Istres-Le Tubé Air Base (French: Base Aérienne 125 or BA 125) is a large multi-role tasked French Air Force base located near Istres, north of Marseille, France. The airport facilities are also known as Istres - Le Tubé (ICAO airport code: LFMI).
Operational units and uses
Armée de l'air
The user of the base is the Armée de l'Air with several operational units on the base, including:
The base also hosts a helicopter squadron and a large repair and training facility. In addition, it also includes EPNER (École du Personnel Navigant d’Essais et de Réception); test facilities for DGA, Dassault Aviation, SNECMA, Thales and some aeronautical units of the French Navy. More than 5,000 personnel work on the base.
Secondary users occasionally include the United States Air Force (USAF), during Allied operations engaging United States and France. During Operation Allied Force, USAF KC-135s and U-2s operated out of the base. Istres was the home of U-2 detachment OL-FR (Operating Location-FRance). Istres is also utilized by NASA as a contingency landing site for the Space Shuttle in the case of a Transoceanic Abort Landing (TAL). The base's runway is 3,750 metres (12,300 ft) long and 60 metres (200 ft) wide, making it the longest one in Europe and thus suited to Shuttle landings.
On 31 March 1992, a Boeing 707 of Kabo Air, a Nigerian company, made an emergency landing after a dangerous event almost unprecedented in the history of airliner flight. In turbulence at 35,000 feet, engines 3 and 4 separated from the wing, along with flaps and control systems. With delicate operation of the remaining power and controls, the flight headed for Marseilles trailing fuel from broken tanks. Istres air traffic control called the flight to tell them they had visual contact. "How can you see us? We're still in cloud?" "You're on fire," came the reply. Abandoning Marseilles as a potential landing site, the pilots spotted part of the Istres runway in a gap in cloud and performed a flapless, downwind landing with a touch-down speed of nearly 200 knots and a raging fire fueled by the remaining fuel load pouring from the right wing. The gear failed and the aircraft's ground slide took it off the far end of the runway, but the crew of five survived and the cargo was saved. The incident brought to light cowboy practices among certain airlines — the 707 involved in the incident had passed mandatory maintenance and was overloaded.
World War II
Built prior to World War II, Istres Air Base was first used by the Armée de l'air during the early part of the war, and after the 1940 Battle of France and the June Armistice with Nazi Germany, became part of the limited (French: Armée de l'Air de Vichy) air force of the Vichy Government. It was attacked on several missions by Allied bombers based in England while under German control after November 1942. It was seized by Allied forces during Operation Dragoon, the Invasion of Southern France in August 1944 and was repaired and placed into operational use by the United States Army Air Forces XII Engineer Command, being turned over to Twelfth Air Force on 27 August 1944.
The airfield was designated by the Americans as Istres/Le Tubé Airfield or Advanced Landing Ground Y-17. It was also given the AAF designation of USAAF Station 196. Twelfth Air Force initially assigned the 324th Fighter Group to the airfield on 2 September, with P-47 Thunderbolts. However the 324th only remained a few days before moving forward to Amberieu on 6 September.
The main USAAF use of Istres was by the 64th Troop Carrier Group, which operated C-47 Skytrain transports from the airfield from September to November 1944. When the combat units moved north into eastern France, Istres was used by Air Transport Command as a transshipment point for supplies and Allied personnel, being administratively controlled by the 1411th Army Air Force Base Unit.
With the end of the war, the Americans used Istres as a staging point between Occupied Germany and Morocco for air transport of personnel back to the United States. It was returned to full French control in October 1945.
Sometime after WWII, until May 1958 Base Aérienne 125 was host to the Royal Air Force Liaison Party, that serviced transient British and Commonwealth military aircraft staging to and from the United Kingdom.
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