Breathtaking, adrenaline-fueled aerial maneuvers were performed by the Patrouille de France (PAF), the precision aerobatics unit of the French Air Force, during the Athens Flying Week show at Tanagra Air Base on Sunday.
Flying as low as a few meters above ground in precision formations, before sky-rocketing back up, the eight pilots of the so-called ‘French Patrol’ reaffirmed their reputation as one of the best acts in aerobatics worldwide.
“We are very proud to be here, representing the French Air Force. There is a very strong bond between the armed forces of France and Greece. Today is an example of this powerful relationship, of this ever-strong French-Greek friendship,” PAF squadron leader Samuel Lanos told Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA).
Lanos, the number four in the formation, added that “this is the show we have been preparing for throughout the winter, doing all the necessary rehearsals, before presenting it in summer, if the weather allows for it, which happens to be ideal today.”
Patrouille de France (PAF) is the official acrobatics team of the French Air Force, and was founded in 1953.
“It is certainly a great pride and honor to be a member of this squadron,” said Lanos. “It’s a difficult task, and one has to stand up to the circumstances,” he added.
Flying in tight formation during the show requires excellent technique by the pilots, with all eight Alphajet aircraft approaching one another at a minimal distance of two or three meters, with speeds ranging from 300 to 800 kilometers per hour. Under these conditions, the G-Force pull exerted on the human body can reach from -3 to +7 g.
“The criteria for becoming a member pilot in this squadron are not as technical as one would expect, they are more character-based,” said Lanos. “From then on, when accepted, you receive very intense training to be able to present what you see here today.”
Regarding the danger involved in the aerobatic demonstrations, Lanos was categorical: “We wouldn’t call it danger, it’s just a risk, a controlled risk, since there is so much preparation and so much precision with which we perform our moves, so we can say that we very safe.”
Asked if a woman could apply for membership in the PAF squadron, Lanos replied “of course, it’s open to women. In fact, there was a woman in charge of the team in 2010. The only requirement is that a pilot must have had flying experience in a fighter jet.”
Up to three new pilots can join the team every year. They must have at least 1,500 hours of flight as fighter jet patrol leaders before they begin their training at Patrouille de France, which lasts six months during the winter, with two or three daily flights.