Le Airshow

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?

The Jungmeister is a legendary aerobatic airplane developed in the 1930s. (Xavier Meal)
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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.

Jean Salis flies a World War II Fieseler 156 Storch German reconnaissance aircraft, which Chabbert describes as floating on the air like a lazy grasshopper. The Storch is followed, incongruously, by an enormous Junkers Ju 52, which the Germans flew as both transports and bombers during the war. The Junkers manages to lumber into the sky without getting mired in the boggy grass.

Sunshine finally breaks through, and more and more aircraft line up to make demonstration flights. World War I aircraft stage dogfights, and World

War II craft reenact key moments in combat, complete with flaming bombs and low-flying P-51s. Toward the end of the show, the Mirage 2000 returns, this time looping and rolling to the Top Gun soundtrack. That display is followed by the quieter but impressive aerobatics of the Breitling Jet Team, flying six Czechoslovakian L-39 Albatros cold war trainers.

Belying the fighter pilot stereotype, the jet pilots at the show openly admire their elders and their airplanes. The 36-year-old Mirage 2000 pilot, a captain in the French air force, says that when he retires, he hopes to buy an old airplane and fly it around at shows like the guys at La Ferté Alais.

Despite the undercurrents of purism, the show has a spirit of openness and curiosity about the aircraft of other eras, other nations. Chabbert, the announcer, gets in a dig at what he perceives is a more narrow-minded aviation culture, commenting: "The Americans don't always honor the beauty of airplanes other than their own." Is he right, or just being French? Here at Cerny, the hope is that one day more Blériots and SPADs will fly at airshows in the States-or at least putter happily along the airfields there.

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