Cognac-Chateaubernard, France

1 June 2007



The air base of Chateaubernard, close to the southern outskirts of the town of Cognac in the south-west of France houses the Ecole de Pilotage Elementaire de l´Armée de l´Air. (EPAA) 315. EPAA 315 is the primary flight school for all aspiring French airmen and airwomen. Not only does EPAA 315 teach French Air Force students to fly, the school also does so for future navy and Army pilots, as well as for those for other countries. For many years, since 1984 to be more precise, the school has relied on the Aerospatiale TB.30 Epsilon. This machine which has been derived from the SOCATA TB.10 leisure plane proved an ideal platform for basic instruction.


The French Air Force took a total of no less than 159 production examples. Of course, this number was driven by a higher demand for pilots in a larger Cold War era French Air Force. Far fewer than that number now remain in service, as the Armée de l'air nowadays posesses fewer aircraft as well. Another change which the Epsilon fleet saw was a change from the bright white and dayglo paint scheme seen above to a more operationally looking grey, albeit with dayglo trims. One of the reasons seem to be that the aircraft are thus better visible against the backdrop of those typical southern French homes with their white walls and orange tiled roofs!

Since 1989, EPAA 315 operates a demo team, known as the Cartouche Doré. The team specialises in formation work which shows the agility of these nimble piston driven trainers. Note the markings on the nose denoting 15 years of Cartouche Doré.

No matter how useful the TB.30 has been during the past 23 years, it is the end of the line for a number of them. This view shows part of the dump at Cognac, for the most part filled with white/dayglo painted machines. As stated, the French Air Force's pilot demand shrank.

A hangar elsewhere on the base already housed three of an eventual total of just 18 Grob G.120A-F ab initio trainers that will be operated by EADS Cognac Aviation Training Services alongside 26 of the remaining Epsilons. Initially, this civil flight school will function for five years, with possible annual extensions for a total of 10 years.

Thanks go to Mr. Jean-Marie Gilles for making this visit possible.

All pictures (c) Hans Rolink