Alpha Jet, Dassault-Breguet/Dornier

Alpha Jet, Dassault-Breguet/Dornier

The Alpha Jet is a French/German jet trainer and strike aircraft. That is, the French version is a trainer, and the German one is primarly a strike aircraft, replacing the Fiat G.91. The Alpha Jet is a twin-engined aircraft with a high-set, moderately swept wing. The Alpha Jet shows that an aircraft need not be a technological marvel to be an effective warplane. Simple, cheap and easy to maintain, the Alpha Jet is perfectly suited to lower intensity warfare.

State-of-the-art ground attack and strike aircraft do not come cheap, and for many air forces the capabilities of the Tornado or the Strike Eagle would be wasted. However, there are much less expensive aircraft, often designed for different purposes, which are capable of undertaking ground attack missions in lower threat environments. The Dassault-Breguet/Dornier Alpha Jet is a Franco-German advanced trainer which was designed to have a secondary attack role. Indeed, German Alpha Jets are flown almost exclusively as single-seat close-support, weapons trainer or battlefield reconnaissance aircraft. Weapons load and avionics do not match those of more advanced jets, but the Alpha Jet is maneuverable, easy to fly and simple to maintain. The Alpha Jet has been sold to a number of countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Type: Alpha Jet A
Function: trainer / strike
Year: 1977
Engines: 2 * 1350 kg SNECMA/Turbomeca Lazrac O4-C5
Wing Span: 9.11 m
Length: 13.23 m
Height: 4.33 m
Wing Area: 17.50 m2
Empty Weight: 3515 kg
Max.Weight: 8000 kg
Speed: Mach 0.86
Ceiling: 15000 m
Range: 2780 km
Speed: Mach 0.86
Armament: 1*g27 mm 2500 kg
Unit cost: 7 million USD


In the early 1960s, various 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 classic aircraft as the Lockheed T-33 and Fouga Magister. The two main rivals in this exercise turned out to be the BAe Hawk and the Franco-German Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet. At the outset, the Alpha Jet had a bit of a lead, but the Hawk would prove to be the winner in the race. However, the Alpha Jet has been built in good numbers and served with a number of air forces for several decades.

In the early 1960s, the British and French began a collaboration on development of what was originally supposed to be a supersonic jet trainer/light attack aircraft. The end result of this collaboration, the SEPECAT Jaguar, proved to be an excellent aircraft, but its definition had evolved in the interim, and the type emerged as a full-sized strike fighter, with two-seat variants used for operational conversion to the type. This left the original requirement unfulfilled and the French began discussions with West Germany for collaboration on the effort. A joint specification was produced in 1968 - the trainer was now subsonic, supersonic trainers having proven something of a dead end - and a joint development and production agreement was signed in July 1969. The joint agreement indicated that each of the two nations would buy 200 machines, each assembled in their own country.

Proposals were generated by three groups of manufacturers: All the proposals were to be powered by twin SNECMA-Turbomeca Larzac turbofans. The Luftwaffe (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 in 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 initial 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 (the Armee de l'Air - AdA) decided to use the Alpha Jet primarily as a trainer, and the first production Alpha Jet for the AdA performed its initial flight on 4 November 1978. The AdA 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 the AdA for service trials were in 1978, leading to introduction to line service in May 1979, replacing the Lockheed/Canadair Silver Star T-33 in jet training and the Dassault Mystere IVA in weapons training. 176 production Alpha Jet E machines were delivered up to 1985, not the 200 that had been planned.

The Luftwaffe decided to use the Alpha Jet in the light strike role, preferring to continue flight training in the sunny United States southwest on American trainer types instead of performing training in cloudy Germany. The first production German Alpha Jet performed its initial flight on 12 April 1978. 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. Although Alpha Jets were built in both France and Germany, manufacture of subassemblies was partitioned between the two countries, 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 machines featuring a rounded-off nose and German machines featuring a sharp, pointed nose that gives them a somewhat waspish appearance.
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