Patrouille de France and New York State Police at Newburg

By: Category: AirshowsEvents


Delta not in the book

Credit all photos to Bill Sarama, except where noted…

It’s a clear and warm Sunday morning in April in Upstate New York. What a great day to see both the French Air Force Demo Team and the NY State Police Aviation Unit, all in the same day!!

On Sunday, April 23rd, the French Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the “Patrouille de France”, (PdF), gave a special VIP performance at the Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York, in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. The “Patrouille de France” is the French Air Force equivalent of the US Air Force “Thunderbirds” Air Demonstration Squadron. The PdF flies air demonstrations at air shows and fly-overs in France and Europe as well as special air shows around the world with eight Dassault-Dornier twin-engine “Alpha Jet” trainer aircraft. They typically fly to their destinations in transit with the eight performing Alpha Jets, two back up Alpha Jets and a new Airbus A400M “Atlas” four-engine transport as a team support aircraft.

The Patrouille de France was invited by the US Government and other agencies and organizations to tour America from March to May 2017 to commemorate the United States’ entry into the “Great War” on April 6th, 1917. Accepting the American invitation to tour the US as “Ambassadors of the French Air Force” for two months of continuous air demonstration performances was no small task and involved a huge amount of detailed Mission Planning. It became the equivalent of sending an expeditionary squadron overseas for an extended period of time with full mission capability and required support for the full duration of the mission.


The tour and mission for the PdF Squadron, known affectionately in as “Le Grande Dame” back home, included 72 specialized aviators and support personnel, ten Alpha Jets and one Airbus “Atlas” A400M support transport, all making twenty-four stops along the way, not including the multiple stops needed to get across the Atlantic Ocean, all demonstrating the French Air Forces’ force projection capability for a long-term multi-location mission. This was no easy trip! When the PdF US Tour was finally completed on May 6th and the Team left CFB Bagotville in Canada to cross the Pond again and return home to France, the mission had involved thirty transit flights, a dozen flight demonstrations, nine fly-bys, five countries crossed (the United Kingdom, Iceland, Greenland, Canada and the United States) and five refueling stop-overs. Besides support personnel, the A400M had to carry over twenty-five tons of equipment. The planning had to include not only being self-sufficient with tools and spare parts but also figuring out where pilots and staff were going to eat and sleep – no small task at all!


Prior to arriving at Stewart on Saturday, April 22nd, on a rainy afternoon, the PdF was at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, home of the USAF First Fighter Wing (FF) with top-of-the-line F-22 Raptor fighter jets, to participate in the “Trilateral Exercise Initiative” (TEI) at Langley, a two-week exercise that tests the high level of cooperation between the allied forces. On April 21, the PdF Squadron joined their French Air Forces’ Rafale fighter jets taking part in the TEI Exercise at Langley. The French, British and US Air Forces meet every year in April at Langley AFB for the TEI Exercise. This very high level exercise is held to train the three air forces in jointly engaging in a heavily defended theatre. The most cutting edge and effective combat resources are deployed for the purpose of this exercise using F-22, F-35, Rafale, and EF-2000 Typhoon fighter aircraft, to demonstrate the high level of interoperability and mutual trust that exists between these three air forces. These three air forces are in fact currently jointly operating in Syria, Iraq Afghanistan Theaters of Operation, as well as joint expeditionary NATO missions in the Baltic countries protecting NATO’s eastern flank of Europe.

DSC_6686 copy

The TEI Exercise out of Langley is very similar to “Red Flag” held at Nellis AFB but the Military Operating Ares (MOA’s) are off the coast in the Atlantic. Langley AFB was open to VIP guests, similar to Stewart, on April 21 and some visitors who attended told us that it was “unbelievable” on the flightline that day with “tons of Eurofighter Typhoons, Dassault Rafales, Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptors, and F-35 Lightnings. It was “candy for the eyes” and probably made some military aviation enthusiasts hyperventilate as they walked down that Langley flightline! F-15 Strike Eagles and T-38s acted as Aggressor forces too.

I was invited to attend a special VIP performance of the Patrouille de France on Sunday, April 23rd, after the PdF Team came up from Langley the day before in a rainstorm. Sunday turned out to be a “CAVU” Day – Clear Air Visibility Unlimited – with a Montana-like blue sky and mild temperatures. We thank Chris Dirato, VP for Public Relations for the New York Air Show to be held at Stewart on July 1st and 2nd, for arranging the invitations. We also thank the NYANG 105th AW, based here at Stewart, for assisting in the planning of this event.

