Centenaire de l'Aéronautique navale

Hyeres, France

12 and 13 June 2010




With the coming of the second decade of the 21st century, one will have the opportunity to witness several air arms celebrating their 100th birtday. If severe defence cuts don't wither these air arms away before, that is. One that made it's first century is France's Naval Air Arm, the Aeronautique Navale of Aeronavale for short. Base Aerienne Navale Hyeres-le Palyvestre, situated in subtropical southern France right on the bords of the Mediterranean, was the venue for an excellent air show which accompanied the celebrations. Once a base for Super Etendard naval strike fighters, Hyeres now only houses helicopters. Fast jets returned to Hyeres for the weekend of 13 and 14 June 2010 and not just in the shape of French ones. For the centennial celebrations, the French Navy had invited participation by their allies, with the Italian, the Spanish and particularly the U.S. Navy showing their equipment.


Naturally, some French aircraft were given special paint schemes for the occasion. The most extensive one being applied to Super Etendard Modernise 23 seen top left. It consisted of mainly aluminum with the silhouettes of the French navy´s first carrier Bearn on the right hand side and the newest Charles de Gaulle on the left hand side. 

Not to be outdone, resident Flotille 36F had one of their AS.565SA Panthers decorated in a predominantly black scheme with a panther outline in yellow superimposed. Several other aircraft, including the EMB.121AN Xingu and Atlantique 2 had been given identical fin decorations.

The air display consisted of propellor driven warbirds representing the types the Aeronavale had operated, followed by the modern hardware of the present day. This included role demos like the buddy/buddy refuelling by a pair of Super Etendard M´s, something not regularly seen on airshows nowadays. Participants among the other demos were of course the Rafale (bottom left), both a naval fighter and an air force one. The latter was 2010´s solo demonstration Rafale C. Again, not often seen was a demonstration by a French Navy Hawkeye. With only three in front line service, this was truly unique. In this view, the E-2C can be seen tucking in its wheels following a dirty pass. Although a different example was demonstrated in flight, this Dassault Falcon 50 SURMAR (SURveillance MARitime) is seen here arriving for the static display. 

France's allies Spain, Italy and the UK each sent a pair of Harriers to Hyeres. Both Spain and Italy operate the radar equipped AV-8B+, known as EAV-8B in Spain. The UK's contribution was the Harrier GR.9 from 800 Naval Air Squadron. 


The Spanish Navy's EAV-8B did not have to cover a long distance to Hyeres, as the aircraft carrier Principe de Asturias had been moored close to the beach, alongside USS Harry S. Truman and the Charles de Gaulle. One of the Spanish Harriers was displayed in flight, with the British and Italians firmly on the ground in the static park. It was fortunate that these latter two could be photographed during arrival on the Friday prior to the show.


The US Navy was present in force. No fewer than five Super Hornets, including a pair of F/A-18F two seaters, had made the short hop from Truman's flight deck to Hyeres. This included VFA-105 "Gunslingers"'s CAG bird seen above left. The legend on the fin reads "Tonight, we ride...". Another CAG bird from Truman was this SH-60F Sea Hawk helicopter from HS-7 "Dusty Dogs", sporting the legends "Give 'em hell" on the engine nacelles as well as "Beware of dog 601" on the horizontal stabilizer. A treat for photographers and other US Navy buffs. From NAS Sigonella, Sicily came this C-2A Greyhound which most likely to celebrate 50 years of Greyhounds in US Navy service sported a colourful tail fin.


To return to the French, Hyeres 2010 provide dan excellent opportunity to view light planes from the Navy which are not regularly seen at other airshows, if ever. One was the CAP.10B which gave a good account of itself flying aerobatics and a static bound MS.893 Rallye. Finally, there is the Alouette III, that faithful little helicopter still used for training purposes.

With Hyeres's airshow for 2010, the French Navy displayed enormous hospitality. During the Saturday afternoon preceding the actual event, the enthousiast community was given the chance to preview the proceedings. All in all, a weekend well spent.

Merci beaucoup, Aeronavale!

All pictures (c) Hans Rolink