After an original idea by Paul Freeman.
First published 7 Nov 2010. This collection of airfields is © 2010 - 2014 RonaldV
fr

Dreux-Louvilliers

20-12-2013


68

48°38'44"N 001°05'56"E
 
runway: 06/24 - 2407x45m/7900x152feet - concrete 
 
Air field Dreux-Louvilliers (french: Aérodrome Senonches, Base Aérienne Dreux-Louvilliers, also known as Dreux-Louvilliers Air Base) was an airfield in the Eure-et-Loir département of France, 18 miles (29 km) southwest of Dreux.
In the late 1940s the Cold War broke out, the Berlin Airlift occurred and the Soviet Union was considered to be an ongoing threat to western Europe. Therefore negotiations began in November 1950 between NATO and the United States to establish air bases and station combat wings in France to bolster European defense needs. During the negotiations for selected sites, the World War II airfield at Dreux (A-41) was proposed for expansion into a modern air base. However, the French government rejected the Dreux proposal, citing the expansion of Orly Airport near Paris would present conflicts with airspace traffic. Other plans were in the works to expand Vernouillet into a commercial site. 
By the summer of 1951 another location near the village of Dampierre, about 3 miles (5 km) south of Brezolles was selected as a base to support the United States Air Force as a tactical airlift base. This location would become Dreux-Louvilliers Air Base.
 
Construction of the Air Base began in September 1952 with the construction of roads and a railroad track. In November, runway construction began along with various taxiways, hardstands and hangars. The design of the airfield was to space parked aircraft as far apart as possible by the construction of a circular system of 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. Each hardstand held one or two aircraft, and allowed the planes to be spaced approximately 150 feet (50 m) apart. Each squadron was assigned to a separate hangar/hardstand complex.

Dreux-Louvilliers Air Base differed from the other USAFE air bases in three major ways. Usually the tactical airbases had three (sometimes two) marguerites, one per squadron, and three squadrons made up an Air Wing. Dreux-Louvilliers Air Base had six, and thus room for six squadrons forming two Air Wings. 
Another difference was the presence of a large platform, two parallel taxiways and three transport size hangars in addition to the figther sized hangars. The hangars were large enough to accommodate two C-119, two C-123 or two C-130 cargo aircraft.
Final difference was the purpose built 20 kilometer railway connection from La Loup to the airfield. The railway connection ended at the warehouse storage at the airfield, which consisted of four million cubic feet (about half a million cubic meters) of storage space. 
Building construction continued for the next several years, and by the summer of 1955 the base was ready for its American occupants.

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U.S. Air Force C-119 transports can be seen parked on the northernmost, westernmost and southernmost dispersals and the ramp at Dreux-Louvilliers Air Base, France, on 9 March 1956 (IGN, via Géoportail)
 
The 60th Troop Carrier Wing with its 10th, 11th, and 12th Troop Carrier squadrons, flying C-119F "Flying Boxcars" relocated from Rhein-Main AB, West Germany on 15 October 1955. The primary mission of 60TCW was to transport U.S. Army and other NATO airborne and ground forces throughout Europe. The wing maintained its ability to drop airborne forces into a combat operation, but intra-theater airlift support became its primary mission. The majority of the missions were short-haul logistics support flights to support US and NATO forces such as transporting equipment and supplies between various air bases. Because the European highway system was virtually non-existent at the time, surface transportation in Europe was extremely slow, even a decade after the end of World War II. Additionally losses and damage to surface transported goods was very common. The value of supplies such as spare aircraft parts were such that the cost of airlifting them as well as personnel between weapons training ranges in Libya and Morocco and other locations was justified. In addition, 60TCW supported 62TCS from Sewart Air Force Base, Tennessee, which was testing the dual basing concept of troop carrier aircraft.
Another airlift unit, 309 Troop Carrier Group, arrived from Ardmore AFB, Oklahoma, to join 60TCW at Dreux-Louvilliers on 1 June 1956. Flying C-123Bs, they provided logistical support to all USAFE bases and assisted in improving dispersed base deployment concepts. On 20 April 1958 USAFE decided that the C-123's were too expensive to operate in Europe and notified the 309th to return to the United States. The group returned to Ardmore AFB in July, and most of it's C-123s were assigned to the Air Force Reserves.
 
On 12 March 1957, Headquarters 60 Troop Carrier Group was deactivated, with the squadrons being commanded by 60 Wing Headquarters directly. On 25 September 1958, 60 Wing Headquarters was itself deactivated with command and control of the squadrons being assigned directly to the 322nd Air Division at Evreux-Fauville Air Base.
In January 1961 budget reductions at HQ USAFE deactivated 10, 11 and 12 TCS along with all support units at Dreux. Support personnel were either assigned to the 317th Air Base Group or reassigned to other USAFE bases, and Evreux AB became the caretaker of Dreux from 1 January 1958 until November 1961. 12TCS remained at Dreux until the Summer of 1962, when the Squadron was deactivated and the aircraft either sold to the third world, or returned to the USA.
From September 1958 through 1 November 1961 Dreux Air Base was classified as "standby", with all units assigned to the base coming under the command of the 7305th Combat Support Group and the 317th Air Base Group at Evreux. Although some C-119's continued to operate from Dreux, most operated from Evreux. Manpower and budget shortages prevented adequate maintenance at Dreux and the condition of the base began to deteriorate after its inactivation. There were few flight operations from the base and the facility fell into a state of disrepair.
 
