LE QUATORZE JUILLET, or la Fête Nationale Française, is the French National Day, commemorating the 1790 Fete de la Federation held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.
Each year, La Fête Nationale is celebrated throughout France but the centrepiece event takes place in Paris with the défilé, the parade of military and civilian services, marching down the Champs Elysées to be reviewed by the Président de la République.
And each year, when all eyes are on the Champs Elysées, my eyes turn skywards to the défilé aérien, the fly-past by aircraft from the French L’Armée de l’Air and helicopters from the air force, the navy, the army, civil security and the police.
This year, this wonderful piece of aerial choreography was masterminded by Général de division Jean-Christophe Zimmermann, commandant en second de la défense aérienne et des opérations aériennes, Paris.
Watching and waiting for the défilé aérien
2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of France and the l’Ordre national de la Libération, France’s second national Order after the Légion d’honneur, instituted by General De Gaulle, Leader of the “Français Libres” – the Free French movement – with Edict No. 7, signed in Brazzaville on November 16th, 1940. Admission to the Order is meant to “reward individuals, military and civil organizations for outstanding service in the effort to procure the liberation of France and the French Empire“.
To mark this anniversary the French aerobatic display team, the Patrouille de France, opened proceedings by paying a tribute to the French Resistance by flying twelve Alphajets in a formation representing the Cross of Lorraine, the symbol of the Free French movement.
The Free French Air Forces (FAFL) were honoured with a C135 tanker aircraft from flight refuelling group 2/91 “Bretagne”, followed by four Rafale C jet fighters of 2/30 squadron “Normandie-Niemen” and four Mirage 2000 multirole jet fighters of the 2/5 fighter squadron “Ile de France”.
La Fête Nationale 2015 – The Aircraft:
While listening to my recording of the aircraft passing you can see the composition of the entire aircraft procession in the chart below.
Click on the image to enlarge
Apart from the Patrouille de France formation the highlights for me were the magnificent Airbus A400M multi-national, four-engine turboprop, military transport aircraft with its delicious throaty growl and, bringing up the rear, the Airbus A340 strategic transport aircraft.
Appearing in the defilé aérien for the first time, this A340 from the transport squadron 3/60 “Esterel” took part in a recent operation to transport of 17 tons of emergency humanitarian cargo to Nepal following the earthquake that struck the capital, Kathmandu, in April this year.
Airbus A400M: Image via Wikipedia
About an hour after the aircraft passed it was the turn of the helicopters.
La Fête Nationale 2015 – The Helicopters:
While listening to my recording of the helicopters passing you can see the composition of the entire helicopter fleet in the chart below together with some interesting facts about the height, speed and distances flown by all the participants in the défilé aérien.
Click on the image to enlarge
I’ve been fascinated by flying and anything that can fly for as long as I can remember and to see all these aircraft and helicopters passing overhead is always a highlight of my year.
And every time I see flying displays like this I am reminded of the poem, Locksley Hall, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in which he foretells the future with prophetic accuracy:
For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)
LA FÊTE NATIONALE on 14th July is the centrepiece of the Parisian summer. It’s the French National Day and it commemorates the 1790 Fete de la Federation, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. It also marks the start of the French holiday season. In Paris the day starts with the défilé, the parade of military and civilian services, marching down the Champs Elysées to be reviewed by the Président de la République and his army of guests.
Before the défilé gets under way there is an opening ceremony at the end of which comes the opening fly-past by the French Air Force, the Armée de l’Air led by nine Alpha jets of the Patrouille de France, the French aerobatic display team who celebrate their 60th anniversary this year.
Here I have to confess that I’m an aircraft enthusiast and so each year my viewing of the fly-past takes the same form. Half of me is inside watching on the TV and half of me is outside on my balcony watching and recording the aircraft as they fly overhead so close that I can almost reach up and touch them. At least that’s what I’ve done each year for the last fifteen years but this year I was forced into a last-minute change of plan.
