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The Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet & FMA Pampa

v1.0.0 / 01 nov 04 / greg goebel / public domain

* 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 British Aerospace "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. This document provides a history and description of the Alpha Jet, as well as the Argentine "FMA Pampa", a more modest jet trainer with some roots in the Alpha Jet design.



* 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 German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, 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'Aire / 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" (with "E" standing for "Ecole / 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 US 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" (where "A" stood for "Appui Tactique / 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 Alpha Jet is a pretty little aircraft, with:

The tandem-seat cockpit features separate clamshell-type canopies hinged at the rear. The French Alpha Jet E is fitted with Martin Baker AJRM4 ejection seats, while the German Alpha Jet A is fitted with UPC / Stencel S-III-F3 ejection seats. The rear seat is prominently raised, giving the instructor in the back seat a good forward view. There is a baggage compartment in the tail for hauling personal kit and the like when flying to a remote airfield.

The avionics fit of French Alpha Jets is basic, but the Luftwaffe machines were fitted with a relatively extensive nav-attack system, featuring a Lear-Siegler inertial navigation system (INS); a Litton Doppler navigation radar; and a Kaiser / VDO head-up display (HUD). 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.

Although the Alpha Jet has no built-in armament, it can be fitted with a belly cannon pod. Luftwaffe cannon pods accommodate a single Mauser BK-27 27 millimeter cannon, while AdA cannon pods accommodate a single DEFA 30 millimeter cannon with 150 rounds. Both French and German Alpha Jets feature a gunsight.

The Alpha Jet can be fitted with twin stores pylons under each wing for a total of four pylons, with an impressive total external load capability of 2,500 kilograms (5,500 pounds). Possible external stores include unguided rocket pods; iron bombs and cluster munitions; and two external tanks with a capacity of 310 liters (82 US gallons) or 450 liters (119 US gallons) each. The Alpha Jet can carry heat-seeking air to air missiles (AAMs) for self-defense, but it lacks the radar capability to carry radar-guided AAMs. It can carry laser-guided bombs, though laser targeting must be provided by ground forces or a spotting aircraft. The French qualified a film-camera pod, and the type can be used as a simple target tug.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                9.11 meters         29 feet 11 inches
   wing area               17.50 sq_meters     188.37 sq_feet   
   length                  11.75 meters        38 feet 6 inches
   height                  4.19 meters         13 feet 9 inches

   empty weight            3,345 kilograms     7,375 pounds
   normal weight           5,000 kilograms     11,025 pounds
   MTO weight              8,000 kilograms     17,640 pounds

   max speed at altitude   915 KPH             570 MPH / 495 KT
   service ceiling         14,630 meters       48,000 feet
   normal takeoff run      370 meters          1,215 feet
   normal landing run      500 meters          1,640 feet
   operational radius      1,450 kilometers    900 MI / 290 NMI

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   Operational radius is given with two external tanks and a high 
   altitude flight profile.
Although it is unclear how well the Alpha Jet is regarded by pilots and maintenance crews, it is said to be very agile and a good performer. It is the current mount for the AdA "Patrouille de France" flight demonstration team, which has operated the type since 1979. Pictures of AdA Alpha Jets show them to feature a two-tone medium / dark green ripple camouflage pattern on top and single-tone gray paint underneath. Pictures of Luftwaffe aircraft show them with a two-tone dark green ripple pattern overall. Of course, the Patrouille de France machines have spiffy aerobatic team colors.

French Alpha Jet E machines are still going strong, though their cockpit layout is too antiquated to make them well-suited to train AdA pilots for the new Dassault Rafale multirole fighter with its "glass cockpit". It is likely that French Alpha Jets will received a modernization upgrade, though details are unclear at this time.



* Considerable foreign sales were expected for the Alpha Jet, with the type becoming available before its main rival, the British Aerospace Hawk trainer and light strike aircraft. However, the Hawk ended up winning the competition without argument.

The first major foreign customers were Belgium and Egypt, with both countries performing final assembly of French-configuration Alpha Jet E machines. Belgium ordered 33 aircraft under the designation of "Alpha Jet 1B", with assembly by SABCA of Belgium and deliveries in 1978:1980. They have been used, at least informally, for public flight demonstrations, in flashy color schemes.

The survivors 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.

A number of other nations also obtained the Alpha Jet E, including the Ivory Coast (7 aircraft); Morocco (24); Nigeria (24); Qatar (6 "Alpha Jet C"); and Togo (5). All of these machines were from French production, except for the 24 Nigerian aircraft, which were obtained 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 tailfin up to about midwing. The spine may be used to store additional avionics; it is unclear if any other Alpha Jets have this feature.

The Luftwaffe began to phase out their Alpha Jet A machines in 1992, reserving 45 for lead-in fighter training. 50 were passed on to Portugal, with five of these used as spares hulks. The rest were gradually phased out, with the last leaving service in 1998. In 1999, 25 more were sold to Thailand to replace OV-10 Broncos in the border patrol role, while the British Defense Evaluation & Research Agency (DERA) obtained 12 as chase planes, flight test platforms, and so on. Both the Thais and the British used five of their aircraft as spares hulks.

