Aérofabrique Dragon-III Transport




The Dragon-III is France’s frontline tilt-rotor medium transport which is in service as a tactical transport with the Armée de Terre, Armée de l’Air and the Marine Impériale. The Dragon-III is a robust and combat proven design which has been in widespread service since the early 2290’s. As well as the basic transport model the design has also been widely adapted.




The first wave of I Bataillon Régiment Étranger d'Aero -Infanterie flew in tight formation over the broadtop forests of Aurore towards AO Gabrielle where a detachment of Vedettes was valiantly holding out against hundreds of Capu in a small hamlet. The core of the formation was the four big Dragons their bellies full of veteran Legionnaires. In loose orbit around them were the heavily armed Zephyr gunships while out ahead were the light scouts.


I/REAI was the hardest hitting reserve the colony had, an experimental unit capable of rapid reaction no conventional unit could match. The battalion’s three companies each comprising 10 aircraft with a mixture of transports, gunships and scouts. It moved fast and suffered casualties to match. The French had pioneered airmobile tactics in 1950’s Algeria and still like to stay as close to the cutting edge as they could.


The Capu didn’t know what hit them, Blindicide missiles smashed into their AFVs sending debris and bodies flying. The gunships then stood off and picked off infantry soldiers with their autocannons. The enemy momentarily suppressed, the Dragons swept in to reinforce the embattled Vedettes.


The Dragons flew low and fast, surprisingly agile for just large aircraft, and scattering counter-measures as they went. Seconds later seventy fantassins were on the ground running to positions alongside the militia men while the Dragons swivelled and raced for safety. Two more companies were on their way tasked with cutting off the Kafer force and destroying it in detail.       


Development History and Description


The Dragon-III is France’s most widely deployed tilt-rotor transport. It is derived from the earlier 2270’s Dragon-II, which saw widespread service in the Central Asian War, but is a mostly new design. The Dragon-II was a fairly conventional tilt rotor with two engines with large turboprops mounted three quarters of the way along the wings. The Dragon-II’s strengths were its robustness, sound handling characteristics and all round versatility. Although mainly a transport it saw heavy combat and losses ran into the hundreds of air-frames.


Aérofabrique designed the Dragon-III to build upon this sound base but further develop the aircraft. In the end it was decided to go with four shrouded props to reduce forward signature but also aid agility and stability over the more traditional arrangement of the Dragon II.


The main fuselage is based on that of the Dragon II although it has been significantly modified to accept the new wing arrangement. The main entrance and exit is through the large rear ramp. There are side doors but these are normally used only by the crew due to the proximity of the engines.


The wings are entirely new with a new arrangement with larger wings to the rear and smaller wings to the front of the airframe. On the tips of the wings are four Salmson GT57 shrouded turboprop engines which provide the aircraft with its power.


The four engines are each independently steered by the fly-by-light flight system which can give the craft superb agility for such a large craft. Indeed the Dragon-III is renowned for its close in manoeuvrability and stable handling characteristics. When compared with its predecessor it has provided its operators with a major leap forward in capability.


Its flight systems are relatively simple with the usual array of sensors and avionics systems to aid the flight crew. The pilots are equipped with ejector seats and the passengers crash resistant seating. The aircraft is fitter with a retractable air to air refuelling probe to increase its operating range.


The Dragon-III is designed to operate with a single crew member, however many also carry a second crewman on the flight deck to act as a co-pilot, gunner and flight engineer. In addition most units fly with at least one loadmaster.   




The first Dragon-III flew in 2287 but did not come into widespread service as the Dragon-IIIA until 2291 slowly replacing the bulk of the Dragon-IIs in Armée de Terre and Armée de l’Air service with initial examples going to units in the Central Asian Republic.


France flew a mixed fleet of tilt-rotors in the War of German Reunification although most of their work was in the rear echelons due to the highly lethal air defence environment. There were Dragon-III’s involved in the insertion of French airmobile troops in the path of Germany’s III Corps strike through the Ardennes although these forces were isolated and quickly over-run. In spite of the limited role it played the Dragon-III proved superior in many respects to its predecessor validating its procurement and ensuring a long production run.


