PAF! Up into the stratosphere today with l’Arméee de l’Air’s acrobatic display troupe of Alpha Jets, la Patrouille de France (PAF), as Nice was treated to the sight and sound of them rehearsing over the Baie this afternoon. The rehearsal is for their display on 14 June, which is one of a whole series of events starting tomorrow to mark the 150th anniversary of le rattachement when Nice voted to join France (you can read more about the historical background here). I watched the display with the rest of the stunned crowds on the Prom’.
It is an extraordinarily moving sight, those huge, powerful machines so expertly flown. They are literally breathtaking as they twist and turn at the end of vertiginous descents, forming and re-forming patterns – all with split-second timing and accuracy at speeds of more than 600 km per hour. Wonderful as it is, la Patrouille has yet another splendid distinction. It is led by a female pilot, the young and gifted Virginie Guyot, the first woman in the world to fulfil such a rôle (pictures of her, the other aviation stars of the team and their formations, here). And that fact somehow made all the difference for me in watching la Patrouille in action. I like to fancy that up there in the ether and cheering Virginie on are the spirits of Harriet Quimby, Lady Mary Bailey, Lady Heath, Amelia Earhart, Amy Johnson, Ruth Nichols, Jean Batten, Beryl Markham and I could go on … There’s an impressive list of women aviators, so Virginie is in the best possible company.