With about half an hour to go before the aircraft were due directly overhead with a wonderful sense of timing my next-door neighbours emerged onto their balcony to, rather over-enthusiastically I thought, tuck into a late breakfast. It was quite clear that my plans to record the fly-past free of the clatter of cutlery and minus a running commentary of the event about to unfold was a hopeless cause. What to do?
Not being in the mood for one of those endless arguments that the French seem to enjoy so much I decided to implement Plan B.
My recording position close to home: Photo by julietinparis
I hastily grabbed my sound recorder and a microphone (Nagra LB and Rode NT4), left my apartment and set off up the street to a place close by where I knew I would get an excellent view of the fly-past and from where I could expect to get a good sound recording. From here I could see La Grande Arche de la Défense in one direction and the Arc de Triomphe in the other, the exact flight path of the aircraft. This is a place I pass every day so I know it well. The fact that it’s a bus station and the buses run during La Fête Nationale, and it was full of people, could have been seen as somewhat of a flaw in Plan B but I pressed on undeterred.
I must say, it was well worth it. The view of the aircraft was simply spectacular even though in my hurry to implement Plan B I had left home without my camera.
Défilé aérien d’ouverture – the aircraft fly-past:
Apart from La Patrouille de France who are always good value, the star of the show for me was the appearance of the Airbus A400M, the multi-national four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft designed as a tactical airlifter with strategic capabilities.
For those of you interested in these things the running order is listed below.
As I said, I recorded these sounds from a bus station with lots of people around but I think that has added to the recording rather than detracting from it. For me, the sound of small, innocent children playing happily whilst war machines each costing millions pass overhead has a certain poignancy to it and the sound of a Paris bus starting its engine just ahead of five interceptor fighters passing overhead seems to be a sort of ‘poke in the eye’ to this extravagant display of military muscle.
This year some aircraft from the Luftwaffe were invited to take part in the défilé aérien. The last time German aircraft flew over Paris it was in very different circumstances, which thank goodness are long behind us.
While the aircraft appear at the beginning of the défilé in the Champs Elysées, the helicopter fly-past comes towards the end, some ninety minutes later. I decided not to stay at my bus stop location to record the helicopters, instead, it being a glorious sunny day, I decided to go home and record them from my garden. Well, it’s not actually my garden but it is the garden of my apartment building and I’ve been here so long that it feels as though it’s mine.
It takes much less time for the helicopters to pass but their sounds are none the less dramatic.
Défilé aérien de clôture – the helicopter fly-past:
And here is the helicopter running order:
So that was my aircraft fix for yet another year. I always look forward to it and, despite my balcony drama, it didn’t disappoint.
After a quick lunch I set off again to savour more of La Fête Nationale, this time ”Les Parisiens et les franciliens accueillent leurs soldats”.
After the morning’s pageantry in the Champs Elysées some of the forces that took part in the défilé set up static displays in seven different places in and around Paris. It’s a chance for the public to meet the military face to face. I went to the event at Les Invalides. I went there last year and amongst the displays of military vehicles and hardware I was able to capture the sounds of le Bagad Lann-Bihoué, the very popular French Navy musical ensemble who specialise in playing distinctive Bretonne and Celtic music and a French Army Male Voice Choir. You can hear these sounds here.
This year I came upon another male voice choir, this time from the choir school of the French Navy.
French Navy Male Voice Choir:
These sounds were recorded without the aid of the public address system. The French Navy knob-twiddler-in-chief was clearly out of his depth trying to manage the public address system so, despite the appearance of a couple of blasts of feedback early on, he gave up and retreated to his hutch. Let’s hope he never becomes knob-twiddler-in-chief in a nuclear submarine!
This year’s Fête Nationale came to a wonderful climax with a brilliant late-night concert in the Champs des Mars at the foot of Le Tour Eiffel which I watched on TV followed by an equally brilliant firework display which I also watched on TV but listened to from the balcony of my apartment. Le Tour Eiffel is in a direct line from my apartment balcony and I could get a perfect view of it – if it wasn’t for the houses in between!