Chambley-Bussières

Validation date: 17 12 2013
Updated on: Never
Views: 3066
See on the interactive map:


49°01'35"N 005°52'36"E
 
runway: 05R/23L - 2,377x45m/7,800x..feet - concrete (1200x45m usable)
runway: 05L/23R - ...x..m/...x..feet - asphalt
runway: 05L/23R - ...x..m/...x..feet - grass (CLOSED - ultralights only)
runway: 17/35 - ...x..m/...x..feet - concrete (CLOSED - ultralights only)
runway: 10/28 - ...x..m/...x..feet - concrete (CLOSED - ultralights only)
runway: 05/23 - ...x..m/...x..feet - concrete (CLOSED - ultralights only)
 
Air field Chambley-Bussières (french: Aerodrome de Chambley-Bussières or Base Aérienne Chambley-Bussières, also known as Chambley Air Base, ICAO: LFJY) is an airfield ten miles (ca 16 kilometers) west of Metz in the Lorraine region of France.
Its' first use as an airfield was in 1940, when the Armée de l'Air stationed 9 Potez631 fighters and 5 Mureaux117 observation aircraft at a local farmland. Unlike many other French airfields it was abandoned after the Battle of France. It was used as agricultural land throughout World War II.

Chambley in mid-April 1951. The old pre-war Armée de l'Air airfield is still recognisable (left off centre), although it had not seen any aircraft over the past 11 years (IGN, via Géoportail)
 
In 1951 as a result of the Cold War threat of the Soviet Union, Chambley-Bussières was provided to NATO for use by the United States Air Force. As the airfield had not been used as such since 1940, and it had thus escaped German expansion, Allied bombings and other war related uses, it was clear of any wrecks and unexploded ordnance. Construction of the NATO Air Base began in 1952. There were many construction delays though, mostly caused by the French demand to use French labour and heavy machinery. Both were available in limited numbers only, because the nation was still recovering from World War II. Wing operations were not possible until mid-1955.
The first USAF unit at the base was Flight A, 73rd Support Group Depot, Chambley, subordinate to 73 Air Depot Wing at Châteauroux-Déols Air Base. This flight was sent to receive, store and issue USAF supplies as needed by Air Force personnel and French contractors, and lived near the main train station in Metz on the local economy. They also ensured at least one USAF airman was always present on the new base to provide site security.

An F-86F Sabre of 21 FBW, Chambley Air Base, France. Note the aircraft is parked on temporary steel planking, used when the parking apron of Chambley was still unfinished (United States Air Force Historical Research Agency, via Wikipedia).
 
Like most NATO airfields in France the design of the new airfield was to space parked aircraft as far apart as possible. This was achieved by the construction of a circular system of dispersal hardstands (marguerites) that could be revetted later with earth for added protection. Typically the margueriete consisted of fifteen to eighteen hardstands around a large central hangar, to hold one or two aircraft allow the planes to be spaced approximately 150 feet (ca. 50m) apart. Each squadron was assigned to a separate hangar/hardstand complex. Chambley received three such marguerites; one to the northwest of the runway, one to the southwest, and one to the southeast, each with a large hangar. Additionally a platform was built east of the southwest dispersal area.
By February 1954 enough construction was completed that USAFE established the 7002d Air Base Squadron at Chambley. Its task was to coordinate the set-up of various facilities, such as security, supply, transportation and communications. Chambley Air Base was formally dedicated and turned over to the USAF on 12 June 1956.

