La Ferte Alais 2014

La Ferté Alais  (June 7th & 8th, 2014)

The weekend of June 7th & June 8th marked the annual pilgrimage to the sacred grounds of La Ferté-Alais for the “Fête Aérienne de la Ferté-Alais” aka “Les Temps des Hélices” aka “Meeting de la Pentecôte”.

The main theme for 2014 was the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

As was the case in previous year's editions, the weather gods were once again very unkind on the event's organizers. Although during the displays, the sun broke through the clouds from time to time, the event did see its share of downpour in the mornings and evenings. The huge amounts of rain turned the showground into a huge mud-bath.

Much worse however, as soon as the airshow weekend was over, on the evening of Monday, June 9th , a huge thunderstorm roared over the Ferté-Alais airfield. During this storm, hailstones the size of tennis balls slammed into the hangars on the airfield, shattering glass and plated roofs and slamming and sending debris into various precious aviation relics. Numerous aircraft were damaged and need(ed) costly repairs.

Just to show the extent of the damage caused to several aircraft (all images copyright Casques de Cuir), here's an image telling more than words....

Let's hope the bulk of the damaged aircraft can be restored and can once again grace the hallowed skies of Ferté-Alais.

Traditional show openers are the Prélude Irène, a combination of a SF-28 motorglider Irène and a duo of Bébé Jodel (although this year there was only one of the latter) aircraft. The calm and quiet aircraft usually preceed the recent annual thunder provided by several aircraft of the Flotille 17F French Navy.

This year saw the participation of three Dassault Super Etendards Modernisés (often abbreviated to SEM), two Dassault Rafale Ms and Armor Aéro Passion's Morane Saulnier MS760 Paris. The routine varied a bit from the previous years. This year it was the Rafale duo showing of the buddy air refueling principle and the SEMs really took center stage, even treating the crowds with a slight solo display!

Bravo la Marine Nationale!

Back to the pioneer days of military aviation with the “Temps des As“ (Time of the Aces) featuring AJBS's Morane-Saulnier H replica, joined by the Morane-Saulnier G model built by Replic Air. They were joined by the Blériot XI Pégoud replica, flown by Jean-Pierre Lafille, and two Morane-Saulnier MS.317s.

The World War I dogfight which followed was carried out by the newly acquired Fokker Dr. I along with an AJBS Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a replica. Both aircraft were followed by a variety of biplane Bückers, Stampe Vertongen SV.4s and a Tiger Moth.

For the first time at Ferté-Alais we were able to witness the French Patrouille REVA. La Patrouille REVA was created by Réal Weber, a former French Air Force pilot. In 1983, he decided to build his own aircraft, inspired by the “Variez” drawings (an aircraft designed by Burt Rutan, an aerodynamics engineer at Nasa). Two years later the “Acroez” was born, a true aerobatics aircraft. It is a two-seat airplane, duck-shape type, with a propellant engine. Its structure is made of glass fiber (90%) and carbon kevlar (10%), allowing it to bear accelerations of more or less 12 G. Its winglets (vertical surfaces at the extremity of wings) enable it to gain speed thanks to a better penetration in air and provide it with a better stability during turns. The Acroez is a very light plane. Its slimness is 22, meaning that in case of engine breakdown at an altitude of 1,000 meters, it can air glide on 22 km.

Réal Weber's initial plan was to participate alone in flight demonstrations. However, given the increasing public interest, he quickly decided to hold a sports competition and decided to create an aerobatics group, resulting in the creation of the Patrouille in 1992.

The team is based at Colmar.

The Luftwaffe theme was up next and it consisted of a duo of Jünkers Ju-52 transport aircraft, accompanied by the always great to watch slow speed aerobatics of a Fieseler Storch on Sunday and the AJBS's newly-restored Pilatus P2.

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”. Second Ju-52 was the local AJBS based Iron Annie F-AZJU.

A recent fixture in the display sequence is the beautiful Habicht glider display. 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 is a replica flown by Christoph Zahn.

A tribute to the 1942 Normandy-Niemen Squadron was the next theme to be presented. As with previous years, this theme was an all-Yak business, four of them this year. The Yak quartet consisted out of two Yak-11s , from the Casques de Cuir and France's Flying Warbirds and two Yak-3s owned by Georges Chauveau and Stéphane Canu.

