Temps des Hélices, La Ferté Alais June 3rd, 2017
In the first weekend of June the well-known 'Temps des Hélices' show was organized on the airfield of La Ferté Alais just south of Paris in France. Unfortunately the weather forecast was not very good on the Saturday. In the morning it was dry with some very short spells of sunshine, but when the flying activity started also rain made its appearance. In the beginning small showers, but around 1630 hrs the showers transformed in some very heavy rain, forcing the organization to end the flying around 1700 hrs, so several announced participants remained firmly on the ground.
As always the show was opened by a duo of local aircraft, but this year there was a small change... The traditional Jodel was replaced by a Max Plan MP205, who joined Scheibe SF28A 'Irene' as the opening act.
Despite the unfavorable weather the oldest aircraft in the collection made an appearance in the flying program. First on the list was a Deperdussin T replica. The original aircraft was build in 1911 by the Aéroplanes Deperdussin, this company was later reformed in the Société Pour les Appareils Deperdussin, or better known 'SPAD', a name which we will reappearing later in this article. Second on the list was the first 'team display', a 1909 Morane-Saulnier Type H flying a formation with a 1912 Blériot XI-2, who made a number of passes before breaking up after which both aircraft gave quite a spirited solo display. Final aircraft in this section is a 1912 Caudron GIII, that was initially used for reconnaissance and a very short time as a bomber, in later years it was used in the training role. In 1921, Adrienne Bolland, a test pilot with Caudron, became the first female pilot to cross the Andes mountains in a Caudron GIII. This was commemorated by the fact that at Le Ferté the Caudron was flown by a female pilot !
Over the years the collection of World War One aircraft at La Ferté has considerably grown, and this with examples from virtually all participants to this conflict. Most numerous types are off course of French origin. Starting with a Morane-Saulnier MS138Ep2, a Nieuport 28C1 (that unfortunately didn't fly) and a Spad SXIIIC1. From the British side we saw a couple of Royal Aircraft Factory SE5A reproductions based upon a Stampe SV4, a Sopwith Pup replica called 'Baby Mine' and a magnificent Bristol F2B Fighter. All these 'allied' aircraft were scrambled against the German invasion consisting of a Fokker E.III , a Fokker D.VII and an Albatross C2. As always the 'good' guys were in the majority and won the various dogfights.
La Ferté Alais is becoming the 'place to be' when you want to make a flight in a vintage aircraft. Various formulas were on offer this year, starting with a flight in Junkers Ju52-3M from JuAir or a De Havilland DH104 Dove in LTU colors. For those who want to make a 'solo' flight Aero Vintage Academy had various aircraft on offer, but the most exciting must be the flight in a powerful North American T28 Trojan, a training aircraft that used to be in the inventory of the US Air Force.
One of the most spectacular displays at 'Temps des Hélices' is the Pearl Harbor attack. This year no less than 10 North American Harvard/Texans recreated the attack by the Japanese Navy on Hawaii in 1941.
The 'scramble' of these aircraft is for me a personal highlight of the day, the sound of the powerful Pratt & Whitney radial engines is like music in my ears. In the formation two aircraft appear that don't really look like a Harvard, but they were 'born' as one. The first one is a recreation of a Mitsubishi A6M Zero and the second one was modified to resemble a North American NA68. Unfortunately this aircraft was severely damaged when it had to make an emergency landing two weeks after La Ferté Alais, hopefully this aircraft can grace the skies again soon.
The attack itself is a fairly exact recreation of the events on December 7th, 1941. Large formations of Mitsubishi Zero’s (or in this case the Harvards) arrive from behind the crowds and dive towards the target just in front of the main stage. Pyrotechnics reinforce the effect of the bombings and the anti-aircraft fire. After the initial bombing the Zero’s strafe the ground at low level, a sole Curtiss P40 Kittyhawk manages to take off between the attacks to give some resistance, but with little effect.... the Japanese will win this battle.
Another part of French World War Two aviation history that is always present at La Ferté is the story of a group of French Air Force pilots that joined the Russian Air Force to form the Normandie-Niemen Regiment. This year there were three Yakovlev Yak 3 and a sole Yakovlev Yak11 to commemorate these men.
