The French concern of Breguet Aviation was awarded a 1958 NATO-sponsored contract to design, develop and produce a new purpose-built airframe to replace the 1940s-era Lockheed P-2 "Neptune" in the long-range maritime reconnaissance role. Some 24 contending designs were submitted from as many as nine contractors with the resulting selected design becoming the Breguet Br.1150 "Atlantic". The prototype went airborne for the first time on October 21st, 1961. Following successful testing of two completed prototypes, a pair of preproduction quality mounts arrived before the type was formally accepted into operational service in 1965 (initially with France and Germany). The Atlantic has since served within the navies of France (as the "Atlantique"), Italy (with Air Force pilots), Germany, the Netherlands and Pakistan. A modernized form for the French Navy has appeared as the "Atlantique 2" (detailed below).
The series' first operators became the French and German navies who contracted for 40 and 20 Atlantics respectively through an initial batch order from Breguet in 1963. These airframes were delivered to customers beginning in 1965 and ended in 1968. A follow up order involved supply of the aircraft to the Netherlands and Italy shortly thereafter, these being delivered into 1974. Production was undertaken by a European consortium under the "Societe d'Etude et de Construction de Breguet Atlantic" (otherwise recognized as "SECBAT") name led by Breguet itself. Beyond these European powers, Pakistan received three ex-French Navy Atlantics in the 1970s.
Outwardly, the Atlantic series relied on a largely conventional design form. The fuselage was purposely designed as deep, utilizing a "double buddle" feature which pressurized the upper bubble (containing the flight deck and crew cabin) and left the lower bubble (housing the weapons bay/mission equipment area) unpressurized. This promoted a high-mounted flight deck and short nose assembly and provided the fuselage with an elongated double-tube shape when viewed from the forward profile. Porthole windows dotted the sides of the fuselage for observation from within the aircraft while the flight deck windows were all framed in their place, offering good views forward and to the sides of the aircraft. The fuselage tapered at the empennage and included a stinger-type tail assembly. Wings were of a straight monoplane design, low-mounted along the fuselage sides with systems pods capping their tips. Engines were held along the wing leading edge in streamlined nacelles jutting forward. Each engine powered a four-bladed propeller assembly. The empennage included a single vertical tail fin (capped by another streamlined equipment pod) and upward-canted horizontal planes set high on the fuselage. The undercarriage was wholly retractable and consisted of a pair of two-wheeled main legs, on to each engine nacelle, and a nose leg at front. Onboard Anti-Surface Warfare (ASW) equipment was US in origin while radar was furnished by Thomson-CSF/Thales search radar fitted to a retractable dome structure. FLIR was eventually installed at the nose.
As an anti-ship, anti-submarine maritime warfare mount, the Atlantic series could be properly outfitted through torpedoes (up to 8 x Mk 46 / 7 x Murene series), depth charges, naval mines and conventional drop bombs as required - these held in the unpressurized internal bomb bay. Additionally the aircraft was cleared to drop specialized mission equipment (such as buoys) when required. A later 1980s modernization by the French Navy (to the "Atlantique 2" standard), added support for guided anti-ship missiles (2 x AM 39 Exocet or 2 x AS 37 Martel) and laser-guided bombs all the while retaining the conventional torpedo/drop bomb capability. Four external underwing hardpoints further broadened ordnance options for the crew.
After a lengthy period of service, there proved several high profile operational losses of the series leading the Netherlands Navy to ground their fleet for a period in 1981. At least three were lost over the Atlantic Ocean while conducting routine patrols. Five German Atlantics were converted to ELINT (ELectronic INTelligence) mounts to fulfill a new requirement. In 1978, the French continued operational support of the aircraft and enacted a modernization of the fleet. The aircraft was now outfitted with the latest in tracking and scanning equipment and provision was made for modern anti-ship missiles. The airframe and powerplants remained largely unchanged though avionics were upgraded, requiring all-new pilot and crew training programs. A pair of prototypes - the first flying in 1981 - preceded production models of this new type which finally arrived in force during 1988. By this time, Breguet had merged with Dassault in 1971 so all future Atlantic aircraft were under the new Dassault brand label. Ultimately, France became the sole operator of the new Atlantic forms and assigned the simple "Atlantique 2" designation to them. An "Atlantic 3" initiative (to be powered by 2 x Rolls-Royce AE 2100H turboprop engines with new avionics and mission systems) intended for Germany and Italy seems to have fallen to naught. Deliveries of Atlantique 2 aircraft concluded in 1998.
French losses of the Atlantic/Atlantique have included a September 20th, 1968 Farnborough showing in which all six crewmembers were killed. This was followed by a May 18th, 1986 incident when nineteen French Navy personnel were killed while flying over Djibouti, their aircraft disappearing into the clouds that shrouded a mountain. The Pakistan Navy lost sixteen of its Atlantic crew during a August 10th, 1999 engagement with Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21Bis interceptors of the Indian Air Force.
Structurally, the Atlantic 2 showcased a running length of 103 feet, 9 inches, a wingspan of 122 feet, 9.25 inches and a height of 35 feet, 8.75 inches. Wing area totaled 1,295 square feet. Empty weight was listed at 56,660lbs with a maximum take-off weight reaching 101,850lbs. The aircraft was typically crewed by twelve personnel including two pilots, a flight engineer, forward observer, communications specialist, ECM systems specialist, radar/IFF operator, tactical coordinator, a pair of acoustic analysts and (optionally) two reserve crew.
Power for the Atlantique 2 was served through 2 x Rolls-Royce Tyne RTy.20 Mk 21 series turboprop engines (twin shaft) developing 6,100 horsepower each. Performance specifications included a maximum speed of 400 miles per hour, a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour, a ferry range of 5,635 miles per hour and a mission endurance time of up to eighteen hours (depending on mission loadout. The aircraft could manage operations at altitudes up to 30,000 feet through use of a pressurized cabin and flight deck. Rate-of-climb was listed at 2,900 feet per minute.
Production of Atlantic series aircraft spanned from 1961 to 1987 to which 87 x Atlantic models and 28 Atlantique 2 aircraft were produced. The Netherlands and Germany have since retired their Atlantic aircraft fleet and accepted the American Lockheed P-3 Orion in turn. The French Navy has used their Atlantique 2 fleet in recent actions over Mali in the conventional drop bomb/precision-guided bomb role with positive results. All former Atlantic series one production models of the French Navy were retired by 1996.
As it stands (2013), the current French Navy Atlantique 2 fleet is the target of a major modernization by French authorities to continue service of the long range, long endurance aircraft for army assistance, anti-piracy actions and patrolling of vital French shipping lanes. Thales and Dassault are charged with the action set to begin sometime in 2013. The effort, should the French budget allow, will extend the tactical usefulness of the Atlantique 2 by a decade or more. Its value over Mali has served to prove the aircraft's worth to ongoing French military operations. Elsewhere, the competing American Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft is poised to serve many former P-3 Orion operators - that is if the price is right. To date (2013), only the United States and India have committed to the type.
July 2019 - The French Navy has acquired the first two examples of the modernized ALT2 variant. These will undergoing operational testing prior to formal service entry.
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