Prior to the 1100 flying demonstration, a small group of guests were invited to talk to two of the PdF pilots and walk out to the flightline at the of the US Army 2nd Aviation Detachment hanger and ramp where the PdF Alpha Jets and the A400M were staging for the demo. The 2nd Av. Det. is the helicopter support group assigned to the near-by US Military Academy at West Point to help train the cadet officers in air-mobile operations in the nearby Bear Mountain wilderness training grounds. The 2nd Av. Det. ramp is located to the south of the commercial air terminal at Stewart. It is opposite of the NYANG 105th AW ramp where the C-17’s are parked, and is also adjacent to the USMC VMRG-452 Reserve Squadron “Yankees” (NY) and their KC-130T tankers.

NYSP Bell UH1 Huey 2

I arrived early Sunday morning at the 2nd AD hanger parking lot where I met a fellow guest who is a NJ State Trooper. He was able to get me and another guest into the adjacent NY State Police Aviation Unit hanger for a quick tour of their three helicopters before the 0900 PdF interviews began. A NYSP aviation officer escorted us for a quick “up close and personal” tour of their three helos based at Stewart. We saw the big Bell UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” that was completely outfitted for SAR and Air-Sea Rescue operations.

NYSP Bell 430

We also saw their new Bell 430 and their Bell 407. Our Sargent tour director noted that there are four NYSP Aviation Units in New York State, with their Headquarters located in Albany. These three helos are based permanently here at Stewart. Surprisingly, the NYSP Aviation Unit runs a small Air Force in the State of New York with 19 aircraft: three (3) Bell-407 single engine utility helos; six (6) Bell-430 twin engine helos; three (3) Bell UH-1 “Huey-2” single engine utility helos; two (2) Cessna-206 Stationair single engine airplanes; one (1) Cessna-172 single engine airplane; one (1) Partenavia twin- engine observation airplane and two (2) Beech King Air twin engine turboprop airplanes.

UH-72A Lakota

Also in the State Police hanger was one US Army Eurocopter UH-72A “Lakota” light utility helicopter in an olive-grab color scheme used by the 2nd Av. Det for cadet training. The UH-72A Lakota is one of 4 helos that the 2nd AD keeps at Stewart. The mission of the 2nd AD is to support the nearby US Military Academy by providing air-assault training for the cadets, transporting distinguished visitors hosted by West Point senior leadership, providing support for the Cadet Parachute Team, and providing academic instruction in both airplanes and helicopters (with two Cessna-172 light aircraft) for student pilot training.

At 0900 we were taken next door to the adjacent 2nd Aviation Detachment hanger by MSgt. Sara Pastorello, NYANG, 105AW Public Affairs Superintendent (our escort for the day) where interviews had been scheduled with two PdF Alpha Jet pilots. Inside the hanger was one PdF Alpha Jet, three UH-72A Army Lakota helos, and two West Point Cessna-172’s. The two pilots our group interviewed were: Captain Benjamin Chanat, ATHOS 8, (PdF aircraft number designation), the Opposing Solo in his 4th year in the PdF – Benjamin has accrued 3,300 flying hours, many in Mirage F1-CRs, and Captain Damien Bourmaud, ATHOS 2, Right Wing, in his 2nd year in the PdF – Damien has some 3,100 flying hours, mainly in the Mirage F1-CR and the Mirage 2000D fighters.

Pilots being Interviewed

Some items were noted during the interviews that made this Team a little differences and commonalities compared to the USAF Thunderbirds: They do wear G-Suits; they are in for four years and they are cross-trained in all eight aircraft positions for the “Low” show, the “High” show and the “Flat” show. That’s wild! You have to know 8 x 3 = 24 different positions with each position having 10 to 20 set-ups! They said that pilots who wish to join the PdF must have at least 1,500 flying hours and have achieved the rank of “Squadron Leader” (Captain) before they can join the team.

The selection process is quite demanding and detailed with administration reviews, interviews, back seat sample rides, test rides, and assessments of motivation and personal qualities. The current Team members then select the new pilots based on the selection criteria. Training, they said, is from October to May at the Salon-de-Provence Air Base, home of the PdF. They conduct two to three flights per day to learn the “Ins and Outs” of the established Routine in a progressive and controlled manner. Training starts with a series of flights with four planes, so that the year’s three new pilots can get to grips with the PdF’s formation flying. It then moves on to an 8-ship flight, rehearsing and debriefing each sequence of the Routine, notching up over 100 flights in training. Needless to say, the training also includes physical training of the body to resist -3G and +8G turn forces and to stay sharp while flying 300 to 800 km/hr at 3 to 4 meters apart! The “Final Exam” is the final Routine presented to the French Air Force Chief of Staff who approves the year’s Demonstration Routine. Like their US counterparts, the PdF fly from May to October with about 40 demos all over Europe, France and worldwide.