Aerial view of the Chambley AB logistics and living area while still under construction (photo via Bob Ferguson)

Initially families were housed in trailer such at these at Chambley (photo via Bob Ferguson)
 
The first USAF unit to use Chambley AB was the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing, deployed to France in stages from George AFB, California. Four echelons of wing personnel variously traveled by train, ship, and air to reach Chambley between November 1954 and January 1955. The 21 FBW officially established its headquarters at Chambley on 12 December 1954. 21 FBW consisted of three squadrons, the 72nd, 416th and 531st Fighter-Bomber Squadrons, equipped with the F-86F "Sabre". One of its pilots was Michael Collins, a young pilot with the 72nd Fighter Bomber Squadron, who later became the Command Module pilot on the first manned flight to the surface on the moon. Upon their arrival the facilities at Chambley were not yet ready for aircraft use. Because of this, the squadrons had to deploy elsewhere: The 72nd to Châteauroux AB, and the 416th and 531st to Toul-Rosières AB.
After many construction delays, the wing combined its fighter squadrons at Chambley AB on 15 April 1955. The squadrons carried out close air support training missions with the Army, then took first place at the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) "Gunnery Meet" at Wheelus Air Base, Libya. 21 FBW continued to excel: when they participated in the Atomic Warfare exercise "Carte Blanche" they achieved an overall second place at the Nellis AFB (Nevada) "Gunnery Meet" in 1956. Also, they won the USAFE "Award for Tactical Proficiency" for the January-June period of 1957.
In 1957, the French Government decreed that all nuclear weapons and delivery aircraft had to be removed from French soil by July 1958.
As a result, the F-86's of the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing had to be removed from France. During October 1957 it was announced that the 21 FDW would be inactivated on 8 February 1958, and that its assets would be dispersed among existing USAFE units. With the departure of the wing, Chambley-Bussières AB was placed in reserve status.

NASA astronaut Michael Collins as a member of the 72nd FBS at Chambley (USAF photo).

The original 21st FBW commander's jet and decals on the fuselage at Chambley (photo via Bob Ferguson).

Close up of the 21st FBW commander's jet and decals on the fuselage. The "Desert Rats" logo represents the Wing Commander, Col. Rowland, telling his staff how frustrated he was that he had to 'fly a desk' instead of flying a jet. His director of operations was an artist and painted this logo - note the missles under the desk and a desert rat pilot. The 21st became known as the 'Desert Rats' from their placing #1 in gunnery competition with all USAFE combat wings, while deployed to Wheelus Air Base, Libya. No other F-86 enjoyed nose art like his jet - it was not done at that time, making the nose art extremely rare. This reproduction of the nose art was made to honour the close comeraderie of men and women assigned to the 21st Fighter Bomber Wing (photo via Bob Ferguson).

A formation of 16 21FBW F-86 Sabres overflying Chambley (photo via Bob Ferguson).
 
After three years without any permanent flying units, in 1961 Chambley Air Base was reactivated as part of Operation Tack Hammer, the United States response to the Berlin Crisis of 1961. On 1 October 1961 the mobilized Indiana Air National Guard (ANG) 122d Tactical Fighter Wing was deployed to Chambley from Baer Field, Fort Wayne, Indiana. When activated, the 122d consisted of three tactical fighter squadrons: the 112th at Toledo Express Airport, Ohio; the 113th at Hulman Field, Terre Haute, and the 163d at Baer Field. Due to DOD budget restrictions, the 122d was instructed to deploy only a portion of its total strength and only the 163d was deployed to France. The other two squadrons remained on active duty at their home stations, ready to reinforce the 163d if necessary. On 6 November the 26 F-84F "Thunderstreak"s arrived at Chambley, while the wings support aircraft (C-47 and T-33A's) arrived in mid-November. Due to its reduced force structure, the wing was designated the 7122d Tactical Wing while in France for an estimated 10 months deployment.
When USAFE received notice that Chambley would be utilized for Tack Hammer, funds were allocated for renovation and new construction. Projects included construction of new hangars, outdoor secured supply and equipment storage areas, improved munitions storage facilities and repairs to various buildings and roofs. On the air side, the runway approach lights, airfield paving, maintenance facilities and general base electrical system were repaired. Rotations of Air National Guard pilots from the stateside squadrons in Indiana was performed to train them in local flying conditions in Europe. This allowed the 163d to maintain 100 percent manning and also to relieve the boredom of the national guard pilots on active duty in CONUS and keeping them connected to the overseas part of the Wing.
The mission of the 7122d was to support Seventeenth Air Force and various NATO exercises in Europe, flying up to 30 sorties a day exercising with Seventh Army units in Germany. NATO exchanges with the West German 32nd Fighter-Bomber Wing occurred in April 1962 to increase understanding of NATO air integration and terminology.
By April, the Berlin Crisis appeared to be settled and the Kennedy Administration was interested in saving money on this emergency call-up of national guard units. On 7 June the 163d was directed to return to CONUS with all personnel, however the jet aircraft and equipment were to remain at Chambley. The support C-47 and T-33s were flown back to Indiana, and in July the Air National Guardsmen of the 122 TFW/163 TFS returned to CONUS. On 16 July the 7122nd Tactical Wing was deactivated with its F-84F aircraft being turned over to the new 366th Tactical Fighter Wing. At the same time, the 7367th Combat Support Group was activated as the new host unit upon their departure.
 