By 2298 the Dragon-III had replaced the Dragon-II in all roles except for with the navy’s carriers. These retained the Dragon-II as its more conventional design took up less deck space than the newer model. The navy does operate the model in the land based search and rescue role however.


Dragon-IIIs have been heavily involved in the Kafer War so far in the hands of the battalions of the Régiments de Aviation Légère Coloniale, Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre and wings of Armée de l’Air. The Dragon-IIIs have proven as robust and reliable as was expected and have been at the heart of many significant airmobile operations.


As might be expected in addition to the normal transport variant the Dragon-III has been developed into an array of specialist models. These include EW, search and rescue, UAV controllers, extemporised gunships and many others.


The Dragon-III has proved a very popular export model serving in militaries across the core and the colonies. Several nations also build this aircraft under licence.




Type: Tilt-Rotor Utility Light Transport
Crew: Pilot (+2), 20 combat loaded troops or up to 40 passengers depending on layout
Weight: 8000kg
Armour: All faces 1
Armament: Various
Evasion: 14
Sensor Range: 100km
Signature: +1
Cargo: 3000kg

Max Speed: 600 kph
Cruising Speed: 500 kph
Combat Movement: 1200m
Endurance: 3 Hours
Price: Lv325,000






The Dragon-IIIA is the standard transport model described above. It has undergone several upgrades during the course of its career but has remained essentially the same. The A2 model includes remote dorsal gun and four hardpoints for external ordnance. Unarmed IIIAs are popular transport aircraft in the colonies. 




The IIIR is the specialist combat search and rescue (REDCO) model operated by special squadrons of the navy and air force. These are highly modified craft designed to be able to rescue downed air crew or isolated special forces teams from behind the lines. This is a role the French perfected during the CAW and pride themselves on the skills they have maintained. The Dragon-IIIR is heavily armed with two turrets and numerous hardpoints, has extensive stealth and impressive EW capabilities.




The PMD or ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ is a Tanstaaflian conversion of the Dragon-IIIAs acquired by the TFL surplus from the French. It includes missile hardpoints, dorsal turret, three 12mm door guns and a battery of no fewer than six forward firing 25mm autocannon. The PMD is used to escort TFL air mobile infantry formations to their targets and provide close. There were initially four PMDs which were converted, although there was no standardisation across the fleet, and it is not known how many remain in service.


Notable Units


I Bataillon Régiment Étranger d'Aéro-Infanterie


I/REAI is an experimental French unit formed in the 2290s by combining Foreign Legion infantry soldiers from I/3e REI and aviation crews from II/5e RALC in a potent and highly mobile package. The battalion fought on Aurore and Beta Canum earning a reputation as an elite and hard hitting unit in countless actions. The battalion has 12 Dragon-IIIA2 in its inventory.


Flotilla 121F


Flotilla 121F is a crack REDCO search and rescue squadron of the French navy. Normally based on Nouvelle Provence it has seen action in the Central Asian War and the Kafer War with detachments on Beta Canum, Kimanjano and Beowulf. There skills have saved many aviators although they have seen more action in the insertion and retrieval of special operators in recent years. The unit has a total of 15 Dragon-IIIRs at full strength. 


Escadrille des Hélicoptères 3/131 'Coq Joien'


EH 3/131 is an Armée de l’Air squadron that was formed for action on Elysia during the Elysian Revolt where it operated Dragon-IIs in support of the army. At the end of the war the unit destroyed its craft and relocated to Beta Canum where it re-equipped with Dragon-IIIAs. During the Kafer War the squadron operated in support of 9e Corps before the survivors evacuated to New Africa, where it served until the Liberation. The squadron has since been heavily involved in operations against Kafer remnants.  


Copyright 2008, D Hebditch and Laurent Esmiol. All images by Laurent Esmiol