4 April 2017 | Lakeland, Florida. The oldest military aerobatic team, dating to 1931, the French Acrobatic Patrol (la Patrouille de France) or “PAF” and personnel of the French Air Force (de l’armée de l’air Armée), completed their first appearances in North America in 31 years and to SUN ‘n FUN, the second largest annual airshow within the United States. The accompanying Airbus A400M Atlas, which is slightly smaller than a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III but larger than a Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules (examples of which were also present), turboprop transport was also a first for SUN ‘n FUN.
The team commemorated the United States’ participation in the Second World War, and as John “Lites” Leenhouts, SUN ‘n FUN ‘s Chief Executive Officer, stated during a morning media gathering, “2017 marks the 100th anniversary of Americans joining with French aviators in the First World War.” The French, in May 1917, asked the Americans to bolster Allied air power. Thus, due to America’s neglect of military aviation development many “Yanks” were soon flying from French aerodromes in French designed and built flying machines.
Captain (Capitaine) benjamin Michel explained that he loves to fly the Dassault Alpha Jet advanced trainers, which are rated as having a 540 knot top speed, but his first love is the Dassault Mirage 2000 multirole fighter. The Mirage 2000 can attain a supersonic Mach 2.2. He piloted the much more powerful planes for three years before joining Patrouille de France. The captain said, “The Alpha Jet is more suited to the kind of flying we do, but the Mirage’s power and speed are thrilling.”
An engineer (aircraft maintenance technician) stated that Patrouille de France “is based in the south of France at Base aérienne 701 Salon-de-Provence (Salon-de-Provence Air Base), which is near the city of Marseille.” She also informed this writer that, “The weather conditions in the Marseille region are similar to those in Florida, but Florida’s air contains more humidity.”
After viewing Patrouille de France‘s show, J.R. Hafer, Founder and Publisher of 20th Century Aviation Magazine, commented, “I believe Patrouille de France is more enjoyable than the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels.” Another civilian pilot, who is a member of the Civil Air Patrol (the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary), stated that he especially enjoyed the l’armée de l’air flyers’ routines because “the fluid aircraft positioning was uniquely different than that employed by the American military demonstration teams.”
Additionally quite different was the teams’ treatment of the media. The noncommissioned officer in charge of Public Affairs for Patrouille de France was very hospitable, employing something akin to a laissez-faire leadership style, whereas her U.S. Navy petty officer counterpart with the Blue Angels rudely micromanaged the press to the point of unprofessionalism.
Patrouille de France‘s sojourn was much too brief. It was quite an honor to have the team at this year’s SUN ‘n FUN. The 20th Century Aviation Magazine staff joins with all who viewed their aerial routines in thanking these goodwill representatives by concluding with the phrase, “mille mercis” (a thousand thanks).
20th Century Aviation Magazine thanks de l’armée de l’air and la Patrouille de France for their cooperation and hospitality during the interviews and photography sessions.
Sources and Suggested Readings
Airbus A400M Atlas
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet
Dassault Mirage 2000
French Air Force
La Patrouille de France
La Patrouille de France
Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules
Patrouille de France
Patrouille de France Will Perform at Sun ’n Fun during North American Tour
Salon-de-Provence Air Base
United States Army World War I Flight Training