The latter Yak-3 displayed a new paint scheme this year, also commemorating the Normandy Niemen Squadron.

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 regiment's pilots reached ace status.

Next regulars were the strange looking duo of a Max Holste Broussard and the electric Cri-Cri. As usual, the Broussard took 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.

After a year of absence, the Breitling Wingwalkers team was back with a dual aircraft display this year. When the team participates at Flying Legends, a lot of people seem to think they do not belong there amidst the warbird extravaganza, but if barnstorming and wing-walking does not historically portray the “roaring-20s” in aviation, then what does?

Barnstormers were pilots and aerial stunt people who made a living entertaining crowds with breathtaking feats within the United States and Canada in the 1920s. However, if barnstormers were the most exciting daredevils of the late 1920s, then wing walkers were the most extreme and intrepid individuals among them. Wing walkers were the ultimate risk-takers of their day.

After WW I the Americas starting hosting the first “airshows” where members of the public could take joyrides for a few dollars. There were also some dazzling displays of terrifying loops and rolls and some upside down flying. The more dangerous the stunt seemed, the more the public liked them in those days.

As far back as 1918, an American flier called Ormer Locklear came up with a stunt that was guaranteed to wow the crowds: he would climb out of the airplane and walk along the wing and even climb from one airplane onto to another. Apparently Locklear first clambered out of the cockpit to fix a technical problem while training during the war. A normal person would have landed and then sorted out the problem. Pretty soon you couldn't operate a flying circus that didn't have a wing walking act and Locklear was soon joined by numerous other daredevils including the wonderfully named Ethal Dare, the world's first female wing walk who like Locklear would walk from plane to plane.

These wing walk pioneers were operating without a safety net: no parachutes, no safety wires tethering them to the aircraft. A slip of the foot meant plummeting to a certain death!

The Boeing Stearman was a biplane used as a primary military trainer aircraft during the 1930s and early 1940s, so in the Breitling Wingwalker team we really have the best of both!

The Breitling Wing Walking team are officially called the AeroSuperBatics Breitling Wingwalker Team and are a UK based (Rendcomb) display team consisting of 4 Boeing Stearman aircraft painted in a nice white and orange paintscheme. As their team name mentions, they are sponsored by Swiss watch manufacturer Breitling.

The team is the only aerobatic wingwalking formation team in the world and have been displaying all over the UK and Europe for over 29 years now. Each aircraft consists of a pilot and a wingwalker girl. The girls strap themselves on top of the wing before taxiing and take-off. Once in the air, the pilots perform a breathtaking sequence of acrobatic manoeuvres, including loopings, barrel rolls, stall turns and even inverted flight, all with the wingwalkers on top of the wing. During the display the girls demonstrate their skills by doing acrobatic manoeuvres while they are strapped to the top of the wings of the aircraft. The girls face speeds of up to 150mph and up to 4G of g-force. They even climb back into the cockpit when they have finished their display, all whilst the aircraft is still in motion.

Now it was time for the main theme for 2014: the D-Day 70th anniversary commemoration. The start of the commemoration was a small “Balbo” of the participating aircraft in this theme: two Douglas DC-3s, three Beech 18s, the Dutch B-25 Mitchell, a PBY Catalina, a Supermarine Spitfire and two North American P-51 Mustangs. After the formation pass, they broke off into several elements and performed solo or combined displays.

Filling the gap while the Balbo was formed, a trio of Piper Cubs displayed in front of the public: J3C-65 Cubs F-GHIP and F-GHBY. The third Cub, F-AYZA, served in 1944 with the Army Air Force's 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron as L-4H 43-30036, and has been returned to those markings by its new lady owner Iza Bazin.

Opening the festivities was a DE HAVILLAND DH-98 MOSQUITO replica “PZ460 NE-K”.

This unique project came to be by the French association RRAA (Reconstructions Répliques Avions Anciens) and is a ¾ scale replica.

The project originally started in 1994 by Michel Bogaert, Lionel Blanc and André Colette. Eighteen years and 30.000 working hours later, the replica made its maiden flight on April 14th , 2012.

