As the world prepares to commemorate the centenary of World War One, Ferte airfield, just outside Paris, is home to an impressive collection of vintage aircraft dating from the very origins of aviation.
Pilots, enthusiasts and mechanics come here to share their passion for the flying machines of days gone by.
Baptiste Salis is a war-bird pilot and collector: “Here you feel the weight of history, it is rather extraordinary to fly a machine that is 100-years-old. Sometimes these machines have really high performance, contrary to what one might think; and you can feel the emotions coming from the history of these planes.”
Most of the aircraft here are air worthy: they include a Bleriot XI-from 1909, the famous DC3, T6, and even a bombardier B17.
A Flying Fortress, named Pink Lady, produced in 1944 in Burbank, USA now lives in France, the machine flew six missions over Germany during WWII.
Baptiste Salis also prepares vintage aircraft for the silver screen: “We have always refurbished and built airplanes for cinema. For example for ‘Ace of Aces’ with Jean-Paul Belmondo, we made a replica SE5, it has its shape, but it is not the real one. For the film we needed an aircraft with more performances, to fly in all conditions, so we have an original shape with a modern engine and brakes.”
Gaelle Damico is the proud owner of a Stampe SV4 – a Belgian trainer bi-plane first produced in 1933 and used by the Belgian and French air forces.
Damico said his plane dates from 1946 and requires a special flying technique: “These are very light planes and their controls are rather sensitive if you come from modern machines, as I do; you really need to be flexible, and fly it with two fingers; you should go easy on the stick.”
The vintage machines take to the air mostly in summer to avoid challenging weather.
These old birds deserve nothing less.