Le Temps des Hélices 2022
Report and photos by Gabriele Rivera
October 25, 2022
“Les vieux coucous ne tolèrent pas le bitume…” means, more or less, that the old airplanes can’t stand the tarmac of the runways. This sentence enshrines the original spirit that pushed Jean-Baptiste Salis, a French WWI pilot, to establish after the war the Escadrille Tricolore, consisting of three Morane Saulnier AI, thought to be the first aerobatic patrol in the world. Few years later, in 1933, Salis set up Les Casques de cuir (the Leather Helmets), an association whose aim was to promote the interest for aviation among the people, especially young ones. Following these efforts, Salis increased his activities; 1946 saw the birth of the aerodrome of La Ferté-Alais, and almost twenty years later Salis and other protagonists of the French aviation history created in 1965 the Club de la Ferté-Alais, in order to “perpetuate the spirit of the heroic times of the French Air Force by collecting as many anecdotes as possible”.
The Seventies are dotted with several milestones in the history of the Club and of the Festival; the first edition is scheduled on June 21, 1970, publicized as Fête Aéro-folklorique (Aero-Folklore Festival), attendance 5,000 people. Just a few years after, the association change its name, becoming L’Amicale Jean-Baptiste Salis (its actual name, for short AJBS), perpetuating the memory of the founder. Its statute had been changed just a few months before, adding the mission to mantain airworthy the slowly forming collection of old aircraft.
1976 it is the year when the Festival starts to be organized on June 5th and 6th, the days of Pentecost, soon becoming a tradition. 1978 marks two important events for the organization; Pierre Dague become a member, adding to the collection the first Warbirds, a P-51D Mustang, a F-4U-5NL Corsair and a Skyraider. That year’s festival pinpoints the first participation of the Patrouille de France, the Armée de l’Aire aerobatic team.
Year after year, the Festival’s numbers grow; attending people, aircraft taking part and popularity “ranking”, In 1987 the crowd attending the Festival has the pleasure to see the Patrouille escorting a Concorde, while 2004’s edition is probably the most impressive staged until today; taking advantage of the concomitant 40th D-Day anniversary, more than 250 aircraft fly over La Fertè-Alais.
And so we come to this year’s edition, the 49th; Le Temps des Hélices (TdH) means The Propellers’ Age, and it’s a perfect manifesto of the goals that AJBS and its Muséè volant (Flying Museum) has set since its inception: keep in airworthy conditions the aircraft of the collection, build from scratch and maintain perfect replicas of airplanes and authentic ones that have made the history of aviation, promote and popularize the interest and passion for the flight and keep live and kicking the relations among the members of the Association.
The airshow’s schedule represents literally a review of the entire history of aviation: in addition to the almost seventy aircraft belonging to the AJBS’ collection, the relationship with the Fighter Collection, Red Bull and several other private owners of warbirds increase the participation of interesting protagonists, not to mention the contribution of the Armée de l’Aire et de l’Espace (AdlA), the Aéronautique Naval (French Navy Air Force) and other institutional actors.
As always the first part of the airshow is devoted to the visit of the static exhibition and the commercial stands. All the aircraft based there are parked in an area open to the public till the start of the flying program, when for safety reasons all visitors are requested to leave in order to let the airplanes taxi to and from the grass airstrip. Strolling among the rows of parked aircraft is a pleasure for eyes and for the camera; in front of several planes you will find reenactors, in WWI and WWII costumes, increasing the historical context of the exhibition; during the flying they will walk along the crowd line, on feet or riding old motorcycles, in historical relationship with the airplanes performing in those minutes.
The mood is cheered by a couple of brass bands, the Ventilator Fanfare and the Firelip’s Men, marching among the stand play typical music of the years between the two world wars, while in a nearby hangar, where the “Pink Lady” Flying Fortress is kept in wonderful conditions, the Satin Doll Sisters entertain the public with swing songs.
One typical kind of stand you will find in the French airshows is the one selling graphic novels, obviously related to aviation themes. France has a longstanding tradition of artists writing and illustrating bandes dessines (comic strips), and the stories of pilots and pin-ups are very appreciated. Romain Higualt is one of them, and since several years he has the honour and the pleasure to create the poster used by AJBS to announce that year’s edition of Le Temps des Hélices; lucky are the ones that have had the idea to collect all of them, year by year!
At midday the show starts; the opening is assigned to several modellers who let their creatures take to the sky, performing circuits and dogfights. More than a dozen fly simultaneously, and remotely piloting them, manouvering while keeping the safety distances, must not be an easy task.
The first aircraft to take off bring us back to the pioneering age of aviation; a Blériot XI-2 (like the one that on July 25th 1909, piloted by her creator, Louis Blèriot, crossed for the first time the English Channel) and a Morane Saulnier Type H, a replica of the the airplane used by Roland Garros in 1912 and 1913 to set several records, among them the first non-stop crossing of the Mediterranean Sea (466 miles).
