YESTERDAY, 14th JULY, WAS a day of national celebration in France. Le Quatorze Juillet, also known as La Fête Nationale, but never Bastille Day as it’s often referred to in English-speaking countries, is the French national day commemorating the 1790 Fête de la Federation held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14th Jul 1789.
Although the day is marked across France, the centerpiece event takes place in Paris with the défilé, the parade of military and civilian services, marching down the Champs Élysée to be reviewed by the Président de la République.
Each year on 14th July a huge crowd lines the Champs Élysées to watch the parade, although how many of them actually see anything is questionable. I though always head to the west of Paris, conveniently close to home, to enjoy a close-up view of the defile aérien, the fly past of aircraft and helicopters of the military and civilian services heading for the Champs Élysées. Being a lifelong enthusiast of both sound recording and aviation, recording a flotilla of aircraft and helicopters flying overhead in close formation at 1,000 feet seems to me to be a perfect way to spend a morning.
A note to the loyal readers who come to this blog to learn more about the social and cultural history of Paris and to enjoy the everyday sounds of the city: Although the rest of this post may seem more suited to aviation geeks like me, please stick with it because, if nothing else, I’m sure you will enjoy the sounds!
This year, 64 fixed wing aircraft took part in the defile aérien: 53 from l’armée de l’air (the French Air Force), 6 from la marine nationale (the French Navy), 2 from la sécurité civile and 3 from other countries comprising an M346 advanced training aircraft from the Republic of Singapore, an Alpha Jet from the Belgian Air Force and an A400M military transport aircraft from the German Air Force.
As always, the défilé aérien opened with nine Alpha Jets of the Patrouille de France, the French aerobatic display team, flying their ‘Big Nine’ formation. But this year there was a twist, an unintentional twist, or as France Info put it: “La Patrouille de France s’est emmêlée les pinceaux dans les couleurs du drapeau.” In other words, the Patrouille de France got in a tangle with the colours of the French flag.
Take a look at the aircraft on the far left of the picture. When a pilot flying in close formation makes a mistake it usually ends badly, but when a pilot in a prestigious aerobatic display team presses the wrong button and emits red instead of blue smoke then that is undoubtedly a bad career move.
Here is a schematic of the aircraft fly past from which you can see the variety of aircraft involved this year.
The logistics involved in parading all these aircraft one after the other are complex, not least because the maximum speed of some of the aircraft is slower than the slowest speed of others.
Here are some facts:
From the first aircraft to the last, the fly past stretches for 50 kilometres with 6 kilometres between each block of aircraft. The space between the aircraft flying in close formation is between 5 and 10 metres.
All the aircraft fly past at 1,000 feet, or 305 metres.
The fighter aircraft fly past at 300 knots, around 550 km/h; the navy fighters at 280 knots, around 520 km/h; the navy patrol aircraft at 200 knots, around 370 km/h and the transport aircraft at 180 knots around 330 km/h.
And this is what they sounded like as they passed me today:
Aircraft Fly Past 2018:
I record the sounds of the défilé aérien every year but this year I was able to find a spot to record from that was devoid of people and almost out of earshot of traffic – a rare find indeed.
Some forty-five minutes after the parade of fixed wing aircraft it was time for the rotary wing flotilla; the helicopters.
Here is a schematic showing the helicopters on display today.
This year, there were 30 helicopters, including 18 light aviation helicopters from the army; five helicopters from the air force; two from the navy; three from the gendarmerie and two from the sécurité civile.
From the first helicopter to the last, the fly past stretched for 8 kilometres with 1 kilometre between the two main aircraft blocks. They flew at a height of 400 feet, 120 metres, at a speed of 90 knots or 170 km/h.
And this is what they sounded like as they passed overhead:
Helicopter Fly Past 2018:
While recording the sounds of the défilé aérien I was able to use my smart phone to take some pictures. Unfortunately, my competence at multitasking didn’t stretch to capturing pictures of every passing aircraft so, for those of you who would like to know more about at least some of the aircraft taking part in this year’s défilé aérien here are some of the pictures I captured.
A C135 air refueling tanker from Flight Supply Group 2/91 “Brittany”, followed by a Mirage 2000N from Fighter Squadron (EC) 2/4 “La Fayette”, and three Rafale from EC 1/4 “Gascogne”.
