La Ferté Alais (June 11th & 12th, 2013)
The La Ferté-Alais annual meeting always seems to capture the best overview in aviation history.
In 2013, the AJBS (Amicale Jean Baptiste Salis) remembered 40 years of air displays at the Cerny airdrome. That's right, this year marked the 41st meeting aérien of this one of a kind event, which is also known as “Fête Aérienne de la Ferté-Alais”, “Les Temps des Hélices” or “Meeting de la Pentecôte”. If you ever want to be in aviation history heaven, this is as close as one might get in Europe, taking you back from the early beginnings of flight to modern times.
Two remarkable events which were celebrated in this year's edition were the 100th anniversary of the first crossing of the Mediterranean Sea by airplane by Mr. Roland Garros as well as the 100th anniversary of the “premier boucle” or first looping in an airplane by Mr. Adolphe Pégoud.
Alas the weather gods were not so kind on the event's organizers as the Saturday of the show was simply washed away from 1500h onwards. Nevertheless, the organizers managed to keep the show going with less weather dependent displays which is a huge credit for them. Luckily the Sunday showed some improvement with grey skies nevertheless but much dryer weather then the day before.
The flying display starts at 1300h and provides a constant aviation thrill until about 1900h. Before the start of the show, one has the possibility to wander around the static park for a small fee.
This offers a great opportunity to take a closer look at all of the airplanes which were about to display that day, but also at some other museum restorations and restoration projects, amongst them the grounded B-17 “Pink Lady”. This particular B-17 also played a role in the Memphis Belle movie, flying as “Mother and Country”. There were also ample opportunities to undergo air baptisms in several aircraft, such as the Ju-52 and Antonov An-2. France Copter provided several helicopters and the people of Aero Vintage Academy completed the lineup with several 1930s aircraft such as the Stinson, Travel Air, Boeing Stearman and a T-6.
The flying display at Ferté-Alais is usually grouped together into several small “themes” or formations. Opening this year's aerial display was a duo of German origin motor gliders: the Scheibe Falke SF-25 and SF-28 Tandem Falke, along with a single Jodel Bébé under the “Prélude Irène” theme.
The Cirque Aérien followed next with a paired display of a biplane Pitts S2B and a French developed Mudry CAP 232 monoplane aerobatic aircraft, which provided the crowds with some extraordinary and high-energy display sequences.
Just before the Pitts and CAP were launched, the AJBS based Jünkers Ju-52 took off carrying a load of parachutists. They all dropped to land on their marks right after the aerobatic display of the two before mentioned aircraft.
For some years now, the AJBS can count on the participation of the French Air Force. The Aéronavale supported the organization with a joint flypast of a Dassault Breguet Super Etandard and Rafale duo, the lovely Morane Saulnier 760 Paris and a rare European airshow sight of an E-2C Hawkeye. After the formation flypast, they all split up for some spectacular individual displays. The lovely Morane 760, which first flew in 1954, was up first, followed by some nice high speed and low speed/gear down passes of the Grumman E-2C Hawkeye AWACs. The Aéronavale currently operates three Hawkeyes and is the only operator of the type from an aircraft carrier besides the US Navy.
Always a treat is the Etendard duo trying to get connected for an aerial refuel flypast.
Local thunder was provided in the form of the two Dassault Rafale jets making several fast and slow passes and battering the airfield from all directions.
Now it was time for the first celebration of the day. Roland Garros was born in Saint-Denis, Réunion, in 1982. He started his aviation carreer in 1909 and graduated flight school in 1911.
Shortly hereafter, he entered several European air races. He made history in 1913 when he was the first to fly non-stop across the Mediterranean Sea.
Garros took off from the Southern French airdrome of Fréjus at 0547h on September 23rd , 1913, in a Morane Saulnier type H. Onboard, he carried 200 liters of fuel and 60 liters of oil for an approximate 8 hours of flight. Owing to the distance (about 460 miles between Fréjus and Bizerta) which had to be traversed, he originally intended to come down in Calgary, the capital of Sardinia, in order to refuel. Once airborne however, he was going so well that he passed Calgary and continued straight on to Bizerta, Tunisia.