These airplanes are perfect replicas of the original ones, and have been built between 1980 and 1991; seeing these machines fly gives an idea of the courage that those men and women had in attempting to set those records; the weather has to be their friend, and often they seems to stand still in the air, struggling against head wind.
Other replicas are the performers of the third point in the programme of both days; four WWI aircraft, two Fokker DR.I (the famous triplane flown by the Red Baron, Manfred von Richtofen) and two Royal Aircraft Factory SE5A; the dogfights among them reminds us of a time when the first pilots behave like knights, following shared rules and a respect for the enemy that will have no more chance to be seen just few years later.
The WWI planes enlisted at TdH are not only replicas; a Bristol F.2b Fighter on static display has been rebuilt in New Zealand using one of four original fuselage frames found at Weston-on-the-Green, UK, during 1965, while another genuine WWI survivor is a SPAD S.XIII C1, as far as is known, the oldest one and the only original in flying conditions, restored and operated by the Memorial Flight Association. On Sunday the SPAD has brought a bit of suspense when, just after the take-off, the engine has stopped, forcing the pilot, Baptiste Salis, to land immediately, and luckily with no damage at all.
After this enchanting time travel to the origins of manned flight, the scene moves fast forward to current days; an Airbus A330-200 MRTT (Multi-Role Transport Tanker) Phènix performs several passes, the first one followed by a Dassault Rafale simulating a refuelling, then alone. The Phènix, belonging to the ERVTS 01.031 Bretagne (Escadron de Ravitaillement en Vol et de Transport Stratégiques, Air Refuelling and Strategic Airlift Squadron), based in Istres, has started since 2018 to replace the C-135FR Stratotankers which have operated in the AdlA since 1964 onwards, and this is her first appearance at the airshow.
Let’s travel back along the timeline of the aviation history with a Caudron G-3, closing the First World War chapter. Often used during the for reconnaissance, also this model has obtained her share of records, mostly set in the altitude arena. Moreover, in January 1919 a French ace, Jules Védrines, lands on the roof of the famous Galeries Lafayette in Paris, a strip long only 80 feet, while in April 1921 Adrienne Bolland is the first woman to fly over the Andes, reaching a ceiling of almost 18,000 feet.
The Golden Age of flight is opened by a wingwalker exhibition; Danielle Del Buono, smoothly moving on and between the wings of a pinky Stearman, expertly piloted by her husband, Emiliano Del Buono, recreates the nostalgia of the 1920’s barnstormers. The couple is based in Sion, Switzerland, and Danielle in over ten years of wingwalks has logged more than 1,000 of them under the belt.
The show goes on with other really charming machines; a Ryan ST-3KR, a Dassault MD 311 Flamant (the last one in service with the Armée de l’Aire), a Stinson V-77 Reliant painted in an awesome red, a Spartan 7W Executive and a Lockheed L10 Electra Junior, whose flight has been accompanied by the narration of the life and achievements of Amelia Earhart.
This section is closed by a three-ship formation of Stearman, painted with the classic U.S. Army Air Force trainer paint scheme: blue fuselage, chrome yellow wings and tail surfaces, and red-white stripes on the rudder.
Another Stearman, painted with the U.S. Navy trainer scheme, introduces the most impressing piece of the show, the Tora! Tora! Tora! performance. Ten North American T-6 Texan, one of them modified to act as a Mitsubishi A6M Zero look-alike, take off and come back in a vertically scaled formation, diving one after the other, simulating the attack on Pearl Harbor. A “surviving” Curtiss P-40N Kittyhawk takes to the sky and after a harsh dogfight, brings down the Zero, vindicating the vile attack. The diving formation, combined with the pyrotechnics, the soundtrack, the following strafing passes and ensuing dogfight, is really a sight to behold!
Another foray of actual times in the past has been offered by Sécurité Civile, a state agency which monitors and supervises all the tasks related to the protection of land and communities. Fire suppression is one of these, and a Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 MR (another premiére) has shown her capabilities dropping both days 2,600 US gallons (9,800 liters) of water while showing her sleek lines and manoeuvrability.
An ever-present guest of an air show worth its name, a DC-3, and one with a story (well, every DC-3 has one to tell), this one having served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, set up with VIP interiors being used by Queen Elizabeth II during her visits in Canada. The F-AZOX, operated by “Un Dakota sur la Normandie” Association, has flown both days with a real peculiar escort, two MC Cri-Cri, the smallest twin-engined manned aircraft in the world (long less than 13 feet and 16 feet wingspan), designed and homebuilt by a French aeronautical engineer, Marcel Colomban.
The one and only helicopter enlisted in the show programme has a peculiar ability: due to its rigid rotor configuration this model, a Bolkow Bo-105 CBS4, is one of the few helicopters in the world which can perform a looping. This one is part of the renowned Red Bull team, based in Salzburg, Austria.