An Airbus A330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport), a new multi-role aircraft providing personnel and freight transport, air refueling and intelligence gathering. It is followed by four Mirage 2000D from N° 3 Fighter Wing.
A C135 refueling aircraft from Flight Replenishment Group 2/91 “Brittany” followed by four Rafale (three Rafale C two-seater and one single-seater Rafale B) from the 30th Fighter Wing.
An Awacs E-3F from the Airborne Warning and Control Squadron 00/036 “Berry” followed by four Mirage 2000-5s from EC 1/2 “Cigognes”.
Four Mirage 2000 from the EC 2/5 “Ile-de-France” and two Alpha Jets from the 3/8 “Côte d’Or” training squadron, the only French squadron simulating enemy action to train pilots and confronting them with all types of threats.
Two Alpha Jets from l’École d’aviation de chasse (EAC) at̀ Tours and three Alpha Jets from l’École de transition opérationnelle (ETO) at Cazaux, including one Belgian Alpha Jet, and one Singaporean M346 from the 150th Squadron stationed at Cazaux Air Base. For 20 years, a detachment of the Singapore Air Force has been stationed there to train its fighter pilots.
An Airbus A340 from the 3/60 “Esterel” Transport Squadron.
An A400M Atlas from 61 Wing and two Casa CN 235 from 1/62 “Vercors” and 3/62 “Ventoux” Transport Squadrons.
A Canadair CL415 and a Dash Q400 MR from la sécurité civile used in fighting forest fires. These aircraft have been deployed in the firefighting role in France, Europe and in the rest of the world.
Two Airbus lightweight, multipurpose Fennec helicopters from the helicopter squadron 3/67 “Parisis” and one from 5/67 “Alpilles”.
One EC145 and two EC135 helicopters from the gendarmerie nationale.
An HAP Tiger, followed by a Cougar, and a Gazelle from the 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment.
IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR again, mid-July, la Fête Nationale and one of the high points of my sound recording year: the défilé aérien du 14 juillet.
Le quatorze juillet is the French National Day, commemorating the 1790 Fete de la Federation held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789.
Each year, La Fête Nationale is celebrated throughout France but the centerpiece 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. The défilé aérien, or fly-past, is part of the parade.
This year, to mark the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into World War I, 145 US troops took part in the parade in the Champs Elysées with their President, Donald Trump looking on.
As a lifelong aviation enthusiast, the parade in the Champs Elysées and the presence of Donald Trump were of much less interest to me than the events in the air.
This year the défilé aérien was made up of 63 aircraft: 49 from the French air force, 6 from the French navy and 8 from the United States, all flying in close formation.
The Aircraft Fly-Past:
Nine Alphajets of la Patrouille de France, the French aerobatic display team, led the fly-past complete with their signature bleu – blanc – rouge smoke. Then, close behind, came six F-16 Fighting Falcons of the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, and two Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors, single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft developed for the USAF.
Created in 1953 and based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, the Thunderbirds Squadron tours the United States and much of the world, performing aerobatic formation and solo flying in specially marked aircraft.
The US Thunderbirds and F-22 Raptors heading for the Champs Elysées
This was the first time I had seen either the Thunderbirds or the F-22 Raptor so I was able to tick yet more boxes in my ‘plane spotting’ list as well as adding their distinctive sounds to my Paris Soundscapes Archive.
Another first was to see not one but TWO Airbus A-400M Atlas military transport aircraft flying in formation. This multi-national, four-engine turboprop aircraft was designed by Airbus Defence and Space as a tactical airlifter with strategic capabilities which, along with its transport role, can also perform aerial refueling and medical evacuation. The first of these aircraft was delivered to the French Air Force in August 2013.
Two Airbus A400M Atlas aircraft heading for the Champs Elysées
A little over half an hour after the aircraft had passed, the helicopters hove into view, 29 of them representing the French Army, Air Force, Navy and civilian services all flying in close formation.
The Helicopter Fly-Past:
Note: It’s hard to record the sound of helicopters en masse without making them sound like a hive of insects!
The défilé aérien is an event I look forward to each year, not because of the display of military hardware and fighting power on display, but simply because I have always been fascinated by aircraft. I guess I’ve never lost that child like wonder of watching and listening to flying machines.
