The Patrouille de France, 70 years of aerial arabesques

VSEvery summer, its arabesques dazzle aviation enthusiasts and the general public, during official events or air shows: the Patrouille de France celebrates its 70th anniversary, an anniversary which it will celebrate in flight on Saturday and Sunday, above its base in Salon-de-Provence (south).

“You should recognize a +70+ in the sky, which will allow us to blow out our candles at each performance”, predicts Commander Aurélien Declercq, leader this year of the “Grande Dame”, one of the nicknames of the patrol.

As every year, its eight members (and a replacement), all fighter pilots with at least 1,500 flight hours and holders of the qualification of patrol leader, multiplied the training between November and April.

With the arrival of spring, the season of meetings and commemorations begins: Saturday and Sunday, these elite pilots in sky blue overalls will begin their summer tour on the occasion of the National Air Meeting 2023, on their lands, at Air Base 701 in Salon-de-Provence.

Some 80,000 aviation enthusiasts are expected there to also admire demonstrations of the huge A400M Atlas transport plane, the Air Force aerobatic team, the Rafale or the Swiss, British or Saudi aerobatic patrols. notably.

And, as a high point, the Patrouille de France: “It really goes beyond the framework of aviation enthusiasts, everyone knows it”, summarizes with AFP Alexis Rocher, editor-in-chief of Fana de l’aviation and Planet Aero.

“The Patrouille de France is a real vector of recruitment, of influence. At the Salon-de-Provence base, all the pilots have seen the Patrouille de France make their eyes shine? And I include myself in it “, underlines Lieutenant-Colonel Aurélien Hazet, director of the presentation teams of the Air and Space Force.

And if “70 years old is the golden age!”, as the lieutenant-colonel enthuses, the anniversary celebrated this year is above all symbolic, recalls Alexis Rocher.

“Like the Eiffel Tower”

Even before the Second World War, the Air Force had indeed acrobatic patrols. But the (little) story changed on May 17, 1953, during a meeting with the 3rd squadron of Reims organized in Algiers: “The commentator, Jacques Noetinger, a very big name in aeronautics, got carried away at the microphone and spoke of the + Patrouille de France +. Everyone is hooked on this term, and the Air Force will officially adopt it, “says the journalist.

In 1957, a first red smoke bomb was installed under the patrol planes, and the tricolor plume appeared in 1958.

Since that time, the missions of the patrol have not changed: “We must be ambassadors of the Air Force and Space, (…), to encourage vocations (…), to be a French symbol, like the Eiffel Tower”, summarizes Commander Declercq.

“For 70 years, I would rather tend to emphasize what has remained, rather than what has changed, and what has remained is the rigor, the requirement, the passion and the investment”, abounds the Lieutenant-Colonel Hazet.

“In the very long term, the state of mind has changed”, nevertheless underlines Alexis Rocher: in the 1950s or 1960s, PAF planes broke the sound barrier during meetings, something “unimaginable” Today.

“At that time, between the different patrols, it was the race to who would make the most beautiful figure, who would fly the lowest,” he points out.

The planes of the PAF, for example, flew so low during their first flight with tricolor smoke in 1958, that the white caps of the officers attending the meeting were speckled with sequins after their demonstration, recalls the then leader, Bernard Capillon , in Aviation fanatic.

“Today, they have to make a kind of average between spectacular demonstration and security requirements”, underlines Alexis Rocher.

Threatened with disappearance because of its cost, in 1964, the PAF was reborn almost immediately and was perpetuated at the Air Force School in Salon-de-Provence.

“Today the problem would rather be that there are ecological disputes (…). It’s on a very small scale, but you have to be aware of it”: concludes Alexis Rocher: “It can be – be the danger that awaits her in the long term”.

05/18/2023 08:43:44 – Salon-de-Provence (AFP) – © 2023 AFP

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