Composite photo of Chambley, September 1960. Visible on the ramp are a C-119 and a C-130 Hercules, while 8 swept-wing fighters  (possibly F-100s) and a single T-33 occupy the southern marguerite. Notice the living quarters still consisted of a trailer park (IGN, via Géoportail).

F-84Fs of 163 TFS (OH ANG) lined up at Chambley, August 1961 (USAF, via Wikipedia).
 
The 366th Tactical Fighter Wing was a USAFE experiment. Wing Headquarters for the 366th was activated at Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base on 8 May 1962. It had 4 operational aircraft squadrons, equipped with the aircraft left behind by the Air National Guard wings that had deployed to France as a result of the Berlin Crisis. The assets of the ANG 163rd TFS at Chambley were assigned to the 390th TFS at Chambley, with other squadrons being formed at Étain, Phalsbourg and Chaumont Air Bases. The mission of the 390th TFS was the same as the Indiana Air National Guard which preceded it: close air support to army ground forces and air defense.
In February 1963, it was announced that the 10th Tactical Recon Wing would be moving to Chambley for up to six months while the runway at Toul Air Base was being rebuilt. They brought additional personnel and aircraft to Chambley, with facilities being stretched to accommodate them. The 390th TFS operated from Chambley AB until July 1963, when they were deemed no longer needed in Europe and then transferred to Holloman AFB, New Mexico. 10 TRW remained waiting for completion of runway renovations at Toul and left Chambley in August. Then, Chambley AB was again placed in reserve status. It was turned over to the 7367th Combat Support Group which acted as the host USAF unit for various USAFE exercises at the Air Base over the next two years.
 
On 1 July 1965 25 Tactical Reconnaissance Wing was activated at Chambley AB, and absorbed the 19th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron and 42d Electronic Countermeasures Squadron. These squadrons were transferred from Toul-Rosieres AB, where they had operated as a detachment of the 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, based at RAF Alconbury, UK. The 25th flew photo reconnaissance and electronic warfare variants of the B-66 "Destroyer". The escalation of the conflict in SE Asia (Vietnam) prompted the establishment of Detachment 1 of the 42 ECS at Takhli RTAFB during February, 1966, for which 5 of its B-66's were sent to Thailand. 
On 7 March 1966, French President Charles De Gaulle announced that France would withdraw from NATO's integrated military structure.
The United States were informed that they must remove their military forces from France by 1 April 1967. On 1 May 1966, the 42d was inactivated and the squadrons remaining aircraft were sent to Takhli RTAFB. The remaining aircraft of the 25 TRW were assigned to the 363d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Shaw AFB, South Carolina, and 25 TRW was deactivated on 15 October 1966. To finalise closure of the Air Base 7367 Combat Support Group was activated. On 1 April 1967, the last USAF personnel left Chambley AB, and the base was returned to French control.
 
The French Air Force (Armée de l'Air) then assumed control of Chambley AB. It was used for various flight operations and also by airborne forces for many years, under the administrative control of Base Aérienne 136 Toul-Rosières. For more than 20 years it was also the home of an Ultra Light Aircraft sports club, which hosted the French national championship in 2008. Every two years in July the base hosts the Mondial Air Balloons, which brings together 67 nations, nearly 2,000 crew, 800 balloons and 400,000 spectators, and air shows. Additionally it hosts mass events like Teknival, a dance event. Until at least 2004 the airfield remained relatively intact.
 