Other state actors of the World War 2 have been introduced; the Luftwaffe has been represented by another piece of flight history, a Junkers Ju-52/3m, which has flown her slot together with a Fieseler Fi-156 C-3 Storch and a Pilatus P-2-05, all of them painted in Luftwaffe colour schemes. The Storch, like every parasol monoplane, has demonstrated her extremely low stall speed (27 kt, 50 kmh) and the ability to land and stop in a less than 60 ft (18 mt).
The Soviet counterpart has been part of the show too; a Yakovlev Yak-3UA (a replica built in 2000), painted with the famous Normandie-Niemen squadron colors (a squadron that during WW2 has fought on the Eastern Front on behalf of the Soviet Union), has performed several high-speed passes, followed by the first participation of the YakoTeam, a trio of more recent Yakovlev products, a Yak-18T and two Yak-52, which have displayed nice aerobatics figures.
The Aèronaval has brought several aircraft of her actual and past inventories; a Grumman E-2C Hawkeye, escorted by two Marine Rafales (one of which sported a special tail with a “Join the Navy” French version), and the maritime patroller Breguet BR.1150 Atlantique ATL-2, still in service since 1965, accompanied by two old comrades, a Fouga CM-175 Zephyr and a Morane Saulnier 760 Paris, owned by Cocardes Marine, an association born in 2016 which keeps in flying conditions several aircraft who have served with the Aèronaval. The ATL-2 has shown to the public her open bay containing an AM-39 Exocet missile. On Sunday the ATL-2’s place has been taken by an elegant Dassault Falcon 50M.
Opportunities to behold WW2 planes are not exhausted; a pair of Spitfires, a Merlin-powered Mk.Vb owned by the Fighter Collection (a plane which can boast an impressive seven confirmed kills ) and a Griffon-powered PR.XIX (which has left Chino’s Planes of Fame in 2005 for a new life in France), have entertained the public with hi-speed passes in tight formation. On Sunday the local based Chance-Vought F4U-5NL Corsair has entertained the public with similar maneuvers.
Speaking about entertainment one of the most impressive performance is the one offered by a Piper Cub Special “, piloted by Stéphane Canu; his “mad” display, skillfully played in the context of the surrounding woods and slopes, brings the Piper to disappear from the sight for a handful of seconds, leaving the crowd to fear a sudden loss of altitude, just to pop up behind the trees only to dive again and almost touch the grass with a wingtip!
The last flying diorama is “set” in Vietnam; three North American Trojan and one Fennec, together with another North American plane, an OV-10B Bronco and a Douglad AD-4N Skyraider, take off for a Close Air Support mission. The Bronco performs the reconnaissance, followed by the Trojans and the Skyraider, which strafe the target. After several passes of the different aircraft, the Bronco and the Skyraider join with a Lockheed C-130H Hercules, inbound from Evreux base to bring another contribution from the French Air Force.
Another little treat (in all respects) has been the Bede BD-5J Minijet performance; designed and built by Jim Bede, American aerospace engineer, this small jet is renowned also for having “acted” in the opening sequence of James Bond’s saga “Octopussy” movie.
Saturday’s weather has deteriorated in the afternoon, so the scheduled exhibition of the RSD (Rafale Solo Display) has been canceled, while the Patrouille de France has chosen to cancel hers due to a health issue for Athos 01, the formation’s leader. Luckily, notwithstanding the weather on Sunday has brought rain intertwined with intervals of clear sky, the closing day the public has been given the chance to behold these two Armée de l’Aire demo players; it would have been really a pity to miss the impressive display of the Rafale, this season piloted by Captain Bertrand “Bubu” Butin, who during almost ten minutes performs sixteen figures, undergoing till to 10g loads.
Along with the renowned display of the Patrouille de France, another military display pilot has kept the crowd gazing upwards; an Extra 330 belonging to the EVAA (Équipe de voltige de l’Armée de l’air, Frenc Air Force Aerobatic Team). The EVAA, formed in 1968 and based in Salon-de-Provence (same base of the Patrouille), is the third Air Ambassador of the AdlA; EVAA’s pilots take part also to the international aerobatics competitions, and several times they’ve brought back home individual and team prizes, won in world and European championships.
The task to fly the final segment of this event has been assigned to a mixed formation, composed of four Fouga CM 170 Magister (the Patrouille TRANCHANT) and the Patrouille Carnet de Vol (a very unusual duo, formed by a Pitts S2B and a Cap222 ) augmented by an Edge 540, an Extra 300 LP, and an MX Aircraft MXS. This formation represents the Aéro-Club de France, a private association born in 1898 whose mission is to promote the history of aviation and an aeronautical culture. Several pilots performing this closing flight are multi-award winning aerobatics champions.
Two days of intense performances, notwithstanding a weather often not much cooperative, have come to the end; Le Temps des Hélices confirms itself an airshow not to be missed, and the plans for next year’s edition, the 50th, portend great things!