Finally I asked – What was the “coolest” thing they did on the US Tour? They said it was flying around the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge! And the trip across the Pond? No Problem! And no refueling. Extra tanks of course. They left France from their Salon-de-Peovence Base, flew to Scotland, then to Iceland, then to Greenland and finally to CFB Bagotville Canada north of Maine. We next went out to the ramp where nine Alpha Jets were parked. In the distance was the huge grey A400M Atlas support transport aircraft. The pilots noted that the tails of the Alpha Jets were specially repainted in a wavy red, white and blue pattern with a 13-star pattern for the US Tour and each jet had a small unique nose art appliqué.

The Patrouille de France Flight Demonstration was scheduled to start at 1100. We drove to the special reserved viewing area on the opposite side of the airport mid-field and high up above Stewart’s long main runway in a spot known as the “FedEx Hill”. Our new larger group of about 150 special guests included dignitaries from the UN and French Embassy in New York. We were about 2,000 feet from the runway centerline but the high hill gave us a long viewing perspective for take-offs and landings. The long runway was designed for bombers when Stewart was an active Air Force Base in the Cold War and is 11,817 feet long and was designated as an emergency landing runway for the NASA Space Shuttle.


The show began promptly at 1100 with the PdF Atlas A400M taking off. The Airbus A400M is the French Air Forces’ new generation tactical transport aircraft with strategic airlift capability. Stationed at Orleans-Bricy Air Base 123 and equipping the 61st Transport Squadron, the A400M features greater airlift capacity and range compared to the C-160 Transall or the C-130 Hercules. By the end of 2019, France will have a fleet of 15 A400M’s, vital for French power projection. The A400M will be the prime large tactical airlift aircraft in Europe and will supplement current transport aircraft in other NATO countries including the RAF, German, Turkish, Spanish and Belgium air forces besides the French. The Atlas looks like a big C-130J Super Hercules with swept-back wings similar to a C-5 but with four 6-bladed turboprop engines. On the take-off roll it was remarkably quiet. The ten minute A400M Demo included high speed and low speed banks around the field.


At about 1110, the 8-ship PdF Team took off in two groups of 4 jets. The Dassault-Dornier Alphajet is a light track and advanced trainer aircraft co-manufactured by Dassault Aviation of France and Dornier Flugzeugwerke of Germany. It has a maximum speed of 1,000 km/h (618 mph) and a ceiling of 15,000 m (46,500 feet). With the Alphajet, the PdF gives a slower, graceful show somewhat similar to the “Snowbirds” of Canada and not the high-speed afterburner ear-blowing shows of the Blues and the Thunderbirds. It was unfortunate that the show at Stewart had 4 aborts due to unidentified aircraft penetrating into the “restricted box” in the 5 mile radius reserved flight area that presented a hazard to the Team. They had to go into four “holds” until traffic cleared out, clearly a case of the “bogies” not listening to the current NOTAM’s for Stewart. Less than half the maneuvers in the “routine” (as the PdF call it) were able to be safely done.

Very Wide Arrowhead

The show was quietly announced by a French Air Force Colonel with minimal music – quite the opposite of a Thunderbirds show announcer. The Stewart Demo started first with various 8-ship Diamonds trailing red, white and blue smoke and later all white smoke. These formations are called: the “Diamond” (standard diamond); the “Lozenge” (a hollow doughnut); the “Duck” (a double “V”); the “Very Wide Arrowhead” (yes – a very wide arrowhead!); the “Apollo” (I’d call it a “Double-C”) and the “Arrowhead” (right again – an arrowhead). One routine that they had specially designed for the USA Tour and did at Langley two days before, but could not do here due to Bingo fuel, was the red, white and blue American Flag – very much missed today at Stewart.

One thing that the French do (or don’t do) that the American military teams do is the strict announcer script with heavy rock background music and the “singing” commands from the “Boss” that you would hear on air radio fequencies. The typical performance is split into two parts. The first part, following Lead’s orders, is called the “Ribbon” and consisted of the full 8-jets flying in various high-low levels doing the six diamond variations. The second part of the Demo consists of synchronized formation aerobatics. The Team divides into smaller groups of 2, 4 or 6 planes. For example, the “Opposing Solo” routines are done with 2-ship formations at each end and 4-ship “Opposing Diamonds” flight formations. The show, regardless of the traffic aborts, was perfectly performed in a clear blue unlimited-visibility sky taking about 30 minutes. After touch-down and after their debrief, the full PdF team were bussed over to the “FedEx Hill” to “meet and greet” with the dignitaries present. This private French Air Show was great! A perfect way to spend a Sunday morning in the Spring!

Now it was time to head down Route 17K to “Billy Joe’s Ribworks” for a nice Carolina Pulled Pork Slider on the banks of the Hudson River in Newburgh!!! See you at the next Air Show!!


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