14-July rhymes with parade and not just any. Aircraft and helicopter pilots from the French Air Force and Space trained above the Champs-Elysées before the big day. The Internet user attended the dress rehearsal…

It was the last rehearsal, maybe the most important. The one during which pilots and operational command have a handful of minutes to calibrate everything to perfection before D-Day. On Tuesday, July 11, at 3 p.m. sharp, dozens of aircraft flew over the Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris to simulate the July 14 flypast. The pressure was palpable on the shoulders of the Air and Space Force soldiers, but the pride and honor of being called on to march even more evident.

“Flying over the Champs-Elysées only happens once a year and not everyone is the lucky one, there are some for whom it’s the first time. It’s very important to find our bearings and see the environment in flight,” said Air Division General Thierry Gouaichault, who oversees the parade. We attended this general rehearsal, the second and last test before the big show, and previewed the devices that will fly over the sky of Paris. Reporting.

For this test in real conditions, the armada of planes and helicopters was not complete. Only the leaders and assistants of the various formations – the pilots responsible for the pace and trajectory of each group of aircraft – accompanied by a few team members were there. The latter had to play the complete score of the July 14 parade, except for a few planes.

The starting signal was given for a ten minute parade. Fifteen groups of planes, which will be made up of three to ten aircraft on July 14, flew over the capital from La Défense to Place de la Concorde, where the presidential stand will be located during the parade. For the next five minutes, the ballet of helicopters followed. A quarter of an hour measured to the nearest second from the command post.

Because the greatest difficulty is “to arrive at the exact time on the tribune of the Concorde”. All “in a particularly dense system”, the Air Division General told us, referring to the more than 90 aircraft that will split the sky of Paris this Friday.

Only a few seconds passed between the passage of each group of planes or helicopters and the margin of error is very small. “The order of precision sought is three seconds,” Lt. Col. Jonathan insisted. The pilot who will be on board the French Rafale, alongside the three Indian fighter planes and behind the Patrouille de France, told us however that this rigor is not a surprise since it is requested “daily during training”.

This precision mechanics also relies on the air traffic controllers present on the roof of the Arc de Triomphe on the day of the parade. They are the ones who ensure compliance with the time of passage, which corresponds to the moment when the President of the Republic sits on the platform, and the coordination of the pilots as well as their flight time. All while ensuring that the very dense air traffic in Paris does not interfere with the flow of the parade.

The last helicopters seemed to have closed the parade, when four bursts of fire surprised to fly over the Arc de Triomphe in the direction of Concorde. Announced by the noise of their engines before being visible, the devices were not a supplement to the program. They were training so they could take over the parade at short notice in case of bad weather on D-Day.

Nothing is left to chance on National Day and if the rigor of the pilots is already assured, this is not the case with the weather conditions. To be ready for all eventualities, the Air and Space Force has defined four scenarios: from the complete parade, if good weather prevails on the day of the parade, to the passage in ground following of the planes and helicopters, or even just four fighter planes, if the cloud ceiling turns out to be too low.

This passage at higher speed, which is a penetration technique in external operations, will guarantee “a presence of the Air Force and Space if ever it is not possible to see the planes” on 14- July, explains Lieutenant-Colonel Renaud, a member of the operational staff.

Good news: the weather and flying conditions should be “very good” this Friday according to Air Division General Thierry Gouaichault, who will decide on the adjustment of the program on Friday morning. It remains to be seen whether weather experts will agree. They are in charge of coordinating the parade according to the aerological conditions: visibility, wind and cloud ceilings, details that make the difference during the parade.

If the pilots designated to participate in the flypast of this day know their aircraft with precision, the aerial training planned for the National Day is a high-flying exercise “which is prepared like a massive mission”, according to the experience of the Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan, pilot of a Rafale from the Mont-de-Marsan base. Anticipation, precision, communication and security… The soldier, leader of his group during the parade, lists the qualities required for the smooth running of the event: “It’s a very precise orchestration with 90 devices in a very small volume and a limited time”.

After a helicopter reconnaissance flight over the Champs-Elysées, organized at the beginning of June, the pilots had only two rehearsals: the first in Orleans in the last days of June and the second on July 11 in Paris, therefore, at the altitude and speed of the real parade, or “about 550 km / h” specifies Lt. Col. Jonathan. No other training is planned for the pilots, other than the daily flights requiring as much rigor as the July 14 flight.

However, all of them relate to the peculiarities and difficulties specific to the parade, starting with the strict and essential respect of the trajectories, given the number of aircraft in a very small airspace. It’s all a matter of taking landmarks and adapting to the aircraft in his training, says Captain Adrien, helicopter pilot at the Villacoublay base, who will fly aboard an Air Force Fennec and Space, this Friday, July 14.

Not all pilots are used to flying together with their different aircraft and if the soldier reports his experience on board a helicopter, the difficulty is the same for all: “Helicopters have different performances and speeds, it It is up to the leader of the group to develop the formation in a flexible way so that all the team members can remain in a stable position and arrive at the nearest second above the presidential stand”.

A precision that seemed to be there during the general rehearsal in view of the satisfied faces displayed by the members of the operational staff. Stars that could be in the eyes of the French at the sight of the flagship of the French air fleet in the sky of Paris, this Friday, July 14.