|A Day in Provence
St. Dizier, 18
Tom McGhee asks...Are you getting bored with the normal UK airshow scene, becoming tired of repetitive rows of F-16s, Tornados and Hawks? Then what could be better than a quick jaunt across the Channel to see how our near neighbours in France host aviation events? This may sound a bit daunting to some readers, with the language barrier, different money, driving on the wrong side of the road, the distances, the cost, etc., but with some careful planning and a modicum of common sense a visit like this should hold no fears for anyone, the rewards being truly worthwhile.
The first stage in planning (apart from ensuring your passport is up-to-date) should be to check what is on, and where better to find out than Scrambles Airshow Page. Next, check out the feasibility of the journey using Expedia to find out where your chosen event actually is. Then, to book your crossing, try P&O or Sea France for regular sailings, or Eurotunnel if you prefer a subterranean trip. For our trip we agreed on the Meeting De lAir at Saint Dizier/Robinson on Sunday 18th June 2000, which appeared to be about a 3½ drive down from Calais. A sailing was booked for the Sunday morning for a car and occupants, £36 for a midnight to midnight ticket with P&O seeming reasonable enough and gave us plenty of flexibility.
A 05:15 departure from Dover meant an early start, but it docked before 8am French time allowing plenty of time to speed down the deserted autoroutes to our destination. A good tip here is to follow the red French road numbers, and not the green Euroroute numbers which can be vague and misleading. The autoroute tolls cost about £25 for the day, but if you dont mind getting to your destination a bit later then the toll-free routes could be used instead. We arrived at Saint Dizier around 11:30 in glorious sunshine, the sky completely cloudless and we knew that a hat and plenty of drinks were going to be a necessity. Our first surprise was the 20Fr entrance fee charged (only £2), we certainly didn't complain about that!
Base Aérienne 113 is home to three squadrons of Jaguars under EC.7, and our drive into the car park took us past the Western HAS site area. Plenty of resident aircraft, as well as some flying display participants were dispersed in this area, making a pleasing change to the normal airshow background of Ferris wheels and hot-dog vans. The static park was mainly French as expected, the only exceptions being a pair of Italian fast-jets (AMX and Tornado ADV), a German Tornado, and a Dutch F-16A MLU, but some of the highlights were the newly painted AlphaJet and the Test Centre Mystere 20 sporting a Mirage F1 nose. Also present was a three-bladed French Air Force Tucano, visibly different from its four-bladed RAF cousins.
The hangars behind the static area housed plenty of refreshment facilities, which, considering the blistering temperatures experienced must have been well frequented. To the East of the hangar areas was another flight line for flying participants. The Moroccan Air Force were present with seven of their CAP231s, as well as a support CN235, but a specially painted Jaguar A from the local unit and a prototype Rafalè B twin seater were notable too. To allow the French public a close up view of their hard earned Francs in action, an area next to the static park was cordoned off to allow the flying display aircraft to taxi close by, this being a reasonably common procedure at events like this. This made up for the altitude at which most of the twelve-ship Jaguar airfield attacks were carried out, a strained neck as you looked skywards to find these attackers was assured!
Elsewhere on the airfield numerous other Jaguars were dotted around in compounds and hangars, and amongst the maintenance and preserved airframes on the base, the gate guard F-84 and Mirage IVA were the most impressive. To sum up our day, a relaxed atmosphere airshow with a certain style, well over thirty different Jaguars were noted amongst the eighty-odd aircraft, a lot of miles (or kilometres) were driven, but we encountered no problems at all. A trip like this should be easily achievable by anyone, and it did make a change from all those NATO Standard fighters, so go on, give it a go!
Thanks go to Shaun and Dino for their help in discovering the French countryside.