The Mosquito replica was followed by a late addition to the show: Plane Sailings PBY Catalina. It was added to the show to replace the France Flying Warbirds example Catalina which was grounded with an engine problem. The Catalina was flown by Rod Brooking.

Time for some serious warbird action in the form of both French based North American P-51 Mustangs: Christian Amara's P-51D-30-NA 44-74427 (F-AZSB) Nooky Booky IV , flown by Bernard Vurpillot along with Mistral Warbirds' P-51D-25-NA 44-73656 (F-AZXS) Moonbeam McSwine, flown by Frédéric Akary. Both Mustangs performed several passes as a pair before Frédéric Akary put on one of the most beautiful P-51 solo displays ever seen!

Frédéric acquired Moonbeam McSwine in late 2012 and brought her over to France.

The youngest Salis, Baptiste, then displayed Christophe Jacquard's Supermarine Spitfire PRXIX, followed by another late addition to the show: the Boeing B-25J Mitchell Sarinah belonging to the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight. The B-25 was piloted by Rob Rikhof and Gerard Moggré.

Closing the D-Day theme were a combined polished trio consisting of a Douglas DC-3 and two Beech 18s. They were accompanied by a live performance of the Manhattan Dolls. George Perez' DC-3 (former C-53D Skytrooper) only took part in the Balbo. This DC-3 now is part of the France's Flying Warbirds organization.

A brief civil display was given by Europe Airpost Boeing 737-300QC which flew in formation with an Air Contractors ATR-72-212F to start its display.

The annual attack on “Pearl Alais” was up next as the wave of T-6s & NA-68 swept in over the airfield to simulate the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th , 1941. The commemoration is always one of the highlights of the show. The “Japs” were aided by pyrotechnics and “attacked” by Christian Amara's Curtiss P-40N Warhawk.

There is a close friendship between the JBS Collection and The Fighter Collection in the UK. Both parties pay annual visits to each other's warbird show. This year was different though as it would be the last time that TFC's Stephen Grey would perform an airshow display, ever. Stephen said goodbye to his home crowd at last year's Legends and would pay tribute to the French supporters at La Ferté Alais this year. He would display in his trusty mount, the TFC Grumman Bearcat, one final time. After his display, Stephen taxied his Bearcat and parked in front of the crowds to acknowledge the respect and the applause given by everyone present. We salute you Stephen!

Next up were the Cartouche Doré display team.

The "Cartouche Dore" are the second French Air Force aerobatic display team, next to the Patrouille de France. Their team consists of 4 Socata TB-30 Epsilon piston-engine training planes. Three aircraft are used in the demo routine, the fourth is a spare. The pilots for the team are also instructor pilots, so they must train for shows in their spare time. The team also uses technicians drawn from the aviation school in Cognac, which is the team's home base.

The team was formed in order to celebrate 100,000 flying hours on the TB-30 Epsilon training plane in 1982. For this special occasion, three pilots from the Cognac base formed an aerobatic team with three Epsilons. The aircraft were originally painted in black and yellow color scheme, which inspired their name of "Cartouche Dore" (Golden Patron). The team was originally created just for this particular event but the resulting show made a very positive impression on the public, and so the team continued to exist.

In 1994, during commemorative ceremonies for the Normandy invasion, the team performed a display in a new paint scheme, overall white, blue and yellow, which has been retained to the present day.

In 1995, the team received permanent status and officially became a unit in the French Air Force.

In the absence of the Patrouille de France , the jet aerobatic team slot was filled by the Breitling Jet Team .

Also an annually returning item is the commemoration of the Vietnam War. This year this was in the form of two individual displays: one by Georges Kern's T-28S Fennec and the second by Christophe Bruneliere in his Skyraider .

A nice Hawker pair was presented next as the ex-Swiss Air Force Hunter T68, now operated by Amici dell'Hunter, flew alongside Christophe Jacquard's Sea Fury. After some formation passes, both Hawkers gave a nice solo display.

Last but not least was the thundering display of the French Air Force's Dassault Rafale C which concluded another thrilling and successful Ferté-Alais airshow weekend. Rendez-vous next year!