The Patrouille de France’s 2017 North American Tour is Complete!
After almost seven weeks, the Armee de l’Air (French Air Force) flight demonstration team, the Patrouille de France, has arrived back at their home base of Salon-de-Provence after an ambitious and enlightening North American Tour. The team of eight Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jets (call sign ATHOS flight), along with two spares and an A-400M Atlas support aircraft displayed their nation’s pride and gratitude at every stop, as they came to commemorate the U.S.’s one hundredth anniversary of entering World War I, and helping to turn the course of the war.
A-400 Atlas warms the crowd up at the beginning of a Melbourne Air and Space Show performance in Florida.
About sixty personnel and twenty-seven tons of equipment helped support the two dozen stops that were completed in the U.S. and Canada. Some stops contained full air shows, others were just fly-bys during ceremonies or even overnight refueling stops. Still, the team had time to take in some of “the sights” over here, flying over the Statue of Liberty, Wright Brothers Memorial, the Grand Canyon, Monument and Death Valleys, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Canada’s Parliament Building in Ottawa, plus the city of Montreal too. They have the photos to prove it! The team also visited with three North American military flight demonstration squadrons, the Blue Angels, the Thunderbirds and the Snowbirds too. Startling formations of fourteen or even seventeen or more aircraft (including photo ships) were formed for more pictures, complete with tricolored smoke.
Pilots at Stewart NY: ATHOS 8 and ATHOS 2.
Many of the Patrouille pilots were very approachable and discussed their mission and experiences with local, national and international media at their stops. Here are a few highlights of some of those conversations…
The Alpha Jet is used as a trainer now, and not used to extreme weather conditions such as the cold experienced at the end of March as the team headed westbound to North America. Although a few jets were down for maintenance for a day or so, the maintenance team did a fabulous job of keeping their thirty-plus year old jets operational daily during the arduous trip.
Each jet has a dedicated crew chief, and something we learned was that the crew chief picks what pilot will fly his or her jet. That’s not necessarily how things happen in the U.S..
World War I Aces commemoration art below the cockpit.
Athos Eight – Opposing Solo pilot Captain Benjamin Chanat, told us about how the Alpha Jet can pull more G’s (that is, more times the force of gravity) later in each display as their fuel loads burn down and the jet becomes lighter. That is why the team begins with the eight-ship formations first, and does their solo work towards the end of a display. The team also uses the same method of timing for the solo pilots as the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds do, using geographic visual points and radio calls.
The team at Stewart International Airport in late April, 2017.
During their Atlantic Crossing, the Alpha Jets were not equipped to fly at high altitudes with the proper trans-Atlantic navigation equipment aboard, so a French Navy Falcon 50 jet, equipped with Minimum Navigation Performance Specification (MNPS) equipment led the flight of eleven jets (ten plus the Falcon) during their two to three hour legs from Scotland to Iceland to Greenland to Canada. The Alpha Jets used auxiliary fuel tanks to cross the Atlantic both ways, leaving and collecting them at CFB Bagotville QB. In the U.S., at least one pilot said that the U.S.’s FAA air traffic control was much easier to work with than those in Europe.
Through at least the first half of the tour, three pilots agreed that the stop at the National World War I Museum and Memorial, with authentic local Kansas City BBQ food, was one of the tastiest!
Solo jet over Langley AFB, Virginia.
The team had an emotional visit with a few of their country’s pilots at Langley AFB, where the Rafale fighter was demonstrated before the Patrouille took to the skies for a Commemoration Day program. Six Rafales took part in the Atlantic Trident exercise in April. This show had an unusual amount of pressure on it, as multiple Chiefs of Air Forces were present, along with other high-ranking VIPs, and the show had to be perfect. And, it was!
At rest at Newburgh NY airport.
2017 marks a commemoration of French air aces, and the ten Alpha Jets had special markings in memory of a group of their Aces on the right side of each jet. Some died during the war, others lived long afterwards, but the actions fit right in with the commemoration of the centennial of our entry into World War I. Similarly, the tails of each Alpha Jet were marked with a special blending of French and American flags. As is the custom in the U.S., we call our flag the “red, white and blue”; but a few of us were reminded that the French flag is correctly described as “blue, white and red” in color.
Formation pass at Sacramento’s Mather Field, California on a murky day.
Weather was a friend and a foe during the trip, some venues were blessed with brilliant blue skies, while other planned photo missions became IFR cross country legs in smaller formations. For the most part though, the Patrouille’s mission of public visibility was accomplished.
Beginning of the final U.S. display at Newburgh NY.
The final few Patrouille shows in the U.S. occurred at a private display for air show and local VIPs in Newburgh NY (later voted one of their top five favorite stops on their tour), where the team first entered the U.S. some five weeks earlier. After a weekend of touring and flying at the NATO Tattoo in Norfolk VA, the team flew northwest to Gatineau, QB for a show, and a fly-by of Montreal. A Quebec City display was unfortunately cancelled, and the team flew on to nearby Chicoutimi and CFB Bagotville to prepare for their overwater trip home. They arrived at their home base on May 6th.
One of the coveted tour patches!
The 2017 North American Tour is complete, but this display of gratitude and precision will be discussed for a long time on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, and used as a ruler to measure any future tours’ effectiveness and public visibility by different display teams. To the Patrouille de France, for all of your thrills and aviation memories, merci!
Photo coverage by Photorecon.net/ClassicWarbirds.net/PHXSpotters.com reporters:
Nicole Cloutier, Mike Colaner, Bob Finch, Howard German, Ken Kula, Alice Leong, Steven Mantegani and Scott Zeno.