French weekend - part two
CAZAUX - Meeting Nationale 19 May 2002
Andrew Bates continues his weekend
For any aviation enthusiast wanting something a little bit different from the average airshow, it's always worth taking a glance across the Channel at our French neighbours. Generally speaking, attendance at any 'Meeting Nationale' or 'Porte Ouvert' is usually rewarding, making any such trek a worthwhile experience. Thus, the long trip down to Cazaux, in south-western France, was undertaken by many UK enthusiasts during May, in search of that certain "je ne sais quoi."
For some the attraction may have been the typical laid-back atmosphere of the show, in true Gallic fashion. For others, the absence of any market stalls or fun fairs. It could even be the welcome opportunity to buy cheap beer and wine on the way home. However, the biggest draw, for obvious reasons; the detachment of Singapore AF A-4 Skyhawks .luuvverly!!!!!!
Incredible as it seems, this mix of A-4SU and TA-4SU variants have now clocked up two years on training detachment at Cazaux. Thanks to an agreement with the French Government, along with similar schemes in the US and Australia, it has been possible to alleviate some of the problems caused by the limited Singaporean airspace available for flying training. Operated by 150 Squadron, the eighteen airframes currently on charge are arguably the most exotic jets to operate over Europe for many years, and are especially popular with the photographers ..they're not grey!
Thankfully, on arrival at the show, enthusiasts were not only greeted by the sight of two 'Scooters' in the static park, A-4SU 939 and TA-4SU 906, but there were also another five examples out on the flightline. Always a good sign, but more of this later.
As would be expected, there was a diverse array of Armée de l'Air aircraft on display, with the added bonus that many were from the test fleets of either the Centre d'Essais en Vol (CEV) or the Centre d'Expérimentation Aériennes Militaires (CEAM - also known as EC 05.330). This was possible, partly due to the fact that Cazaux is host to a detachment of the CEV, and partly because of the proximity of Mont-de-Marsan, home of the CEAM.
CEV airframes on display included Falcon 20C 96/CB, Mirage IIIR 329, Mirage 2000D 676, Jaguar A157, and Rafale B01. Visiting from Mont-de-Marsan were a quartet of Mirage variants from EC 05.330; Mirage F1CR 645/330-AB, Mirage 2000B 524/330-AZ, Mirage 2000D 603/330-AA & Mirage 2000N 334/330-AV. Other French visitors comprised of Mirage IVP 61/CH, Epsilon 84/315-XA, Tucano 504/312-UX & Xingu 078/YE. It was also interesting to see a pair of CSAR Pumas from the resident EH 01.067. International participation in the static comprised of a Luftwaffe JG73 Mig-29G and a Tornado duo from JBG34, a pair of Dutch F-16s from 306 Squadron, a pair of Portuguese Alpha Jets, and a pair of Lakenheath Strike Eagles.
As far as the flying was concerned, there were contributions from the usual French airshow performers, such as the ever popular Jaguar pair and Mirage F1 duo, as well as the crowd's favourite, the Patrouille de France. There were also two other display teams in attendance, the Moroccan AF Marche Verte, and the Polish AF Team Iskra. For those in the audience with a desire for that extra bit of 'grunt', the German Mig-29G and RAF 56(R) Squadron Tornado F3 probably gave the greatest satisfaction. However, as a marked contrast to the jets, the most unusual flying demonstration had to be the Securité Civile S-2T Turbo Tracker, one of a small fleet of aerial fire-fighters utilised in this particular region of France.
Not surprisingly, THE highlight for many enthusiasts was the Singaporean contribution to the flying programme. It was a fairly brief demonstration, in comparison to other participants, and was over all too quickly, but it was very much worthwhile. It began with a four-ship Skyhawk scramble, one after the other. Then a short while later, each A-4 in turn conducted a low pass in 'airfield attack' fashion. Finally, they all formed up into a diamond four formation, which alas, did not last more than halfway along the crowdline before they broke for landing. It was all over in the blink of an eye, but each second of their display was certainly a moment to savour. After all, it's not every day you get the opportunity to watch a formation of Skyhawks. Certainly not in European skies anyway.
Quite fittingly, once all four were safely down, they were still able to command the attentions of the audience. Each Skyhawk had to taxy past the crowd on the way back to their parking spot on the flightline, which resulted in much elbowing and jostling as all the photographers vied with each other for those last few shots. It may have cost a few bruised ribs and an extra half roll of film, but it was worth it!
Admittedly, Cazaux was a long way to travel for an airshow, but until the powers that be allow the Singapore pilots to start visiting a few more European shows, it really was a case of having to attend regardless of any other influences. Fortunately, it was possible to make a long weekend of this trip, thanks to the French Army show at Dax the previous day. However, that's a separate review!