“America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth.” ~ Thomas Woodrow Wilson.
On April 6, 1917, the American Congress voted to go to war following Germany’s submarine attacks on neutral ships. A decision made easier after the interception of a telegram from the German Minister for Foreign Affairs asking his ambassador in Mexico to conclude an alliance with Mexico against the United States. At that moment the Great War, until then European, became world-wide. To commemorate this entry of the United States in the First World War, the Patrouille de France is crossing the Atlantic.
In early December last year members of the Patrouille de France attended the International Council of Air Shows convention in Las Vegas. There, I had a chance to discuss with them their plan. Since that short time ago they have organized an impressive tour that will see them arrive from France via the northern route over Iceland, Greenland and Canada in early April then cross the US and back to Canada by mid May. The tour marks an important anniversary and will include more than just the team.
France is one of America’s oldest allies. According to the official French press release, “The jet team’s participation in the 100th anniversary of the US involvement symbolizes the enduring friendship and unfailing brotherhood that bind the two countries. Sharing a common vision of the determining role of air power, the French Air Force and the US Air Force (USAF) are among the few western air forces capable of covering the entire spectrum of Air missions. The joint commitment of French and American airmen fighting side by side and operational cooperation between France and the United States is now at an unparalleled level: The two countries are major partners in the fight against terrorism. That French and American airmen have been together for over thirty years in various coalitions or NATO missions echoes what their elders did when they fought jointly in 1917 and during the Second World War.”
HIGHLITES OF THE TOUR
KANSAS CITY 5 – 6 APRIL
Organized by the US Centennial Commission At the National World War I Museum & Memorial, military leaders, veterans and descendants of veterans of the war have been invited to this commemorative ceremony. Many foreign representatives including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary and Italy will be attending as well. Several texts of historical value will be read during the ceremony including extracts from speeches, press articles as well as literature and poetry. Archive videos and musical moments will also be used in an attempt to revive the special atmosphere of the time.
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE 8 – 9 APRIL
The Patrouille de France will fly with the USAF Thunderbirds at the air show in Montgomery, Alabama. The theme of this meeting will be the legacy of the Great War “One Century of Air Power ” commemorating not only the Centenary of America’s entry into the First World War but also the 70 years of the US Air Force. The base will be open to the public and the event is free both days. In addition to the Thunderbirds, a variety of civilian acts and ground demonstrations will provide entertainment fit for the whole family.
LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE 20 – 21 APRIL
The TEI (Trilateral Exercise Initiative) exercise, a joint 3 country training exercise is taking place there. Aircraft from the US Air Force along with the Patrouille de France will again commemorate the centenary and the friendship between France and the United States which will include the F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II along with the French Rafale & EF-2000.
PENSACOLA 10 – 12 APRIL
US Navy Blue Angels (US Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron) will fly with the team at home. It will be the French team’s third performance in the sunshine state. April 1 – 2 they fly in Melbourne’s Air & Space Show and 3 -4 at Lakeland as part of Sun’N Fun. The French team is impressed with the Blues saying in the press release, “Created in 1946, it is one of the first aerobatic teams in the world and is among the most spectacular. One of the peculiarities of this patrol is that, even today, its pilots fly without anti-G suits in F-18 Hornet combat aircraft.”
NELLIS AFB 17 – 18 APRIL
The team meets up with the USAF Thunderbirds at their home base, Nellis AFB in Las Vegas. The US team takes their name in reference to a strong native influence the same way the famous Lafayette Sqn of World War 1 took their insignia. (More on that below.) At both Pensacola and Nellis it’s expected that the pilots will share rides and fly the teams together in formation.
COLORADO SPRINGS 19 APRIL
The Air Force Academy and French Air School, which is situatated at the home base of the Patrouille de France in Salon De Provence, maintains and develops close links. Since 1969 the French Air School and the USAFA cross-exchange 8 cadet officers. This exchange, supervised by senior officers and professors both French and American, are integrated for three years within each school. As a nod to this collaboration the French team will fly over the Academy on April 19.
SACRAMENTO 13 – 16 APRIL
The team will spend Easter weekend at historic Mather Field. The team will fly on the 15th and attend other events in the city. The visit is being arranged by California Capital Air Show organizers and representatives of the French and US Consuls there. In January 1918, the Department of War sent officers to the Sacramento to survey sites for an aviation school. The first unit stationed there was the 283d Aero Squadron. Most of the Curtiss JN-4 Jennys to be used for flight training were shipped in wooden crates by rail. Mather Field served as a base for primary flight training. The team will leave Sacramento for a fly-over of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.
