When compiling a list of the greatest airshows in the world, I would question anyone that does not place the wonderfully diverse airshow at La Ferté-Alais held each summer. From the earliest designs of the 1900s to some of the most advanced modern fighters, this show had it all. Even more impressively, the 2018 show boasted perfect weather as well as an incredibly strong line up, with the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War as the central theme.
The flightline walk at La-Ferté is a special event all of its own, over 50 vintage and historic aircraft are amassed in rows and the public are invited to walk among the display airframes. Access is included with pre-booked tickets and very reasonably priced. The layout allows for 360 degree inspection of most of the aircraft and you can get far closer than similar static displays held elsewhere. Highlights of the static display included the Memorial Flight’s incredible collection of First World War aircraft. Their Fokker DVII and Sopwith Strutter (billed to have flown but unable) joined the newly completed BE2f, constructed in New Zealand by the Vintage Aviator.
The based collection’s boast an impressive selection of WW1 aircraft, including the recently restored Fokker Triplane replica. This gathering of WW1 types was bolstered with a five ship display from the Great War Display team.
The flying display commenced with the traditional prelude segment which this year saw the Bebé Jodel performing lazy aerobatics above a Stearman trailing an impressive ribbon around the sky, certainly something I’ve never seen before.
On each day the calm was then broken with the arrival of the Microjet, a development of the Bede BD5 of James Bond fame. This tiny aircraft made a few memorable passes on each day while a Turbulent led a motor glider around the airfield, you won’t get that elsewhere!
Speaking of unique acts, the Pioneer aircraft made for a awe-inspiring sight on each day with the wing-warping Morane H and Bleriot IX took to the skies accompanied by a modern Deperdussin replica. Watching the rotary powered Morane and Bleriot wheel around the sky in close formation was incredible. The Bleriot commenced the WW1 set piece, carrying out a mock dogfight with one of the based biplanes.
The sky was then handed over to a larger first world war set piece, with the Vintage Aviator built Bristol F2b leaping into the air in the company of the two based Stampe “SE5a” replicas for a series of bomber escort passes. Not much time passed before the enemy took to the skies in a memorable formation departure of three Fokker DR1s let by an iconic red machine. The sky was soon full with aircraft with the triplanes engaging the other airframes before the Great War display team took centre stage.
The based DR1 joined the SE5as in a dynamic dogfight segment before the real star of this sequence rolled down the runway. The Memorial Flight’s Spad XIII is rightfully one of France’s most cherished warbirds. It was a joy to see this aeroplane fly and hear the distinct sound of the engine and propeller combination. Following a graceful solo display the Spad joined up with the Armeé de l’Air Rafale for a heritage pass. The sight of a modern fast jet flying alongside the Spad was unbelievable and the perfect timing of the Spad touching down just as the Rafale returned on its first fast pass was an unbeatable “then and now” moment.
La Ferté is well known for attracting some of the UKs best known warbirds and this year was no exception. The display saw the debut performance of the Fighter Collections Hawker Sea Fury T20 since being re-engined. Nick Grey put in a show stopping display with some reno-esque low sweeping passes over the runway and plenty of vertical aerobatics thrown in, all the while Christophe Jaquard flew comparatively gentle aerobatics in his Sea Fury, complete with smoke winders.
The Battle of Britain segment saw another trio of UK fighters take to the skies. Anglia Aircraft Restoration’s Spitfire XIV, The Fighter Collection’s Hawk 75 and the newly completed Hispano Buchon two-seater “Red 11” made up the Battle of Britain/France segment. The Saturday performance saw extensive tail chase sequences from all three aircraft while Sunday saw some wonderful solo displays. At the end of each display the three fighters closed up into tight formation for a unique sight.
Of course it wasn’t all big iron and WW1 aircraft, there were also brilliant aerobatic displays, including the memorable sight of a Beech Bonanza performing formation aerobatics with a Pitts special. Another highlight was an energetic three ship display from the Morane 317s.
The show is well-known for its set pieces and this year’s Tora Tora Tora! sequence featured no fewer than 12 Harvards performing an airfield attack before being seen off by the P-40N. The Vietnam segment also saw some stunning flying with an incredible display of agility from the Bronco and the welcome sight of two Skyraiders, with one example performing a powerful solo display on the Sunday.
The French Navy segment of the display saw another “heritage” flight take place. Following a 10 year restoration the La Ferté based F4U Corsair made its return to display flying. An utterly superb solo display from this powerful fighter formed the perfect overture for the display that would follow. The Corsair went on to lead in a formation of four Rafeles, Paris and Falcon 20, while two MS733s patrolled underneath. The Rafales then went on to perform a powerful role demo with a great combination of missed approaches and fast passes.
Display teams provided great entertainment alongside the historic types with the Breitling Jet team closing the Saturday show and the ever-impressive Patrouille de France displaying on the Saturday (including a memorable opening flypast with the Sea Fury, Mustang and P-40.
The final Heritage segment saw the rare Morane MS406 perform a solo display before joining up with the Swiss F18 for a series of formation passes. The F18 then showed the assembled masses exactly what it can do, adding to the fast jet noise of the show.
From start to finish this show was truly incredible, there is something for everyone and no other show has the same ability to tell the story of aviation from the beginning to the present day. What is more this is all done with such, impressive style. This review has barely scratched the surface of the show, not touching on the remarkable 7-ship “Heavy” formation of the dynamic P-51 aerobatics. Stories for another day perhaps. Alongside the wonderful show there is an extensive ground display, an unbeatable atmosphere and plenty of pleasure flying from resident types including rarities like the T-28, Curtiss Travelair and JU52.
Simply put, if you haven’t been to La Ferté yet, you are truly missing out. Go along next year, you will not be disappointed!