World War Two always takes a major spot in the Temps des Hélices show, as in recent years many aircraft have become available to take part. Oldest type present was a Gloster Gladiator Mk.II, which is part of the Fighter Collection in the United Kingdom. This biplane was still on the inventory of the Royal Air Force at the start of the conflict in 1939. The French had also reinforced their Armée de l'Air with for example the Curtiss H75C1 Hawk. The aircraft on display at La Ferté is believed to be the only aircraft left from the Armée de l'Air when the war broke out. A more modern type was the Hawker Hurricane Mk.IIA, which formed the backbone of the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, during which Germany tried to weaken the British air defense as a prelude to a ground invasion. When the United States joined the battle in Europe they used large amounts of North American P51 Mustangs to escort the large bomber formations that attacked Germany. Last but not least there was off course the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XIX. The Spitfire is one of the most iconic aircraft of WWII and the example on display at Le Ferté is one of the later variants powered with a Rolls-Royce Griffon engine. One week after 'Temps des Hélices' disaster struck for this aircraft as on June 11th, the aircraft flipped over during take-off at the airfield of Vilette-Longuyon in France. The aircraft was severely damaged, but it's owner has promised that it will be rebuild, but I fear that this will take many years to complete.
Another commemoration at La Ferté was the one dedicated to the aircraft of Auguste Mudry, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday in 2017. Mudry is best known for his lineage of aerobatic aircraft that he designed since the 1960s. The oldest aircraft present was a Cap10A two-seater, which he created in 1968, followed later by the Cap10B. The Cap10B was build in 282 examples from 1970 onwards and is still in service with the French Naval aviation as a trainer, one of these examples was also present at La Ferté. Later variants included the Cap20 single-seater for competition aerobatics, only seven were build of which six were acquired by the French Air Force. The Cap21, a Cap20 with a re-designed wing, was the forerunner of the Cap230. The Cap230 continued to be improved into the Cap231, Cap232 and Cap432, that won several aerobatic flying world championships. Although Auguste Mudry passed away in 2006, at the age of 89, the development of his aircraft still continue. In 2013 the Cap432MXS, based upon the Cap231EX was presented. The latest variant present was a Mudry-Apex Cap222, which is in fact a Gilles G202 kitplane modified by Mudry.
Unfortunately the display of the Cap-formation on Saturday was severely disrupted by the heavy rain that started exactly when the aircraft were taking off. Photography had become impossible, so I only have static pictures of the majority of these aircraft.
The only military aircraft that participated on Saturday were three separate displays of the French Armée de l'Air. One of the 'classics' at La Ferté is the solo display of the Extra EA300SC from the Ecole de Voltige and the Dassault Rafale. Unfortunately the Rafale had to fly in some very bad weather. A more unusual display was the Transall C160R from ET64, based at Evreux-Fauville. The C160R is slowly being phased out as more Airbus A400M enter service, but the crew at La Ferté was very eager to show off the capabilities of the Transall with some very spectacular approaches and passes.
Over the course of the day several teams participated at the La Ferté Show. The first team on the program was the 'Patrouille Tranchant' equipped with two Fouga CM170 Magister jet trainers. This aircraft was in service with several air forces across the world, but is best known for its use by the Patrouille de France and the Red Devils Aerobatics team in Belgium in the 1960’s and 70’s. It was good to see that the 'Whistling Turtle' is still very capable of giving a spectacular display.
Second team display at La Ferté was the Hawker Formation. This team consists of a single piston-engined Hawker Sea Fury FB11 and a jet powered Hawker Hunter T68. The Sea Fury was the fastest piston-engined aircraft of its days so can keep up nicely with the Hawker Hunter. As always they give a very nice team display, followed by two individual performances.
Final display in this article is off course the wingwalker routine by the 'Danielle Wingwalker' team. Daniella Del Buone together with her husband Emiliano, at the controls of his Boeing Stearman, gave a spectacular display over La Ferté airfield, which in the weather conditions on the day, was no mean feat. Hopefully we see them again soon in much better weather !
As always there were many more aircraft present on both the ground and the air at La Ferté, but it's virtually impossible to mention them all. The weather was a major contributing factor on Saturday, and this in the negative sense. As I already mentioned around 1700 hrs the organization wisely decided to stop all flying as it was impossible to guarantee a safe display. I personally was soaking wet and the drive home was certainly not a big pleasure, but I will certainly return next year to La Ferté Alais for the 2018 edition of 'Le Temps des Hélices'.
Text & Photography : Laurent Heyligen