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French flying team impressed by Americans' admiration for armed forces

April 20, 2017 Updated: April 20, 2017 at 6:34 am
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The Patouille de France, the French equivalent of the Thunderbirds, flew over the noon formation at the United State Air Force Academy on Wednesday, April 19, 2017. One hundred years ago this month, the United States entered World War I. The Patrouille de France have been on a tour across the country over the past few weeks commemorating that involvement and the special relationship between French and American pilots. A year prior to formally entering the war, a small number of American pilots joined a French fighter unit, forging a relationship.

Capt. Benjamin Michel surveyed a snow-capped Pikes Peak from the cockpit Wednesday along with nine comrades on the French air force's flying team.

They roared above Garden of the Gods and flew in tight formation above the Air Force Academy's famed chapel. But Michel said the scenery and landmarks are not the best thing about the United States that he has seen on the team's American goodwill tour.

The landscape is great, he said, but the people and their admiration for the troops who serve their nation is greater.

"It is the most beautiful thing I have seen in this country," he said.

The team, Patrouille de France, is that nation's equivalent of the Air Force Thunderbirds. They got to sit down with their American counterparts Tuesday at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

On Wednesday, they flew to the Pikes Peak region to put on a show for cadets and to shake a few hands at Peterson Air Force Base before heading to their next stop in Illinois.

Maj. Nicolas Lieumont said Wednesday's weather in the Pikes Peak region gave the team's diminutive Alpha Jets a show of its own as they flew north from Cheyenne Mountain. "It got a bit bumpy over the academy," he said.

The trip, Lieumont said, was planned to show France's ongoing gratitude for U.S. help in World War I and to highlight the ancient relationship between the militaries of the allies. France was America's first ally, helping Gen. George Washington defeat the British to win independence.

"It goes back forever," Lieumont said.

Michel said France hasn't forgotten the American airmen, sailors and GIs who gave their all to reclaim France's freedom in World War II and to turn back the Germans in the trenches of World War I.

"It helped us win the war," he said.

The bonds between the airmen of the nations are especially strong. France nurtured the infant American air force in World War I, with most U.S. pilots flying French planes. Today, the air forces continue to work together. Lieumont flew alongside Americans over Afghanistan. Michel flew alongside U.S. planes above Libya.

"We are here to celebrate this brotherhood," Lieumont said.

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