After a non-stop flight of 7 hours and 53 minutes, Roland Garros landed at Bizerta with only 5 liters of fuel left.
In 1914, while working as a test pilot for Morane-Saulnier, Garros also set the then-world record for highest flight: 4,250 meters.
When World War I broke out, Garros went into the French Air Service. At the outbreak of the War, airplanes were used mainly as observers over enemy activity. Soon, pilots from opposing sides started “dogfighting”, although shooting down the enemy fighter was then achieved by shooting at each-other by using pistols and rifles.
Research on a machine gun, firing through the propeller, was already underway in France and Germany, but is was with the help of Rolland Garros that the first “prototype” was installed on his aircraft and thus creating the first “fighter” aircraft. He realized that he would have more success in dogfights if there was a way to fire straight ahead, through the propeller.
At the end of 1914 he took leave from his regiment and returned to the Morane-Saulnier factory to work with Raymond Saulnier to test a recently developed device designed to enable a pilot to fire bullets from a machine gun through the bladed of the propeller.
The practical solution they installed involved protecting the lower section of the back of the propellers with steel armor plates, as well as adding deflector wedges just after the blades which deflected any bullets that might strike the spinning prop blades. The deflector wedges were added to protect the pilot of a dangerous ricochet.
Although this was a crude solution, Roland Garros would prove not much later that it worked.
On April 1st , 1915, Rolland Garros took to the skies with his new weapon, a forward firing Hotchkiss 8mm machine gun, mounted in front of him on the nose of his Morane Saulnier Type L .
With this device, Garros encountered a German Albatross B II reconnaissance aircraft and approached it head-on, giving him a vast advantage. The German pilot was surprised when Garros approached him head-on. The accepted air fighting strategy at the time was to take 'pot-shots' with a revolver or rifle. Using his forward firing machine gun, he shot down the Albatross in no time, giving him the first official air-to-air kill with an airplane especially modified for the purpose of aerial combat.
He achieved two more victories over German aircraft on April 15th and April 18th . On another mission on April 18th however, above German positions in Flanders, Belgium, the German Bahschutwache took several shots at the fleeing Garros after his attempted bomb run on a train. Suddenly, his engine fell silent and he was forced to glide the plane in behind enemy lines.
After landing, Garros attempted, but failed, to set his plane on fire before German troops could get to it. Garros himself was sent to a POW camp and the aircraft and its machine gun installment were rushed to Dutch aircraft maker Anthony Fokker, whose factory was nearby.
The Germans tried to copy the solution before, but because of a higher hardness employed in the coating of the German bullets (steel instead of copper), the propeller blades still shattered, despite the armor plated protection.
Fokker not only duplicated the machine gun installment, but also added the meanwhile designed interrupter gear system. The work on Fokker's system had been going for at least six months before Garros' aircraft fell into their hands. With the advent of the interrupter gear the tables were turned on the Allies, with Fokker's planes shooting down many Allied aircraft, leading to what became known as the Fokker Scourge. Most notable German pilots to gain fame during that time were Oswald Boelcke, Max Immelmann and of course, Manfred von Richthofen.
Garros himself managed to escape from the POW camp on February 14th , 1918, and rejoined the French Escadrille 26 to pilot a Spad in which he claimed a further two victories on October 2nd , 1918. He did not become an ace however because only one of those victories was confirmed. The very first pilot to become ace was another French airman, Adolphe Pégoud.
Roland Garros met his end 3 days later when he was shot down and killed near Vouziers in the Belgian Ardennes.
The AJBS Morane H exact replica with authentic Le Rhone 80 HP engine is thus an appropriate tribute to Roland Garros. The replica was built in 1988.
Following the Morane type H, two Morane-Saulnier MS.317 aircraft gracefully displayed together, one of them being flown by Baptiste Salis.
With the introduction of Roland Garros and Morane-Saulnier, the next theme was fittingly called “le temps des AS” or “the time of the aces” with a Royal Aircraft Factory SE-5 replica and a modifies Bückers Jungmann performing a stunning mock dockfight over the airfield. Whilst this was going on a large formation of Tiger Moth, Stampe Vertongen SV.4s, Bücker 131 & 133 and a Leopoldoff made a flypast over the airfield.
