Report by Dr. Andreas Zeitler
Original flying engines from the dawn of aviation through to the latest military jets are diverse offerings available at just a handful of air shows worldwide. Amongst these shows is the marvelous event held by the Amicale Jean Baptiste Salis (AJBS) at La Ferté-Alais in France, which in its 43rd year has once again has proved that both quality and quantity can exist together. After the moment of silence commemorating Amicale members no longer with us, the Aeronavale beat up the field with their navalized Dassault Rafales. La Ferté-Alais is one of the very few shows where such French Navy demonstrations take place. In recent years, the mixed formation included Etendards or an E-2C Hawkeye, but this year in a most welcome change, the world’s last flying Breguet Alizé carrier-based anti-submarine aircraft joined the two Rafales and a Morane-Saulnier Paris Jet. After that, the travel in time began, with the recently restored Caudron G.III. The Caudron G.III served as an observation plane during the early days of WWI, but was also the type which Roland Garros made famous during the first aerial crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. Afterwards, a Fokker Dr.I battled with the G.III in a sky full of biplanes. A highlight of the WWI re-enactment was of course the recently imported Bristol F.2 Fighter replica in formation with the superb Fokker D.VII which flies with an original BMW IIIa engine from 1917! The Bristol F.2 Fighter is a near-perfect replica, and had literally just arrived from its New Zealand-based manufacturer, The Vintage Aviator Ltd. during April. Its first post-reassembly flight took place shortly before the show. What a fine move it was to present it in close formation flight with its former enemy.
Attesting to the great variety that makes up la Ferté-Alais was the “Securité Civile” presentation demonstrating airborne rescue techniques with the Eurocopter EC145 and firefighting using the Canadair CL-415 and Conair Turbo Firecat (a turbine-powered firefighter conversion of the Grumman S2F Tracker). After years of being only on static display at the show with the crews standing beside a row of souvenir booths, it was great to see their flying assets finally in the air!
WWII warbirds traditionally play a big part in the flying program as well. The show splits this era up into different elements, and started this year with the Germans flying the Junkers Ju-52, Fieseler Storch and a ‘fake Messerschmitt Me-109’ simulated by a Pilatus P-2. The highlight of the Battle of Britain display was The Fighter Collection’s Gloster Gladiator, which made its first appearance in France. Before its solo display it was beautifully flown in a three-ship formation with a Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane. Not to be forgotten is the Curtiss Hawk 75, one of the main French assets during the Battle of France. Then came the Eastern Front display featuring two Yak-3s and a Yak-11. The Pearl Harbor scenario followed this with its pyrotechnics and an impressive swarm of T-6s falling upon the airfield… with the Curtiss P-40 chasing and finally shooting down the fake Japanese Zero fighter.
Then came the Vietnam scenario with the highly agile Bronco and three Douglas A-1 Skyraiders beating up the aerodrome. The impressive number of Skyraiders is testament to the rich history of this ‘bomb truck’ in French service, and also a tribute to the 70th anniversary of the type’s first flight. Fortunately “205”, the La Ferté-based example, was back in the air again this year following its unfortunate midair-collision with a P-51 Mustang at Duxford in 2011.
More harmonic was the presentation of the propeller-driven Sea Fury and the jet-powered Hunter, complemented during the day by a deHavilland Vampire. The formation of two shiny Beech 12s together with the highly polished DC-3 Dakota, or the Lockheed L-12 Electra was also a real treat for the eyes. The Electra was making its first flying performance at the show for many years. Boeing received notice from an impressive seven-ship formation of Stearman biplanes and the great fly-by of a “Europe Airpost” Boeing 737, specially marked with a “Loves La Ferté” sticker to celebrate the event.
The French Air Force – Armée de l’Air – also strongly supports the event and La Ferté-Alais is always their first air show of the year for the Rafale solo display and the Patrouille de France aerial demonstration team. Both of these acts were eagerly awaited by the public this year. The Sopwith Strutter of the “Memorial Flight” was the last aircraft to lift into the skies at 6:30pm on the Saturday show. It was a pleasing end to another great La Ferté meeting, which for sure earns highest ranks amongst comparable events, being a great travel through time using a packed flying program and retaining its stunning French flair.
Text and Photography by Dr. Andreas Zeitler – you can visit his homepage at www.flying-wings.com