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Setting up the Formation; Evreux, July 14, 2015

Quatorze Juillet Défilé Militaire, part 1; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

During the parade in Paris a large formation of all French aircraft and helicopters will fly over the Champ Elysees in the center of the city. Particular flying in a formation with a large group of aircraft is not easy. The French Air Force has therefore practiced the formation several times in the months before the parade.

The French national holiday La Fete Nationale is abroad also known as Bastille Day. The day is annually celebrated in France on July 14. The storming of the Bastille in Paris is commemorated on this day on which the French Revolution started. A large military parade is traditionally annually held since July 14, 1789. This parade on the Champs Elysees in Paris is the oldest military parade in the world which is held annually since 1880. The from origin popular festival caused that a parade was held on Bastille Day since the French Directory. Under the reign of Napoleon the military parade lost its luster, but it was restored since the rise of the Third French Republic. The day became a public holiday in France from June 28, 1880 and with the Decree of July 6, also the military parade was linked inextricably to this day. On the Champ Elysees is a stand present where the president and other officials from France and its partners are positioned. The parade runs along the Champ Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde where the stand for the officials is located. The parade is a popular event in France and it is therefore each year entirely broadcasted on the French television. The parade includes about 7,000 soldiers which are participating of which over 5000 walk along in the parade and 2000 who participate with various vehicles of the armed forces and the police. There are more than 300 vehicles involved and over 240 horses will walk along. More than 80 aircraft and helicopters will participate in the air during the aerial part of the parade.

Formation flying is an art which requires concentration to the maximum for each pilot. The pilot must continuously focus on the right speed, the flight direction and the altitude during formation flying. At the same time he also has to monitor the other aircraft in the formation continuously and anticipate on abnormal movements of it. A midair collision is always possible during formation flying. During the parade in Paris a large formation of all French aircraft and helicopters flies over the Champ Elysees.

This formation consists of various types of aircraft and helicopters which normally all fly at different speeds. Besides the fact that formation flying itself is difficult it is also important to have the right timing during the setup of these kinds of large scale formations. The setup of the large formation is done in two main parts, namely the group of aircraft and the group of helicopters. The speed difference between these two groups is too large to allow them to fly in one large formation. These groups will also act at different time slots over Paris. Flying in and in particular the setup of a large formation is not easy. The French Air Force has therefore practiced the setup of the formation a few times with the section leaders of the formation in the months before the parade. The section leaders are responsible for the timing when setting up the formation. The section leaders practiced the setup of the formation at various French airfields like Chateaudun, Avord and Evreux.

All fighters and many transport aircraft of the French Air Force will fly during the parade from BA105 Evreux. This large air base is located about 100 kilometers west of Paris. The fighters which are based here during the parade include the aircraft which actually fly along during the parade and some spare aircraft to keep the formations complete when an aircraft needs to leave the formation due to technical reasons. The fighters of the French Navy (Aeronavale) will fly from their home base Ladivisiau. These aircraft will join with the rest of the formation above Evreux. Also, the E-3 AWACS and the C-135 and transport aircraft such as the A-400 Atlas and the C-130 Hercules will fly from their home base and will also join up in the formation near Evreux. This year a Casa C-295 and a C-130 Hercules from Spain will fly along in the formation. The helicopters which are participating in the formation over Paris are stationed at BA110 Creil which is located north of Paris. The helicopters which fly along in the formation are from almost all airfields in France from the Air Force, the Army and the Navy. The setup of the formation of helicopters is easier than the formation of a group of aircraft. This is because helicopters are able to hover in the air which makes positioning in the formation easier. Nevertheless, also here timing is very important. After the formation is formed near Creil, the helicopters will fly to Paris where the formation will fly over the Champ Elysees.

Most aircraft taking part in the parade in Paris already arrived on the day before the parade at Evreux. In the morning before the parade one single Alpha-Jet will take-off. This aircraft is the weather flight and is going to Paris to visually check how the view over the city is. At 9:00 am the preparations will start at the flightline at Evreux. All the aircraft will be prepared on the line and will be started one by one. The fighters are at Evreux lined up on the taxiway which is parallel to the runway. The take-off sequence happened in a certain order to take the right positions in the formation. The first group of four aircraft takes off and will fly circles around Evreux. The aircraft fly once every few minutes over the airbase. Every time when the formation passes the airbase, the next group of three or four aircraft will take off. These aircraft will fly towards the formation and take up their positions. This method of setting up the formation is also known as a carousel take off. It is important during setting up of the formation that the groups of aircraft have each time a distance of 40 seconds between each other. This is actually the time above Paris between the groups of aircraft during the parade. Also, the aircraft which extend from the other French airfields will join up above Evreux in the same manner and take their positions in the formation. It takes a total of nearly an hour before all aircraft are in the air and have taken their positions. The formation which has been formed during the carousel will fly from 10:30 am to Paris to where the parade will take place above the Champ Elysees.

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