The Alpha Jets were sold at a rock-bottom price since they were soaking up funds simply sitting in mothballs, though Fairchild-Dornier got a contract worth $43 million USD 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 (UAE), though details are unclear, and three even ended up in private hands, 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 7 (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.

There were a number of other Alpha Jet proposals that never reached production:

* The following table provides a summary of Alpha Jet users:


                  4  prototypes, reserved by manufacturers.

   CAMEROON       7  Alpha Jet MS2
   EGYPT         30  Alpha Jet E (MS1)  
                 15  Alpha Jet MS2
   BELGIUM       33  Alpha Jet E (1B)
   FRANCE       176  Alpha Jet E
   GERMANY      175  Alpha Jet A
   IVORY COAST    7  Alpha Jet E
   MOROCCO       24  Alpha Jet E
   NIGERIA       24  Alpha Jet E
   PORTUGAL       -  50 Alpha Jet A passed on from Luftwaffe
   QATAR          6  Alpha Jet E
   THAILAND       -  25 Alpha Jet A passed on from Luftwaffe
   TOGO           5  Alpha Jet E
   UAE            -  32 Alpha Jet A passed on from Luftwaffe
   UK (DERA)      -  12 Alpha Jet A passed on from Luftwaffe
                  -  3 machines in the hands of the Flying Bulls

   total        506



* In 1979, the Argentine Air Force's Military Aircraft Factory (Fabrica Militar de Aviones SA / FMA) began work on the "IA-63 Pampa" jet trainer to replace the FMA-built Morane-Saulnier MS.760 four-seat jet training / liason / light attack aircraft in service in Argentina since 1958. FMA obtained assistance from Dornier on the project. Three flight and two static test prototypes were built, with the first flight prototype taking to the air for the first time on 6 October 1984. A total of 64 were built for the Argentine Air Force, with initial deliveries in 1988.

About seven different design concepts were considered during development. The final concept that was actually selected unsurprisingly had a definite resemblance to the Alpha Jet, and in fact the Pampa could be thought of as an "Alpha Jet Lite". From the side, the two types could be confused at a casual glance, and the Pampa has a landing gear arrangement and twin airbrakes much like those of the Alpha Jet.

There are clear differences between the two machines as well. The Pampa is smaller than the Alpha Jet, with an empty weight only 84% as great, and it has straight wings and tailplane; a single-piece canopy; and most significantly only a single engine, a US-built Garrett TFE731-2-2N turbofan with 15.57 kN (1,590 kgp / 3,500 lbf) thrust.

Like the Alpha Jet, the Pampa has four underwing pylons but also has a centerline pylon. Its external load is smaller, restricted to 1,160 kilograms (2,560 pounds). It is unclear what stores have been qualified for the type, since it is strictly used in the training role.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                9.686 meters        31 feet 9 inches
   wing area               15.63 sq_meters     168.27 sq_feet   
   length                  10.93 meters        35 feet 10 inches
   height                  4.29 meters         14 feet 1 inch

   empty weight            2,821 kilograms     6,219 pounds
   MTO weight              5,000 kilograms     11,023 pounds

   max speed at altitude   820 KPH             510 MPH / 440 KT
   service ceiling         12,900 meters       42,325 feet
   normal takeoff run      425 meters          1,390 feet
   normal landing run      460 meters          1,510 feet
   range (internal fuel)   1,500 kilometers    930 MI / 810 NMI
   range (with tanks)      1,850 kilometers    1,150 MI / 1,000 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

* An improved "Pampa 2000" variant was developed for the US Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS) competition in the early 1990s. The second IA-63 prototype and two production machines were converted to the Pampa 2000 standard, but the second prototype was lost in a crash in the UK on 31 August 1992, just before the Farnborough Air Show. One of the other Pampa 2000s performed a US demonstration tour in 1993, but the JPATS competition was actually won by the Beech-Pilatus T-6A Texan II. A proposal to build a carrier-based version of the Pampa for the Argentine Navy also went nowhere.

However, Lockheed Martin Argentina SA (LMAASA) has been working on a version of the Pampa with both training and attack capability, designated the "AT-63". It is powered by a by a Honeywell TFE 731-2C-2N turbofan. The Argentine Air Force expects to buy 12 AT-63s, while the Argentine Navy wants to buy 8. The Argentine Air Force would also like to upgrade existing IA-63 machines to the AT-63 standard, but funds are lacking.



* One of the footnotes of the Alpha Jet story is the Japanese Kawasaki T-4 trainer, used by the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force's "Blue Impulse" flight demonstration team. Although it would be an exaggeration to call the T-4 an Alpha Jet "clone", the two aircraft being generally different in detail, the Alpha Jet was clearly the model for the T-4's overall configuration.

* Sources include:

Other small comments were obtained from various volumes of JANE'S ALL THE WORLD AIRCRAFT and various issues of WORLD AIR POWER JOURNAL / INTERNATIONAL AIR POWER REVIEW. The Alpha Jet is not an "over-documented" type.

* Revision history:

   v1.0.0 / 01 nov 04 / gvg
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