Istres, an aeronautical town




The town developed in parallel with its air base 125 Charles Monnier, a highly strategic site, vital for the French Air Force. A world-famous site, with the largest runway in Europe, it continues to actively participate in the prestige of the town.


Flying took off in Istres in 1920, with the exploits of numerous long-distance and competition pilots, including Hélène Boucher and Marcel Doret.
In 1950, alongside the strategic military base, the flight test centre (Centre d’Essais en Vol) was established, providing Istres with an industrial vocation. It was the site of many first flights and records.

The aviation training centre, 1917 -1940
It was established in Crau in Mas du Tube in May 1917. Renowned worldwide, it has a top rate of success: 2,770 pilots qualified for the war between 1917 and 1918.

The great long-distance flights
During the 1930s they were legendary in Istres. The most significant was Mermoz’s flight. In January 1933, he successfully completed a return journey across the South Atlantic, from Istres to Buenos Aires, at the controls of the ‘Arc-en-Ciel’.

The flight test centre
For many years, Istres has been the site of choice for record attempts and test flights. Within this complex, official flight and development tests for air units, engines, and civil and military prototypes are carried out, for both state and private clients. The Dassault Aviation test flights take place in Istres: Mystère 10, 20, 50, Jaguar, Alphajet, Mirage F1 and 200, Atlantique 2 and Rafale.

  •  - © A Courtillat


Built around a spacious aeronautical platform, operational 24 hours a day, the Air base 125 ‘Charles Monier’ Istres, is distinguished by its work between forces, as well as its increasingly inter-ministerial and international dimension. It is often described as ‘extraordinary’ because of its sheer size, with a 5,000 metre runway, the longest in Europe, 500 buildings and a surface area of 2,100 hectares; and also because of the diversity in the units it works with: 5,000 people, including 4,000 from the Ministry of Defence, between 70 civil, military, industrial or state units or bodies.
A nuclear base, it is the only site that has the complete airborne nuclear deterrent: the improved medium-range air-to-ground missile (ASMP-A), the Mirage 2000 N carriers, and the Boeing C-135FR tanker aircraft.
The starting point for many international operations, the leading military air base in France receives all types of aircraft: 30,000 passengers per year and 7,500 tonnes of freight, NATO an EU combat aircraft convoys.

Today the Istres aerodrome, which the French Air Force uses mainly, is an essential tool in the defence of our country. The Istres air base is very well established in an exceptional environment. It is particularly active, being the site for various operational missions, at the heart of French defence.

Different strategic Air Force units are based there:
- Fighter squadron 02.004 ‘La Fayette’ which flies Mirage 2000 N equipped with the ASMP-A missile.
- The 02.091 ‘Bretagne’ in-flight refuelling grouping, which includes all the Air Force Boeing tankers.
- The specialist technical support squadron 15.093, a large technical and logistical unit which provides maintenance and upkeep of supply aircraft.
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