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French flying team set to roar over Air Force Academy this week

April 14, 2017 Updated: April 19, 2017 at 6:59 am
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Caption +
The Patrouille de France flying team is shown in close formation over the mounatins of Iceland earlier this year in this Frenc Air Force photo. (French Air Force)

A French air force flying team will roar over the Air Force Academy on Wednesday to celebrate the nations' bonds built in the sky during World War I.

Patrouille de France, that nation's equivalent of the Air Force Thunderbirds, will arrive over the academy about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday for a brief air show. It's a big flying team with eight Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jets, a twin-engined light attack fighter that's known for its nimbleness.

"I think folks in Colorado Springs will get a great miniature airshow," said Lt. Col. Allen Herritage, an Air Force Academy spokesman.

This year marks the centennial of formal U.S. involvement in World War I, with America declaring war on the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the German monarchy on April 6, 1917.

The first Americans to reach the aerial battlefields of France, though, were American airmen of the French air force's Lafayette Escadrille, a fighter unit with American pilots that was established a year before the United States entered the war.

America's first flying aces came from the small French unit, including Maj. Gervais Lufberry, who was credited with downing 16 planes before he was killed over France in 1918.

The relationship built over the trenches between French and American pilots is still celebrated at the Air Force Academy today.

Herritage said the school has a French officer on the faculty and French exchange cadets on the campus. One of the pilots on the French flying team, Maj. Nicolas Lieumont, was an exchange student at the Colorado Springs school.

"We feel lucky to have them stop in Colorado Springs," Herritage said. "It marks our nation's longstanding relationship with France."

The academy is inviting locals to get a better view of the French team. Visitors are welcome at the academy Wednesday morning and can watch the show from a viewing area near the Cadet chapel. The flyover is scheduled at 11:30 a.m.

Civilians with proper identification can enter the academy through the north gate off Interstate 25's exit 156.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

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