The team is also known as “The PAF”, (PAtrouille de France), and represents the French Air Force with their exhibitions all over the world since 1953. They are based at the “Base Aérienne 701 Salon-de-Provence”, located in Bouches-du-Rhône, near Marseille. The team divides the season into the winter season, when they train and the summer season, which is used to make public exhibitions.
The French tradition in aerobatics goes back to 1931 with the creation of the “Etampes Patrouille”. Later, in 1934, the “Weiser Patrouille” or “Weiser Circus” emerged and in 1937 the Etampes Patrouille was designated as “Air School’s Patrol”. After WWII, in 1946 the “Tours Patrouille” was formed, and in 1947 the Etampes Patrouille is renamed as “Air Force Presentation Squadron”. In 1950 the 2nd Squadron of Dijon created a patrol with Vampire jets, and in 1951 the 4th Wing forms another patrol. In 1952, the 3rd Wing forms another patrol composed by four F-84G Thunderjet aircrafts. Finally, from 1954 to 1963 the 2nd and 12th Squadrons, the 4th Wing, and the 7th Squadron formed successively the Patrouille de France.
Different aircraft have flown with Patrouille de France since 1953. During 1953 and 1954 were F-84G Thunderjet, later from 1954 to 1957 were Dassault Ouragan, from 1957 to 1964 were Dassault Mystere IV-A, from 1964 to 1981 were Fouga Magister and since 1981 the exhibitions are made by Dassault/Dornier Alphajet.
The Patrouille de France is organized and composed by different cells, such as Management, Logistics-Operations, Photo-Video, Communication, Operations and the Administration. The Management is in charge of everything related to the Patrol, Logistics-Operations is in charge of the movements to the shows, Photo-Video records all the flights and takes photos, Communication promotes the trips and discloses the unit, Operations prepares the flight plans and the Administration supports and directs the staff of the unit.
Currently, nine pilots plus three management pilots (who do not fly), and around 40 mechanics divided into 3 different areas such as: Technicians, Flight mechanics and Repairs make up the “visible core” of the Patrol. It is tradition that each flight mechanic chooses his pilot and fly to the exhibits in the back seat of the Alphajet, in addition, his name is also written on the aircraft next to the pilot.
There are nine pilots, (although only eight perform the shows), each with different roles within the Patrouille. They are known as “Athos” and they are divided into: Athos 1 as leader, Athos 2 and 3 as interiors, Athos 4 “charognard”, located in the formations after the leader, Athos 5 and 6 as exteriors, Athos 7 and 8 as solos and Athos 9 as reserve pilot. All pilots are chosen among fighter pilots and must have a minimum of 1,500 flight hours. Each year, three new pilots are integrated into the unit and are known as “Smurfs” due to a funny event that occurred in 1964, when blue smoke from the right exterior aircraft, in the form of droplets, accidentally entered the cockpit instead of going outside and colored the pilot in blue.
The training season takes place from October to May and it is used to integrate the new pilots and practice the maneuvers that will be exhibited in summer. The new pilots start making training flights of 4 aircrafts to gradually advance until they reach formations of 8. After a hundred flights the “Smurfs” are fully integrated into the Patrol and the Air Force General Staff approves the air demonstration for that year.
Ten Alphajet aircraft with a C-160 Transall transport aircraft always move to air shows. The C-160 usually carries about 10 tons of support material and spare parts to allow small repairs if necessary. In the exhibition season the 17 flight mechanics are responsible for loading and unloading the C-160 support aircraft and making sure that everything is in perfect condition.
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The Patrouille’s show is called “series” and tend to change their figures every year. The exhibition lasts about 20 minutes and is divided into two parts. The first part is called “ruban” and figures such as “Diamond”, “Arrow” or “Clamp” are made by 8 Alphajet in closed formation. The second part is called “synchronisation”, and that is when the Patrouille is divided into groups of 2, 4 or 6 aircraft, which perform faster and more spectacular maneuvers.
The maneuvers are performed at a speed between 300 and 800 km/h and accelerations are achieved from -3 to +7 Gs. Sometimes the aircrafts are only 3 or 4 meters apart, which gives an idea of the precision required to make the figures. During the summer season the Patrouille can hold up to two exhibitions every weekend. They also fly in military parades, various celebrations and important events.
Currently, the Alphajet is the aircraft used for the exhibitions. It is the advanced training aircraft within the Armee de l’Air and other Air Forces and can be used to carry out ground attack missions. The Patrouille’s Alphajet has a device under the belly which generates the coloured smoke that is seen in their performances. The transported substance is injected directly onto the engine nozzle generating spectacular jets in the air.
Despite the training and professionalism of the Patrouille de France, unfortunately they have suffered a few fatal accidents and others in which fortunately the pilots saved their lives. Never forget the exceptional difficulty and the enormous danger that always runs when performing these beautiful and spectacular aerial figures.
In the 2018’s season the “ruban”, or first part of the show, was composed of ten figures performed in the following order: 1.Curly + clover, 2.Fell right, 3.Fallen left, 4.Grand turns right, 5.Simultaneous loops, 6.Bomb, 7.Heart, 8.Barkhane, 9.Barrel sent y 10. Final burst.

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