This was in part a tribute to two men recently lost in the airshow circuit: John Day and François Guinand. Both men were killed flying Fokker replica aircraft not so long ago.
Over to some Luftwaffe aircraft in the form of two Jünkers Ju-52 transport aircraft accompanied by the always great to watch slow speed aerobatics of a Fieseler Storch. During the War, Morane-Saulnier was operated under German control and built a number of German types, including the Fieseler Storch, originally known as the MS.500 Criquet. The Aunti Ju is an aircraft which was amazingly originally designed as far back as 1930. The Luftwaffe continued to use it throughout the war as a transport and paratroop aircraft. The Swiss HB-HOT Ju-52 was operated on a 2012 North American tour with sponsor Rimowa luggage and also appeared in the 1968 movie “Where Eagles Dare”. Mark Mathis flew the local AJBS based Iron Annie F-AZJU.
There is a good understanding between both the AJBS and the Duxford based Fighter Collection which results in an “exchange program” each year between the two airshows. The AJBS P-51 Mustang “Nooky Booky IV” is a regular guest at Duxford's Flying Legends while aircraft from the Fighter Collection usually display at the AJBS airshow. This year representatives from TFC included the Curtiss H-75 hawk and the first and only visit of the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt “Snafu”. Immaculate restoration work on the P-47 was finished by TFC in 2011 and it is now sold to US based warbird operator Dan Friedkin.
If you would like to know more about the history of the P-47 Thunderbolt “Snafu”, you can read about it here.
Pete Kynsey had the honors of displaying the star act at Ferté alongside Patrice Marchasson in the Hawk.
A sweet looking selection of transportation aircraft were up next in the form of a Beech Travel Air, a Stinson, two Dassault MD 312 Flamant a DC-3 Dakota and a … commercial Boeing 737. The Travel Air 4000 (originally, the Model BH and later marketed as a Curtiss-Wright product under the names CW-14 , Osprey ), were aircraft produced in the United States in the late 1920s by the Travel Air Manufacturing Company. It has two open cockpits in tandem, the forward of which can carry two passengers side-by-side.
The DC-3 and Boeing 737 made a joint flypast and the previous tradition of displaying an airliner at the Ferté-Alais show was restored with the display of the 737.
Both of the Flamants flew in a dual display with even an on-crowd break at the end.
A break in the historical program was provided by an Extra 300 solo display, after which we were taken back to the 1930s with an elegant presentation of the DFS Habicht E (German for “hawk”). The Habicht is a sailplane designed in 1963 by Hans Jacobs and was intented as an unlimited aerobatic sailplane. Interesting feat is that the Habicht gliders were used to train pilots to land the Messerschmitt Me-163 rocket-powered fighter in World War II.
The example displayed here was a replica flown by Christoph Zahn.
It was now time for another annual tradition at the show: the attack on “Pearl-Alais” in which, obviously, the attack on Pearl Harbor is remembered and above all re-enacted. A couple of vintage training aircraft used by the US in that particular period, an N3N, PT-13 Stearman and PT-22 Ryan, took off first and performed a series of flybys. They were followed by a bunch of T-6s who would form up to “raid” the airfield, accompanied by pyrotechnics.
In the midst of the attack, the Curtiss P-40N flown by Christian Amara scrambles into the skies to intercept the “Jap zeros”.
This was all followed by a display of the “Cadillac of the Skies”, the P-51 Mustang, flown by George Perez. Always a treat to see his take-off followed by a victory roll whilst retracting the landing gear.
L'aviation Brittanique was next with a Spitfire PR 19, flown by Christophe Jacquard and a Hawker Sea Fury FB.11 flown by Patrice Marchasson. They were followed by a potent US built duo flown by an Austrian operator: you're right, the Red Bull P-38 Lightning and F4-U Corsair. They were presented by Red Bull's chief pilot Raimund Riedmann and Eric Goujon respectively.
