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Istres-Le Tubé Air Base

Base aérienne 125 Istres (BA 125)
Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) Y-17

Landsat 5 satellite image - false color infrared
Aerial photo of Istres Air Base
Airport type Military
Owner Government of France
Operator Armée de l'air
Location Istres
Elevation AMSL 162 ft / 49 m
Coordinates 43°31′28″N 4°56′30″E / 43.52444°N 4.94167°E / 43.52444; 4.94167Coordinates: 43°31′28″N 4°56′30″E / 43.52444°N 4.94167°E / 43.52444; 4.94167

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Direction Length Surface
m ft
15/33 3,750 12,303 Asphalt
Source: DAFIF[1][2]

Istres-Le Tubé Air Base (French language: Base Aérienne 125 or BA 125) is a large multi-role tasked French Air Force base located near Istres, northwest 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


Badge of the squadron 3/4 Limousin

The user of the base is the Armée de l'Air with several operational units on the base, including:[3]

  • Strike squadron 2/4 Lafayette equipped with Mirage 2000N.
  • Tanker squadron 00.093 Bretagne equipped with KC-135 Stratotanker.
  • DAMS 11.004 (Dépôt atelier de munitions spéciales) or Special Ammunition Storage responsible for the hardened alert facilities of nuclear mid-range Air-Sol Moyenne Portée ASMP missiles to be used by Strike sqn 3/4 in its deterrence role.
  • Air Defence squadron 01.950 responsible for the base air defense.
  • 25th air engineer regiment, a technical unit.
  • Guard detachment Fusiliers Commandos de l'Air responsible for the base security and ground defences.

Other uses

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).[4] Istres was also utilized by NASA as a contingency landing site for the Space Shuttle in the case of a Transoceanic Abort Landing (TAL).[5] The base's runway is 3,750 metres (12,300 ft) long and 60 metres (200 ft) wide. An additional overrun area 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) long was built for Airbus Industries in 1992. It has the same characteristics as the runway, making it the longest runway in Western Europe and thus suited to Shuttle landings.[6]


On 31 March 1992, a Boeing 707 of Kabo Air, a Nigerian company, made an emergency landing at Istres after engines 3 and 4 had separated from the wing in turbulence at 35,000 feet. The aircraft performed a flapless, downwind landing with a touch-down speed of nearly 200 knots and the right wing on fire from the pouring fuel. The gear failed and the aircraft slid off the far end of the runway, but the crew of five survived and the cargo was saved. The incident brought to light severe deficiencies in Kabo Air's operations — the aircraft had passed mandatory maintenance and was overloaded. [7][8][9]

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 language: 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.[10]

Sometime after World War II, 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.

See also


  1. Airport information for LFMI from DAFIF (effective October 2006)
  2. Airport information for QIE at Great Circle Mapper. Source: DAFIF (effective Oct. 2006).
  3. (French) "Appendix 2: List of Airbases and Their Principal Activities". 2006 Finance Bill: Defense - Air Forces. French Senate. 24 November 2005. Retrieved 2006-12-09. 
  4., Washington Post, January 6, 1996
  5. "France to assist NASA with the future launches of the Space Shuttle". Retrieved 2009-09-27. 
  7. ""31 March 1992 - Transair 671" (transcript)". Cockpit Voice Recorder Database. (site not responding on 5 March 2008). Archived from the original on 2004-10-15. 
  8. "Aircraft Accident description of the 31 MAR 1992 accident of a Boeing 707-321C 5N-MAS at Istres". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  9. (French)"RAPPORT relatif à l'accident survenu le 31 mars 1992 au Boeing 707 immatriculé 5N-MAS (Nigéria) exploité par la Compagnie Trans-Air Limited". Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses (BEA). Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  10.  This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website

External links

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