On 3 November 1961, Dreux-Louvillers AB was reopened and occupied by the 106th TRS of the 117th TRW of the Alabama Air National Guard, flying RF-84Fs. The Wing had been activated to active duty on 1 October 1961 for a period of twelve months during the Berlin Crisis. This was the second tour of duty for the 117th in France, as it had opened Toul-Rosieres Air Base in January 1952. At the time of its activation, the 117th consisted of 106 TRS at Sumpter Smith Airport, Birmingham; the 153rd at Key Field, Meridian Mississippi; the 160th at Dannelly Field, Montgomery, and 184TRS at Fort Smith Municipal Airport, Arkansas. But due to budget restrictions, only one squadron, 106TRS, was deployed to France.
On 27 October twenty RF-84F's were deployed to Dreux, arriving on 3 November, with two T-33As and one C-47 as support aircraft. By 22 November the wing had reassembled at the newly reactivated Dreux for an estimated stay of ten months, designated 7117 Tactical Wing. However, problems developed immediately after their arrival at Dreux. The base had been in standby status for about a year and it was no longer used for operational flights. Possibly the French forgot to take into account the fact that the base could be re-opened for exercises and deployments such as was now the case. Whatever the reasons were, more than one thousand airmen of the 106th TRS arrived at a base that had been stripped completely clean.

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RF-84G 53-7544 of the 106th TFW, Dreux Air Base, France - 1962 (Source: United States Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB Alabama, via Wikipedia).
 
The French had taken away office desks, telephones and typewriters. The kitchens had not been used for some time, a fact that the quartermasters had not taken into account, so getting the base operational again in the short time available took an all-out effort.
Soon more problems were encountered. A few days after the ground units arrived from Alabama, the first aircraft were prepared for a practice flight. The French, however, refused permission for take-off. Only after a lot of negotiation were several aircraft allowed to take to the air. Dreux had come within the Paris Air Traffic Control area, as did the busy Le Bourget and Orly airports, and an extra squadron of aircraft had not been allowed for in the French air traffic controllers' staffing levels. The safety of civilian air traffic was used to justify denying the Americans permission to fly out of Dreux. Notwithstanding stormy protests, every form of cooperation was refused and the RF-84s remained grounded. The pilots, who had only just completed a risky Atlantic crossing of several thousand kilometers, had to wait in the operations room.
No matter how strongly the Pentagon protested, the French answer remained 'non!', eventually forcing General Reid Doster, commander of the Alabama deployment, to take his aircraft elsewhere. By the end of November 1961 he finally received permission from the air traffic controllers to take his aircraft to Chaumont AB on 8 December 1961, but USAFE insisted that the 7117th Wing continued to operate at Dreux for airlift traffic. On 22 July 1962 the 106th TRS returned to Alabama, and Dreux AB was placed back in standby status by USAFE.
 
Following the departure of the ANG units in 1962, the 322nd Air Division operated the base, assigning the 7305th Combat Support Group as the host unit at Dreux. As Dreux had no flying units assigned and no support aircraft, it was only occasionally used by transient C-119 and C-130's on training missions.
On 7 March 1966, French President Charles de Gaulle announced that France would withdraw from NATO's integrated military structure, and the United States were informed that they had to remove their military forces from France by 1 April 1967. In May the removal of all American property began and was completed by November 1966. Dreux Air Base was returned to French control on 24 March 1967. Under French control, the base was shut down and put into care and maintenance status due to airspace conflicts with Orly Airport.

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Dreux Air Base, France, 30 July 1971. The runway as well as the two parallel taxiways of the otherwise complete airbase were closed with small white X markings (IGN, via Géoportail).
 
Today, the airfield is a secured facility, but not used for any flight operations. The airfield is deteriorating after nearly 50 years of disuse, with the expansion joints beginning to separate between the poured concrete slabs. Until at least 2010, all of the dispersal marguerites remained, although some of the pads had been removed. All of the aircraft hangars remained intact and in the support area some of the buildings appeared to be in use for storage of supplies and equipment by the French Air Force.
However, most of the base appeared to be abandoned and overrun by vegetation, with several buildings missing roofs, exposing the interiors to the elements.
Around 2000, an antenna array for the over the horizon scanning Nostradamus radar system was set up on the western dispersal area, which neccitated the removal of some concrete. The location of the removed dispersals is still visible from the air.

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It appears the Nostradamus radar site was only just complete in this 2001 overview of Dreux-Louvilliers AB. Oddly enough, in spite of the airfield being closed, it does have runway numbers and displaced thresholds painted on, but lacks X markings (IGN, via Géoportail).

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Platform and station building photographed in 2005 (jfmurie, on Panoramio)


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2007 overview of Dreux-Louvilliers AB (Google Earth)


French video (5 minutes) explaining the working of the 'over the horizon' scanning principle of Nostradamus. Even if you don't understand French it is reasonably understandable.

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Ground level close up of the antenna array (3 x 96 antennas) at Dreux, 2007 (copyright © Onera)

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Close up of the antenna array at Dreux, 2007 (Google Earth)

 
In 2012, the air base underewent a major transformation. As with many other former French air force installations, a major portion of the airfield was covered with solar panels for a photo-voltaic power plant. In Dreux' case, this meant that most of the site south of the taxi tracks was transformed into a solar powerplant.

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Like many French airfields, Dreux fell victim to the solar panel fungus in 2012, albeit only the southern half of the airfield (IGN, via Géoportail)