Here are some more of my iPhone pictures of this year’s défilé aérien:
Today is the 14th July, La Fête Nationale, the French national holiday which is celebrated on this day each year. In France, it is more commonly called le quatorze juillet. The British usually refer to it, although the French never do, as Bastille Day which is not surprising since it commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789. A défilé, a parade, is held on the morning of 14th July, on the Champs-Élysées in Paris with the President de la Republic taking the salute.
Today, the parade included the usual representatives from all branches of the French armed forces from the cadets of the military academy of Saint-Cyr together with their navy and air force cousins to the seasoned representatives of the French Foreign Legion who as usual stole the show with their beards, axes, brown aprons and funereal paced marching. The civilian services were also represented by the Police Nationale, the Gendarmerie and the Fire service. If the Foreign Legion stole the show on the ground the Patrouille de France stole the show in the air. Led this year for the first time by a woman, Virginie Guyot, the Patrouille de France today put on an immaculate display of formation flying directly over my apartment and along the Champs-Élysées. A fly past of other military aircraft and helicopters followed. In recent times, it has become customary to invite units from France’s allies to the parade; in 2004 during the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, British troops (the band of the Royal Marines, the Household Cavalry, the Grenadier Guards and the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery) led the défilé for the first time, with the Red Arrows flying overhead. I was there and I saw it with, I admit, a tear in my eye. In 2007 the German 26th Airborne Brigade led the march followed by British Royal Marines. This year it was the turn of representatives from France’s former African colonies to share the parade and they brought a unique splash of colour to the proceedings.
Usually the weather is very kind for le quatorze juillet and the sun is guaranteed to shine on the parade, but not today. As the défilé began the heavens opened and the rain came down with a vengeance and most of those marching down the Champs-Élysées looked very much as though they wished they were somewhere else.
Still, the weather didn’t prevent the fly-past much to my delight. The fly-past of the aircraft happened at just after 10.30 this morning and the helicopters came along almost an hour later. I had my sound recorder and microphone set up on my balcony in good time. Today I was using my new Nagra LB recorder and an Audio-Technica 8022 X-Y stereo microphone. As a back-up I used my Zoom H4N Handy recorder with a Rode NT-4 X-Y stereo microphone. At 10.20 I switched both recorders on ready to record. I then came inside to watch the progress of the défilé on the TV and as soon as they showed the Patrouille emerging over La Défense I went back out to the balcony and switched to record. Thirty seconds later they were directly overhead with red, white and blue smoke streaming behind them. They were followed by further waves of jet aircraft with the propeller aircraft bringing up the rear. At five minutes into the fly-past the rain came down even harder as you can hear as the last few aircraft come over.
You can listen to the aircraft fly-past here:
An hour later it was the turn of the helicopters and by this time the weather was so appalling that I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had given up and gone home. The sky was so grey and dark that the TV cameras didn’t pick up the helicopters at La Défense at first but I was prepared anyway. I turned the recorders on and presently heard the distinctive sound of very large helicopters approaching. The helicopter fly-past was shorter than usual, presumably some of the smaller aircraft were pulled at the last-minute for safety’s sake.
You can listen to the helicopter fly-past here:
And finally …
During the afternoon of le quatorze juillet, the President de la Republic used to give an interview to the press, discussing the situation of the country, recent events and projects for the future. The current President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has chosen not to do that. It was also customary for the President to hold a garden party at the Palais de l’Elysée, but not this year. President Sarkozy’s government is mired in financial scandal, including l’affaire Bettancourt, as well as a minister claiming €12,000 in expenses for cigars and another minister spending €116,500 on a private jet flight to an aid conference on Haiti. Last year’s garden party cost €730,000 so, against this background and given that his popularity is at its lowest ever, President Sarkozy has forsaken the garden party this year.
Article 17 of the French Constitution gives the President the authority to pardon criminals, and since 1991 the President has pardoned many petty offenders (mainly for traffic offences) on 14th July. The former President, Jaques Chirac had an absolute field day with this particular piece of executive privilege. In 2007, President Sarkozy declined to continue the practice.
And very finally …
The rain has stopped, the sun is shining and it’s a beautiful evening which bodes well for the firework displays later.
Note: These recordings were made in BWF and compressed to MP3 for this post.