The world’s largest civilian jet team released their 2017 European Tour schedule this week as the Breitling Jet Team return to Europe’s top airshows following their successful two year tour of North America.
The formation flying of the Breitling’s seven black and metal gray L-39C Albatros aircraft will provide a timeless beauty in formation flying as they go smoke-on during their summer long performance. Breitling’s 20 minute aerobatic flight will showcase many original maneuvers created by the pilots themselves as their seven jets demonstrate dynamic maneuvers both high and low over the airfield.
Like the watch and chronograph manufacturer who sponsors the team, the Breitling jets will perform with aerobatic precision beginning high above the Czech Republic on June 3 and 4. The team’s 12-show site European Tour will have the team perform in Norway, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, and Belgium.
“We can proudly announce that we were able to contact and put Breitling Jet Team in the program,” said Jan Rudzinskyj, one of several organizers of the Pardubice Airshow in the Czech Republic. “The fact that the French have responded to our demand, certainly testifies to the importance of the Czech Aviation fair among Europe. This year our visitors will see a very dynamic performance of the six jets group.”
Headquartered in Dijon, France, the jet team has been sponsored by the Swiss watch manufacturer Breitling since 2003 due in part by the company’s rich history in aviation. Breitling watches were strapped to the wrists of many aviation pioneers, and even kept time for NASA’s astronauts en route to the Moon.
Jacque Bothelin, whose pilot call sign is “Speedy”, leads the team both in the air and on the ground. Pilots Bernard Charbonnel, Christophe Deketelaere, Francois Ponsot, Georges-Eric Castaing, Paco Wallaert, and Patrick Marchand perform together in close formation, and at times with two of the jet aircraft performing a specific maneuver such as the Opposite Barrel Roll.
Breitling’s L-39C Albatros jet’s can pull nearly eight times the force of gravity, and soar up to near the speed of sound. The black color of the jet’s fuselage can highlight each maneuver followed by smoke trails created during many of their maneuvers. Most spectators say they look like missiles streaking across the deep blue sky.”My favorite Breitling maneuver is the Apache Roll,” said pilot “Gaston” Marchand as he stood poised near his #7 aircraft. “It was created by Bothelin and has been duplicated by many jet teams around the world. It is a maneuver where four jets are flying within ten feet of each other and I am in Jet 7 doing barrel rolls around the formation. It’s always a favorite of fans and we often get a great applause from the crowd during this maneuver.”
Flying in close formation, the jets are about three meters apart as they soar at speeds of nearly 700 km per hour. Breitling explains that the pilots demonstrate mutual trust gained after years of working together. “The pilots think, operate and react as a single being, with as main concern for the safety of everyone.”
Breitling’s Jets align in several fascinating formations high overhead during the airshow. The Blackbird has jet one aligned in front of the six jets delta formation; and the Chronomat displays jets one, three, and five aligned nose to rear with jets seven, four, two, and six making up the wings on either side. The popular Rocket formation has three jets aligned nose to rear with two jets behind and on wither side of the alignment.Most of Breitling’s pilots have sharpened their aviation and aerobatic skills as fighter pilots while in the French Air Force. Each one having over 4,600 hours of jet time in such European aircraft as the Alpha Jet, Jaguar, and the popular Mirage F1.
Breitling’s right outside wingman Paco Wallaert served 22 years in the French Air Force both as fighter pilot and as aerobatic pilot for four years in the Patrouille de France — France’s military version of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. He spoke of his transition to Breitling at the same time he moved back into civilian life.
“Breitling’s not flying five or six jets, but seven which is quite unique as a civilian jet team,” Paco stated to this aerospace journalist recently. “I’m not a fighter pilot anymore, but I’m a jet pilot as a civilian. So I feel very fortunate to still fly in jets and above all with Breitling.”
The Breitling jets have returned to European airshows fresh from a two-year visit across North America. Their U.S. popularity in 2015-16 became a top draw at most show sites as they wow’ed the crowds prior to the Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds.