Djibouti Air Force / Force Aerienne du Djibouti
By Arnold ten Pas
Little unknown Djibouti, a city state on the Horn of Africa became an administrative capital of the French territory in 1896. On 8 May 1977 the population of the so called French Somaliland voted for independence and the name got changed to the Republic of Djibouti. Djibouti is situated on the eastern coast of Africa between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and covers 23.000 square kilometer. The Djibouti Air Force (Force Aerienne du Djibouti - official name in French) was formed after the independence of June 27 1977 as part of the Djibouti Army. First aircraft were three Nord N2501 Noratlas transport aircraft and an Allouette II helicopter presented by the French Government. Task of the Djibouti Air Force is to back the Army with transport and liaison duties. Although Djibouti was now independent, France was responsible for its air defence and this task was performed by Escadre de Chasse 3/10 from Creil with Mirage IIIC fighters.
In 1982 the Air Force was augmented by two Aerospatiale AS355F Ecureuil 2 helicopters and a Cessna U206G Stationair followed in 1985 by a Cessna 402C Utiliner. In 1985 the Allouette II was withdrawn from use and put on display at Ambouli Air Base as Djibouti's airport is called. Two years later the three N2501 Noratlas were also put aside and given back to France later. New equipment came in 1991 by means of a Cessna 208 Caravan followed by all the Russian types in the early nineties. They included four Mi-2, six Mi-8 and two Mi-17 helicopters and a single Antonov An-28 light transport aircraft. Pilot training, if neccesary, is conducted in France and continued on the type of flying at home although the need for new pilots isn't that big in the approximately 250 men of the Djibouti Air Force. The Air Force has no units of its own and forms as a whole part of the Army and its sole base is Ambouli. Serials system of the Djibouti Air Force is in the civilian bracket of the J2-MAA till MAW range although most of the time only last two letters are carried.
France still plays an important role in this small country with more than 3000 people assigned. Air defence is nowadays carried out by Armee de l'Air (French Air Force) Mirage F1C fighters of Escadre de Chasse 04.033 'Vexin' from Reims backed by SA 330 Puma's of the Escadron de transport d'Outre Mer 00.088 'Larzac', while the Armee de Terre (French Army) uses SA 330 Puma's of det. 188 in various transport roles for the Foreign Legion. Losses has been very high among the Russian type helicopters and by May 2001 only one Mi 17 was operational and one Mi 8 was for maintenance in Ethiopia. All the others have been crashed or wrecked as can be seen by the four Mi 8s and Mi 2 on the dump at Ambouli. One of the Ecureuils (J2-MAF) came back from France in March 2001 after maintenance. The other AS355F is stored and awaiting maintenance like the Ce402C while the Ce208 was in South Africa for overhaul. From this country Djibouti would like to purchase three Bell 412 helicopters by the end of 2001. Further on the shoppping list will be transport aircraft of which two types are favourite - the Antonov An-32 or the PZL M28 for its PT-6 engines.