Aviation History

Who Are The French Aerobatic Display Team?

All the info on La Patrouille de France

Like the Royal Air Force, the French Air Force has its own specialist display team taking to the skies and wowing audiences all over the world.

The display team's full name is La Patrouille Acrobatique de France (translating as The French Acrobatic Patrol), but they are more commonly known as The Patrouille de France, or La Patrouille for short.

Established in 1931, La Patrouille is the oldest aerobatic precision display team in the world and like the Red Arrows, they are held in the highest of regards among the aviation community everywhere.

A La Patrouille de France pilot prepares for takeoff in his Alpha Jet aircraft. Credit: Shutterstock.

The nine pilots and 35 mechanics of La Patrouille are tasked with leading the ambassadorship role of French aeronautics overseas. They typically train through the winter months of the year leaving Spring and Summer free to perform their air stunts wherever they are required.  

La Patrouille’s home base is in the beautiful Bouches-du-Rhône region of South East France, a Mediterranean setting just a short distance from Monte Carlo but their fantastic services are called upon all over the globe.

In 2019, the team and their Alpha Jet aircraft travelled to several settings including Morocco, Athens, England and Italy.

La Patrouille have also graced the skies above the Pyramids, Golden Gate Bridge, New York and Dubai. Last year, they even performed a display in the UK at the Fairford Air Show.

In France, the display team can typically be seen in the skies above high-profile events including the French Grand Prix, the 24 Hour Le Mans race and as the centrepiece event of the country’s deeply symbolic annual Bastille Day celebrations in July.

When taking to the skies, the pilots of La Patrouille fly in Alpha Jet aircraft, a fighter plane that originally entered service in 1977. It has been the aircraft of choice for the French Air Force display team for almost 40 years and has a top speed of 994 Kilometres per hour.

La Patrouille perform a display in the skies above Austria. Credit: Shutterstock.

Pilots are recruited from the flying ranks of the French Air Force and typically stay with the display team for three years. 

But this is not without risk ...

Since La Patrouille was established in the early 1930s, its pilots have been involved in no less than 13 accidents. The most recent of these occurred last year when an aircraft crashed off the end of a runway in Southern France. The pilot had a lucky escape ejecting to safety.

However, in 2002 Captain Daniel Marchand was not so fortunate. 

While preparing to make a final approach to land following a training flight, his Alpha Jet lost control and crashed. The pilot was unable to eject in time and was sadly killed.

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