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Interview – Leader of the Patrouille de France

First of all thank you for your time, please introduce yourself to our readers, when did you joined the air force and what types you have flown?

I am the Commandant Christophe Dubois, the leader of the Patrouille de France 2016. I was the “charognard” (the pilot who will become the leader the next year) of the 2015 team. I’m originally a Mirage 2000-5 pilot.

How can someone be a Patrouille de France pilot?

Pilot selection follows the same procedure every year. Three new fighter pilots need to have completed a minimum of 1,500 flying hours and be qualified four ship leader before joining the Patrouille de France as a slot pilot, or inner left or right wingmen. The selection last one day. After administrative verification, the applicants will do a basckseat flight with the team. The key point of the selection is the interview in front of the current Team where their human qualities are assessed.

Please tell us about the Alpha Jet the team flies, is it easy to fly with?

Co-manufactured by Dassault and Breguet, the Alphajet performed its first flight at Istres on 26 October 1973. The aircraft maneuvered well and had no difficulties at transonic speeds. This capable small twin-jet which takes off in 700 m and reaches Mach 0,86 at 15,000 m is, perfectly adapted to combat fight training and is operated by several foreign air forces. The Alphajet, thanks to its performance and safety, has succesfully replaced the Fouga Magister in the Patrouille de France since 1981. The aircraft hasn’t undergone significant transformations except for the blue,, white and red delivery, the nose landing light, the Head Up Display was removed, and a container housing pyrotechnical instantaneous smoke elements was attached beneath to produce a plume of blue, white and red smoke in the sky.

The Patrouille de France is one of the most well know demo team in Europe, and also a kind of symbol of France. Does the team feel that “pressure”?

Of course, we all feel that pressure. But we are really proud of the trust the Air Force give to us with this mission of representing our country. It’s a great honour, and that’s why we train so hard during winter, to give to people the best show ever.

How many people are there in the team?

There are nine pilots at the Patrouille de France (eight holders and one spare pilot). But there are also about fourty mechanics who symbolizes the excellence of the knowledge of French aeronautics. Every speciality of aircraft mechanics is present in this team. Finally, there are ten people at the board (manager, secretaries, logistic coordinator, etc).

When the team is not flying as the Patrouille de France, what are they doing at the base?

The ground time is mainly composed physical training to prepare us for the flights. Every day, we perform 2 sport sessions with a team coach. Moreover, every pilot of the Patrouille de France is in charge of a task for the pilot’s benefit. For example, Athos 8 is in charge of the weather forecast and must check for every flight if the conditions are safe. Implementing the ribbon and the synchronization phases requires six months of intensive trainig during the winter. Two or three flights per day allow a gradual improvement in order to master the show and its special features. A safety committee, composed of experts monitors the developent of the show. Once the show is completed, it is presented to the Air Force Chief of Staff who officially validates the show for that year.

The Patrouille de France also flies at national days in France, on which occasions you fly?

In a year, the Patrouille de France flies above fourty places in France and Europe : air shows, meetings, shows, passages… We come also for national days like commemorations. Of course, the flight over the Champs Elysées on the Bastille day (14th July) is the climax of every season.

Could you summarize the 2015 year?

The 2015 year is composed of two parts. The first one, from november 2014 to may 2015, called winter training, consists in training flights. The seconds part, from may to october 2015 was composed of the different airshows all around France and in Europe, such in England, Slovakia, Italia, Spain and Belgium. We were pretty lucky this year because only one show was cancelled due to weather.

What can you tell us about the upcoming 2016 year?

There will be a couple of new things in the 2016 show, with new figures. But I can’t say more now, it’s a surprise. I hope you will enjoy them.

Where does the team practice for a new season?

During the training season (from late october to april), the team practises at the Salon-de-Provence Air Base (located in the south of France, near the city of Salon-de-Provence). There are two training flights a day : one above Salon-de-Provence, and the other on a close area named Plan de Dieu.

Who decides at which airshow the team flies?

At the Staff of the French Air force, a special team is in charge of decision on the places where the Patrouille de France performs, under the orders of the Chief of Staff of the French Air Force. Like any other Air Force unit, the team is “only” a performer, and goes where it’s ordered.

Any personal favourite airshow from the past?

It’s pretty difficult to have a favourite one because each location was very specific. Of course, I was particulary proud to open the parade of French national day. Then we enjoy to encounter enthusiastic public all around France and we are also proud to represent our country abroad.

Any memorable reaction from people to the team at an airshow?

Usually, the best compliment we hear from people is when they tell us they are proud of France and their French Air Force. But I remember one day a teenager telling me “now, after seeing you, I have no doubt, I really want to join the Military.” At that moment, I really thought “Mission Accomplished”.

Thank you for the answers. Any final thoughts to our readers?

I would like to thank all the people who come to see our show. We exist thanks to them, without spectators, there would be no Patrouille de France. Thanks for that.