Chambley AB while under Armée de l'Air control in 1971. Although the trailer park area can still be recognised, it was largely vacated at this time (IGN, via Géoportail)
 
Chambley AB photographed in May 1982 (IGN, via Géoportail)
 
Chambley AB was still fairly intact in 2004 (Google Earth)
 
In 2009 the base was handed over to the Lorraine region. The region expected the airbase would become the 22 hectare production site of the Skylander SK-105 aircraft of GECI Aviation. Ultimately, the region wants to develop the Chambley Planet'Air concept, which would include both production activities and a dedicated base of leisure aviation. On 16 July 2009, the runway of the airfield was officially reopened to the public air traffic light aircraft (daylight VFR only), although with a much shortened usable length. 
In September 2010 a French blog posted a picture of Chambley, showing a new runway at the former ammunition dump, along with two new hangars. At that time the new runway had not yet been published on any aeronautical chart. Only a month earlier the same blog had posted new images of the completely rebuilt and modernised operations building. Recently the second runway has become visible on Google Earth.
Aerial photography from 2010 also shows the ultralight aircraft used a grass airstrip north of the runway and three smaller runways marked out on the taxi tracks of the northwest dispersals. The imagery also shows the near complete removal of the southeasterly dispersal area (only a few parkings and the hangar still exist) and the complete rebuild of the area north of the runway.
 
Two new hangars and a new runway (28R-05L) near the location of the northwestern dispersal area, as shown by French blog France-Air-OTAN. Notice the large white crosses between the runways and the markers of the (closed) grass runway.
 
Chambley AB in 2010, showing many changes having taken place in the past 6 years. Many of the old military buildings on the south side have disappered, a racetrack was built on the eastern dispersal, and the north side is under conversion (Google Earth).
 
An enlargement of the previous photo shows markers on the taxitracks of the NW marguerite indicating the use as runways for Ultralight aircraft before July 2010 (Google Earth)
 
Aerodrome map op the air field as published in July 2010 shows only the main runway as active, albeit much shortened (Service de l'Information Aeronautique - France).
 
During the Lorraine Mondial Air Ballons 2011 festival I paid the airfield a visit. I was very surprised (and somehow a bit disappointed too) to find an airfield that is clearly very much alive and growing under the Planet'Air brand. The old control tower building had received a major upgrade (which was still not fully finished when I got there), and now looked very smart and modern. Next to the main platform were a new restaurant and a new hangar, as well as an office building for the GECI Aviation company. Almost all of the old logistics site had disappeared. Only the base chapel (completely renovated!) and the old base entrance remained, along with an industrial area between the tower and the eastern marguerite.
A modern gas filling station for balloons (the largest of its kind in the world) had been built several hundred yards/meters south of the tower. On the northwest side of the runway 6 brand new hangars had been built, replacing the 4 older hangars that were built on the northwest dispersal. The old hangars were completely removed, only the 1950s steel hangar remained. New streets and landscaping had just been finished, and street lighting had been installed along the entire northern side of the runway. Many provisions had been made for visitors, including parkings for motorhomes. The visit also confirmed my suspicions about the northwestern taxiways having been used as runways for ultralights: the numbers were still visible on the concrete.
 
Chambley circuit. The motorsports circuit on the former eastern dispersal at Chambley in 2011. The dispersal is still vaguely recognisable and the hangar in the middle has been taken into service by the motorclub (Image kindly provided by l'Europe Vue du Ciel)
 
Completely renovated and very modern looking tower in 2011. Only if you look real good you will see that this is still the old 1950s building that the USAF used (RonaldV).
 
New Chambley Hangar
Chambley platform and the new hangar in 2011. In the distance the old southeastern hangar is still visible. It had been renovated and was intended to be used by GECI aviation in addition to this hangar (RonaldV).
 
Mondial Air Balloons 2011
Balloons preparing for another mass takeoff during the Lorraine Mondial Air Ballons 2011. (RonaldV)