I’ve been caught up in moving so have been away from the blog for a while. But I’m back with another Amazing Aviation Tale, this one brought to you by Tom Mead, a retired Air Force colonel. Tom was a fighter pilot and later a test pilot, and he once stumbled across an interesting sight while visiting his 1970’s stomping ground in Europe. I think this one is best told through Tom’s words, and then I’ll add my thoughts at the end. Here’s Tom’s narrative:
In 1986, while I was attending Command and Staff College, I had the opportunity over the Christmas break to take a quick trip to the Headquarters of the United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE) at Ramstein Air Base (AB), Germany, to research some material for a school project. During my stay, I had time to visit my old squadron at nearby Bitburg AB for a day, and while winding along the flight line, I noticed two ragged-looking French Etendard fighters parked near the end of the runway, well away from the transient aircraft ramp where visitors would normally park. [Eileen note: The photo below is not from Bitburg — the aircraft below is on display at Fréjus Saint Raphael, France.]
I drove on to see my old squadron, and during that visit, I asked a pilot in the squadron what the French aircraft were doing on the base. He explained that one day, two French fighter pilots flew the airplanes in, parked them on the transient ramp, shut down, and walked into the Base Operations building (like all visitors). However, unlike most visitors, this pair each carried a two-foot stack of aircraft maintenance forms. They found the Dispatch Office, entered, and dropped all the forms on the desk, saying, in that understated way that only the French can pull off, “Here are your aircraft back.”
Before any of the stunned airmen at Base Ops could think of what to do, the pair had disappeared.
It turned out that these aircraft were part of some very old loan agreement with the French military and when the loan period was up, the French returned the aircraft per terms of the agreement. No one on the US side (at Bitburg, anyway) was aware of this, so were totally caught off guard. With no way to fly the airplanes (no mission, no trained pilots, and no spare parts, among other things), the base leadership decided to use the aircraft as decoys. At some point, they were finally disposed of.
Eileen here again. I love this story, but after scouring the Internet, I can’t figure out what the US was doing leasing/loaning French airplanes to the French! There were some programs back in the sixties where the US was trying to help NATO forces acquire more equipment like tanks and fighter aircraft to help achieve a better balance between nuclear and conventional forces, but I can’t find any evidence that these aircraft were part of that.
I looked on some website pages for Bitburg AB, hoping to find a photo of the “Bitburg Etendards,” but came up with nothing.
Does anyone out there know anything more about this story? Please pass the story along to others who may have been stationed at Bitburg AB in the 1980s. If anyone has any more information or some pictures, please pass them along and I will post them with the next tale!