The French Air and Space Force is represented by the Patrouille de France (PAF for Patrouille acrobatique de France). Its mission is to be the ambassador of French aeronautics abroad. Based in Salon-de-Provence, it is recognized as one of the best acrobatic formations in the world.
The Patrouille de France consists of nine pilots, about thirty mechanics, secretaries, operations agents, photographers and communication officers. The winter season is reserved for training and the summer period for aerial demonstrations. The season opener traditionally begins with the July 14 parade in Paris with nine Alpha Jet aircraft.
The beginnings of aerobatics
Adolphe Pégoud is the first man to make a loop with an airplane. It was in 1913 and it was also the birth of aerobatics. The First World War inaugurates the flight in patrols and launches the aeronautical production. The Patrouille d’Étampes was created in 1931 and joined Salon-de-Provence in 1937, under the name of “Patrouille de l’Ecole de l’Air”.
After the Second World War, a new patrol was created in 1947, moved to Étampes and took the title of EPAA “Air Force Presentation Squadron No. 58”. At the beginning of the 1950s, the Air Force wanted to develop its ambassador and several patrols are thus born…
The Patrouille de France celebrates its 70th anniversary
The third squadron of Commander Delachenal, based in Reims, receives the name “Patrouille de France” on May 17, 1953 during the meeting in Algiers. The commentator announces in front of the public “Ladies and gentlemen, the Patrouille de France salutes you!” On September 14 of the same year, the General Staff made this name official.
During a decade, the Patrouille de France changed squadrons four times. The first meetings abroad took place in 1956. The following year, the mechanics installed the first smoke pod. The pilots will thus train to release red smoke, then tricolor as early as 1958.
From 1959, the Patrouille de France received new directives. The 2nd Dijon squadron is thus essentially devoted to Patrol training of France. She accompanied General de Gaulle on a major tour of the territories of former French West Africa in December 1959.
Finally, in 1964, after budgetary restrictions, the Ministry of the Armed Forces decided to keep the Air School Patrol. The “Fouga Magister” from the Salon-de-Provence base embodied the torch of French aerobatics for sixteen years.
In 1981, the Alpha Jet becomes the spearhead of the Patrouille de France, with seven aircraft, then eight a year later. In 2009, for the first time in the world, an acrobatic patrol was commanded by a woman, Virginie Guyot.
And in 2022, for the first time in its history, the Patrouille de France takes on board a President of the Republic in office, Emmanuel Macron. On May 20 and 21, 2023, the Patrouille de France celebrates its 70th anniversary at the Salon-de-Provence air base.
- Discover the air program
May 20 and 21.
- Follow the meeting live over the weekend on France Bleu Provence.
The composition of the formation
Three new pilots join the patrol every year. The volunteer candidates are co-opted by the pilots in place, they must be a patrol leader and have accumulated at least 1,500 flight hours on a jet plane.
Each pilot occupies a determined position and a defined role: the leader (Athos 1) is at his post for a year, he is the conductor, the interiors (Athos 2 and Athos 3) are in their first year in the patrol, placed as close as possible to the leader, the scavenger (Athos 4) is just behind the leader (he will become leader himself the following year.)
The solos (Athos 6 and Athos 7) carry out the crossings, the outsiders (Athos 7 and Athos 8) are furthest from the leader and the substitute (Athos 9) is the oldest in the patrol, he is able to replace any driver.