Where can you see a a formation of World War I fighters, a Mirage 2000, and a Junkers Ju 52 all on the same day?
- By Bettina H. Chavanne
- Air & Space magazine, May 2006
(Page 3 of 4)
Regardless of which era the pilots are representing, the camaraderie among them is strong as they mingle in the hangar, which is now serving as something of a clubhouse for the devoted. There's a large open area of tables and a field kitchen that looks like it could serve about a hundred. Scattered throughout the rest of the space are hulking airplane skeletons and aviation odds and ends.
Every wall is covered with beautiful watercolor renderings of airplanes from important moments in French aviation history: Henri Guillaumet crashing his Potez 25 biplane in the frigid Andes mountains in 1930; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry flying a Bloch 174 to Arras during World War II.
It's a fitting setting for the painstakingly restored aircraft that Memorial Flight keeps here. The group's philosophy: "Each airplane should be absolutely identical to when it was originally built," says Mars. Group members don't hesitate to point out that their aircraft are all "original replicas"-detailed copies built around original engines-while the Jean-Baptiste Salis Association's aircraft are rebuilt with modern engines, brakes, and sometimes navigational equipment. Some start out as other types of airplanes altogether, and are altered cosmetically. "They create copies of aircraft to use in the movies," Mars says. "The public can't tell the difference, but we can."
The Salis association was formed to continue the work of its namesake. From the moment Salis received his pilot's license, in 1917, he was devoted to aviation. In 1939 he agreed to create a school for air force pilots and mechanics in the town of La Ferté Alais. World War II disrupted the school's activities, but by 1946 Salis had reopened the Cerny field as home to a glider school.
The following year, Salis established an aircraft restoration facility and museum on the grounds, laying the foundation for the association and the airfield as home to antique airplanes. After his death in 1967, his son Jean and Jean's three sons carried on his tradition of restoration and refurbishment.
On the first day the show is open to the public, it is raining heavily. The field is one giant mud puddle. Planks have been laid across some of the areas to try to keep people from sinking up to their knees, but it's a losing battle. Almost everyone is covered in muck. The flying programs are put off until late afternoon.
Despite the wretched weather, the show brings in the same number of people it always has: roughly 30,000. Families come in droves, dragging happy kids with their faces turned upward to catch a glimpse of whichever airplane is making the loudest noise.
The Ferté Alais airshow is quintessentially French. Each day the show takes a two-hour break so that everyone can enjoy lunch-red wine, sandwiches on baguettes. And the show's announcer, Bernard Chabbert, provides commentary with a touch of lyricism. As three Stampe S.V.4s-1940s Belgian aerobatic aircraft-take to the cloudy sky, he declares, "These aircraft do not fly, they dance." When two World War II aircraft, a Morane-Saulnier 406 and a German Messerschmitt Bf 109, fly, Chabbert laments the loss of the French to the Germans during the 1940 Battle of France. The crowd is nearly silent as he points out that the French were sorely outmatched by their German counterparts, who were, nevertheless, just as young and scared as the French were.