The team will also fly over other iconic American landmarks and cities including Washington D.C., and New York City where they will fly a formation over the Statue of Liberty. “Liberty Enlightening the World” was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States and is recognized as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. (see all the stops in the map above.)
Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year and the Royal Fying Corps In Canada marks its centennial. The Patrouille will be seen over 4 places in the predominantly French speaking province of Quebec. They include Canadian Forces Base Bagotville, which this year celebrates its 75th anniversary, Montreal (May 1) where the city is marking its 350th anniversary and Quebec City (May 2). I think your best chance to meet the team will be in the National Capital region where they will perform with the Snowbirds at Gatineau airport. It’s part of an air show being planned for April 30 and full details of this one-day free spectacle (there will be a fee to park) will be announced later in March. It doesn’t look like the CF-18 Canada 150 demo jet will be part of a formation with the Patrouille de France. As of this writing the Canadian Hornet team begins their season in Lake Charles, Louisanna at the Chennault Air Show April 29 – 30 and then head to McEntire ANGB in South Carolina before joining up with the Snowbirds back in Canada over Montreal May 13 -14.
ACES OF THE WORLD WAR COMMEMORATED ON THE JETS
At the end of the First World War there were 189 French aces. 8 Americans added to this figure. As it appears in 1915, “Ace designates the aviator who has five approved aerial victories”. The French set 2 conditions: the destruction of an enemy aircraft over French territory and the observation by the troops or the testimony of two other pilots of the destruction. As part of the tour, the Team’s Alphajets will display on their flank, the portrait of a French ace of World War I. 2017 also marks the centenary of the disappearance of one of the most legendary of them, Captain Georges Guynemer (born 24 December 1894 – reported missing 11 September 1917). He had 54 victories and was a French national hero at the time of his death.
CHARLES NUNGESSER, “THE INDESTRUCTIBLE”
Another ace with closer ties to the US was Charles Nungesser. Although seriously injured several times he continued to fly despite the pain and became known as “The indestructible.” On 15 August 1918 he shot down several dirigible balloons achieving 45 victories. After the war he flew in the United States recreating his WWI experiences at air shows. He was part of a triumphant tour that brought out over 200,000 fans in Chicago. His saga was immortalized by Hollywood when he played himself in “The Sky Raider”. America was also enamoured with him because he was married to an American compatriot, the young and beautiful Brunette Consuelo Hatmaker. They were married in 1923 in the church of the Madeleine in Paris.
In 1927, Nungesser joined with François Coli in the Paris to New York Rally. They took off from the Du Bourget on 8 May 1927, but disappear while flying over the Atlantic Ocean trying to reach the United States aboard their plane the Oiseau Blanc. Charles Nungesser is remembered as a symbol of the rich Franco-American history and attachment between the two countries.
SQUADRILLE “LAFAYETTE” SYMBOL OF FRANCO-AMERICAN HISTORY
The Lafayette Escadrille of the French Air Service, during World War I was composed largely of American volunteer pilots. It was named in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American and French revolutions. More than 250 pilots fought under the French flag, 68 of them died in battle.
Dr. Edmund L. Gros, a founder of the American Hospital of Paris and organizer of the American Ambulance Field Service, and Norman Prince, an American expatriate already flying for France, led the efforts to persuade the French government of the value of a volunteer American air unit fighting for France. The aim was to have their efforts recognized by the American public and thus, it was hoped, the resulting publicity would rouse interest in abandoning neutrality and joining the fight. Authorized by the French Air Department on March 21, 1916, the Escadrille Américaine (Escadrille N.124) was deployed on April 20 in Luxeuil-les-Bains, France. Not all American pilots were in Lafayette Escadrille; other American pilots fought for France as part of the Lafayette Flying Corps.
AIRBUS A400M ATLAS
The A400M Atlas will provide logistical support for the Patrouille de France. Approximately 25 tons of equipment and about sixty passengers will be transported during the 24 stages of the tour. Crossing the Atlantic constitutes a real technical and logistical challenge. The A400M Atlas is a Tactical transport aircraft out of the base at D’Orléans Bricy and integrated into 61 Wing. It has cargo capacities and more range than the smaller C160 Transall or the C130 Hercules it will replace for the tour. We’ll have a rare chance to see it in North America but there is no word on any demonstration flights at this time. By the end of 2019, France will have a fleet of 15 A400M transports with an over all target of 50 within the French Air Force.
MEET THE TEAM AND THE ACES THEY REPRESENT