary users French Air Force
Cameroon Air Force
Royal Thai Air Force
Portuguese Air Force
Produced 1973-1991
Number built 480

The Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet is a light attack jet and advanced trainer aircraft co-manufactured by Dassault Aviation of France and Dornier of Germany. Adopted by several 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[edit]

Alpha Jet owned by Red Bull

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.[1]

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:[2]

  • 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.[2] 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.

Operational history[edit]

The Breguet-Dassault-Dornier TA501 was declared the winner of the competition on 23 July 1970, with full development approved in February 1972.[2] 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.[1]

Six French Alpha Jet aircraft of the Patrouille de France flight demonstration team flying in formation during Air Fete '88

The French Air Force decided to use the Alpha Jet primarily as a trainer,[2] and the first production Alpha Jet for the French made its first flight on 4 November 1977.[3] 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.[3][4] 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.[5]

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.[6] 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.[3] 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.[1]

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[edit]

Royal Thai Air Force Alpha Jet A during Children's Day 2007 in Wing6 Don Mueang AFB.

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,[citation needed] 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[7]

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.[8] 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)[citation needed] 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.

An Alpha Jet imported by Abbatare lands at the Mojave Airport

Abbatare Inc. of Arlington, Washington, under the name of "Alpha Jets USA", has begun to import Alpha Jets into the United States and sell them in the civilian market.[9]

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.[10]

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.

Liberian Civil War[edit]

In 1990, four Alpha Jets of the Nigerian Air Force were deployed in support of ECOMOG forces in Liberia combating the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. In a series of strikes, they successfully targeted Charles Taylor's HQ, rebel convoys and shipping, and gun emplacements at Roberts International Airport. Their intervention was judged by the New York Times to have given ECOMOG forces a decisive advantage in fire power.[11]

In, 1992, six Nigerian Alpha Jets were placed directly under ECOMOG command, and employed against the NPLF in an extensive campaign of air strikes, road interdictions missions, anti-shipping sorties, and night raids (a task which the Alpha Jet was not normally equipped to perform). They were even employed to deny access to key bridges in order to give ECOMOG ground forces time to capture them before they were sabotaged. In total, Alpha Jets flew 3,000 combat missions in support of ECOMOG, sustaining no losses but incurring some damage from anti-aircraft artillery.[12]

In 2013, Nigeria began taking steps to bring its Alpha Jet fleet back into service, ordering 2 new aircraft in 2015 and upgrading 13 of the original 24 into serviceable condition, though two were lost in accidents in 2013 and 2014. These Alpha Jets have been employed in air patrols, and air strikes against Boko Haram.[13][14]

Western Sahara War[edit]

Between 1979 and 1981, the Royal Moroccan Air Force received 24 Alpha Jets which were organized into a training squadron and a COIN squadron both based in Meknes. Alpha Jets were employed in strike missions against the Polisario Front during the Western Sahara War, one of their number being shot down in December, 1985.[15]


Portuguese Air Force Alpha Jet A assigned to flight display team Asas de Portugal
French Air Force Alpha Jet E
  • 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.


QinetiQ operated Alpha Jet A
  • Egypt Air Force (Alpha Jet MS2 and E) – 14 MS2 and 40 E (MS1), All upgraded to (MS2)
  • Nigerian Air Force (Alpha Jet E) – 24 acquired. 4 upgraded in 2011, 9 more reactivated. 11 in service.
Portuguese Air Force Alpha Jet with commemorative livery of 103 Squadron's 50th anniversary
 United Kingdom
  • QinetiQ – six (Alpha Jet A, former Luftwaffe aircraft)

Former operators[edit]

 Ivory Coast

Specifications (Close-support version)[edit]

Orthographic projection of the Alpha Jet.
External images
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 [17]

General characteristics



See also[edit]

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era



  1. ^ a b c "Alpha Jet." Dassault. Retrieved: 30 December 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d Braybrook 1984, p. 270.
  3. ^ a b c Taylor 1982, p. 105.
  4. ^ Braybrook 1984, pp. 275–276.
  5. ^ Christophe Gasztych, "Savoie's AUTUMN" Air Force's Monthly, March 2013, pp. 40-45
  6. ^ Braybrook 1984, pp. 270, 276.
  7. ^ Taylor 1976, p. 63.
  8. ^ Sijger 1994, pp. 128–129.
  9. ^ "Alpha Jets." Alpha Jets USA. Retrieved: 17 July 2012.
  10. ^ Alex Hern (12 December 2013). "Google execs saved millions on private jet flights using cheaper NASA fuel". the Guardian. Retrieved 12 Dec 2013. 
  13. ^ "Nigerian Air Force receiving additional Alpha Jets". DefenseWeb. Retrieved 1 January 2016. 
  14. ^ "PHOTO NEWSREEL: NIGERIAN AIR FORCE REINDUCT 9 ALPHA JET AND A C130 HERCULES". Beegeagle's Blog. Retrieved 1 January 2016. 
  15. ^ Cooper, Tom. "Morocco, Mauritania & West Sahara since 1972". ACIG.org. Retrieved 1 January 2016. 
  16. ^ "Dornier Alpha Jet." Discovery Air Defence Services Retrieved: 5 February 2012.
  17. ^ 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.

External links[edit]

The initial version of this article was based on a public domain article from Greg Goebel's Vectorsite.