The Patrouille de France celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2013 and they obviously could not be missed at the Ferté-Alais show which was their first public display of the 2013 season.
The Normandie-Niémen 1942 theme was an all-Yak business with the always thrilling high energy displays of the Yak-3, Yak-11 and Yak 3U.
The Normandie-Niémen Regiment was a fighter squadron (later became a regiment) of the French Air Force which served on the Eastern Front of the European Theater of Operations in World War II, with the 1st Air Army. The regiment is notable for being one of only two air combat units from an Allied western European country to participate on the Eastern Front during World War II, the other being the British No. 151 Wing RAF,and the only one to fight together with the Soviets until the end of the war in Europe.
Six months after the Germans invaded the USSR in June of 1941, talks aimed at closer co-operation between Free France and the Soviet Union resulted in setting up a special squadron with an initial core of 12 fighter pilots and 47 ground staff for service on the Russo-German front.
The unit became operational on March 22nd, 1943.
At the end of the war, the regiment had claimed 273 enemy aircraft shot down, 37 probables, and lost 87 aircraft and 52 pilots in return. Some 5,240 sorties were flown and the unit took part in 869 dogfights. The unit also destroyed 27 trains, 22 locomotives, two E-boats, 132 trucks, and 24 staff cars. Thirty of the regiments pilots reached ace status.
The Max Holste Broussard and the Cri-Cri were a strange looking duo, the Broussard taking off with the Cri-Cri strapped to its back.
The MH.1521 Broussard was designed to meet a requirement for a lightweight liaison and observation aircraft. The first of its kind first flew on November 17th , 1952, and about 363 were built between 1954 and 1959. Its similarity to the de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver in looks, capability and performance lead it to be nicknamed "the French Beaver".
The Colomban Cri-cri (referring to the chirping sound made by a cricket) is the smallest twin-engined manned aircraft in the world, designed in the early 1970s by French aeronautical engineer Michel Colomban. The example flown here was an electric powered Cri-Cri.
The Vietnam theme is always a favorite amongst regular Ferté visitors. This year it comprised of a Beech 18, T-28 Fennec, Douglas AD-4N Skyraider and a Rockwell OV-10 Bronco.
The French based Bronco underwent a repaint and now represents a US Marines desert camouflage scheme, a tribute to the Marines who flew the type during Operation Desert Storm.
The Vega Team's armed Skyraider is a real treat and add more realism, especially when accompanied by some pyrotechnics when simulating an assault on Vietcong positions.
L'Equipe Voltige de L'Armee de L'Air provided us with another modern break in the program with a dual Extra 300 display on Saturday and a more high-energy solo display on Sunday.
Back down memory lane to WWI with a memorial flight of a Spad XIII and a Fokker DVII, followed by a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the “premier boucle” (first looping) by Adolphe Pégoud in 1913 in a Blériot XI.
The AJBS operates a replica of the type, again powered by an authentic Le Rhone 80 HP engine. On Sunday, September 21st , 1903, Pégoud continued his experiments in upside down flying at Buc, and after two successful demonstrations of the corkscrew twist, succeeded in really looping the loop, his machine diving steeply for about 300 meters, and then by the force of its impetus alone carried him round in a circle of about a 100 meters diameter.
The event was widely publicized and also believed by many to be the first looping. Russian aviator Pyotr Nesterov however was actually the very first pilot to perform a looping, on September 9th of that very same year, twelve days before Pégoud, flying a Nieuport IV monoplane.
Adolphe Célestin Pégoud became even more famous however when he volunteered for flying duty with the French Army at the start of World War I. On February 5th , 1915, he and his gunner were credited with shooting down two German aircraft and forced another to land.
A couple of months later in April, now flying a single seat aircraft with the synchronized machine gun installed, he shot down another two enemy aircraft. His sixth and final score came in July.
In doing so, Adolphe Pégoud also became the very first ace.
On August 31st , 1915, he was shot down, ironically by one of his prewar German students.
From start to finish, the Ferté-Alais airshow was a magnificent event once again.
A big thank you to everyone involved in the organization!