Warbird Tails Looking Back – La Ferté-Alais

Another week of lockdown and this new world gone by and time for another look back at a show many of us would be enjoying this weekend. The annual airshow at La Ferté-Alais near Paris in France is arguably the greatest celebration of flight around the world. The show covers everything from Edwardian pioneer machines through to cutting edge jet fighters and last year even featured a jet powered hover-board!

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With the ongoing global crisis the show has been postponed until the last weekend of August. Hopefully the show will be able to go ahead then and we can all enjoy a wonderful weekend at this classic venue.

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I’ve managed to attend this show on three occasions, with a single day at the 2016 and 2019 show and a full weekend at the 2018 event. The show had long been on my to do list having seen wonderful footage of all manner of warbirds operating there over the years. My interest in the show was really brought into focus when I fell in love with WW1 aviation during the anniversary period as the airfield is home to a wonderful selection of WW1 types.

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The 2016 show was sadly badly hit by weather in the proceeding days. Heavy thunderstorms and rain meant that the all grass airfield was in poor condition for heavier types and there was also a fairly strong cross-wind. This did little to affect my enjoyment of soaking this venue in for the first time though. The set up of the event is incredible with the flightline walk offering 360 access around the majority of the types and great up close access to landing aircraft.

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The flying activity in the morning before the show is a wonderful mix of show arrivals, practice flights and a constant stream of trips from the wide ranging pleasure flight fleet. The based collection offers flights in their T-6, Stearman, Travelair and T-28. These flights provide an excellent pre-airshow with each machine generally flying a few figures in the overhead before returning to land.

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Though not possible in 2016 and 2019 due to weather, 2018 saw most of the planned WW1 participants take to the sky. This included the UK based Great War Display Team, providing a large number of WW1 replicas, which flew alongside the spritely SE5a Stampe Based replicas based at the airfield.

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La Ferté is also home to a selection of original and high quality reproduction WW1 aircraft (including two built by New Zealand based The Vintage Aviator Collection) operated by the Memorial Flight. This includes a Be2F, Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter and Fokker DVII, which do not fly regularly at the show. Two aircraft that are as regular performers as such rare types can be are the SPAD XIII and Hispano-Suiza powered Bristol F2B. 2018 saw the former machine fly a wonderful solo display (a wonderful sound I must add) before a memorable fly past alongside the Armeé de l’air Rafale, which ran in for its own solo display just as the SPAD touched down.

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If you haven’t seen the La Ferté Tora Tora Tora set piece then I suggest you get yourself over to Youtube to watch it right away as it is an incredible sequence. To be honest videos just don’t do it justice. The sight of over 10 T-6/Harvards peeling into a diving attack across the airfield with pyrotechnics going off on the far side of the runway as a Curtiss P-40 scrambles below is truly impressive.

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UK based warbirds have always played a big part in the La Ferté shows with Stephen Greys fleet of warbirds being a constant presence over the years. Recently this has typically seen two of the Fighter Collection fleet attend. With the Hawk 75 understandably always a locked in choice when serviceable, it is always interesting to see what other machine the collection choose to bring.

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2016 saw the wonderful MK V Spitfire EP120 flying a graceful looping sequence alongside French based Mustang Nooky Books IV. 2018 was lucky enough to enjoy the debut of the collection’s Sea Fury T20 since the conversion to an R2800 engine and Nick Grey’s performances that weekend were as close to a Reno experience as I’ve ever known.

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2019 saw the very special return of the collection’s Grumman Bearcat for the first time since Stephen Grey’s last performance at the venue in 2014. Nick Grey put on a typically impressive routine in the Bearcat putting the close display line to wonderful use.

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More recently, the Air Leasing operated fleet of warbirds have attended the show. With 2018 seeing the newly restored two seat Buchon and Spitfire XIV displaying alongside the Hawk 75 in a great “early war” set piece, with the MK XIV Spitfire playing the role of an earlier type. 2019 saw the Grace Spitfire take part in the D-Day scenario.

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Another great regular sequence is titled “Good Morning Vietnam!”. No prizes for guessing the theme here. This is another great pyrotechnics show typically accompanied by an aerobatic Bronco display, T-28 airfield attack and a powerful routine from the based and visiting Skyraiders.

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Naval aviation typically takes one of the later slots of the show, with the French Navy putting on a show stopping sequence that typically starts with a heritage formation (led by the La Ferté based Corsair in 2018) before a modern day role demo begins with up to four Rafales beating the airfield up in fine style.

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This short post has only really skimmed the surface of what La Ferté has to offer, largely focusing on the military types. There are generally all sorts of wonderful civilian and aerobatic machines flying each year as well. Any form of aviation you can think of is typically represented at La Ferté-Alais.

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