Flying in France beats watching conventions

"Happiness consists in activity - it is a running stream, not a stagnant pool..." - Maurice Sendak

We're back! For the past couple of weeks, Ingrid and I have been in France on a different kind of vacation.

It began in Angers (pronounced Ahnsjay), France, where a group of us fly-boys get together annually for the "Coupe d'Anjou" aerobatic flying contest, which is flown only with 1930s vintage French Air Force biplanes (two-wings) known as Stampe SV4-Cs.

These particular aircraft have remained immensely popular with purist aerobatic (stunt flying) buffs over the years because they're unusually graceful, being low-powered, requiring a higher skill level than modern aerobatic aircraft to perform the prescribed menu of tricks required for official international competition.

There are only about 80 Stampes out of an original 1,100 still flying world-wide, mostly in France and Britain. Ingrid and I happen to own one of the best Stampes (No. 1067) right here in Carson City. In fact, ours is the first one to come to the U.S.

At the "Coupe," we had nine Stampes at the competition and 22 pilots, one airplane from Britain, two from Germany, and six from France. Since the pilots from the U.S., Australia and Canada had no way to ferry their own Stampes to France, they flew club airplanes owned and operated by the Angers Flying Club, the oldest officially sanctioned flying club in the world.

Nobody can beat the French when it comes to the pomp and circumstance of a superbly presented event. The contest was well attended by spectators, was well organized and run, the celebrations were elegant, the food was excellent and varied for a large happening, and the wine was delectable. Angers borders some of France's best wine country and is the home of Cointreau. The flying was also first class with my good friend, Don Peterson of Dallas, Texas, winning first place by a scant two points. It was the closest in history.

The Frenchman who placed second is a great pilot, as is the British pilot who came in third. This was the second year in succession that Don won the event, he being the only American who has ever won. And he did it in the British pilot's Stampe, which is a pretty fine airplane (named "Plums and Custard" because of its color combination) since it's won first place five years in succession with three different pilots.

Following the five contest flying days, we took a tour of France in an antique "airliner," the "Rapide," which was built in 1933 by DeHavilland for British European Airways, for regularly scheduled service between London and Paris.

This aircraft is also a biplane and is made from wood with fabric covering. It's light and strong. It seats eight people including the pilot. It has two 200 HP engines with fixed-pitch props and fixed landing gear. It's important to remember that this airplane operated before the days of radio navigation and yet it made hundreds of safe trips over the channel between Paris and London in all kinds of weather. Real pilots.

The Rapide is owned by our old friend, Philip Meson, who was Great Britain's national aerobatic champion during the 1980s, and he owned the Marlboro Aerobatic Team as well. She's been completely restored in every detail to her original BEA decor, being one of the most beautiful vintage airplanes I've ever seen.

The four of us spent a few days flying over much of France at 100 mph, at altitudes 300 to 500 feet above the ground except when we had to climb to 1,000 feet over cities, getting a bird's eye view of all the fabulous chateaux. What a way to go.

We were highly impressed with France this trip. I used to hate doing business there back in the 1960s and '70s because of their snotty attitudes, so we've avoided spending time in France for many years. But attitudes have changed. Now that nationalizing industries is being discredited following Mitterand's catastrophic policies, the economy and employment are improving.

Another lovely thing about today's France is its women. Oo-la-la, what a bunch of race horses! I've never seen better female figures anywhere, and I'm including all age groups. And it's obvious they relish being women, making the most of what they have. No loose clothing. Hip-hugging skirts and dresses and pants everywhere, and there's an abundance of hips to hug. The men are lean and trim, too, but except for businessmen, French men don't know how to dress.

One unexpected bonus was that we missed the entire Republican and Democratic conventions. No, it wasn't planned that way, but we thank God we were spared any opportunity to listen to or watch those tired old rah-rah speeches with all the promises that aren't worth diddley-squat! Listening to, or looking at Al Gore would have tarnished an otherwise beautiful trip.

Bob Thomas is a Carson City businessman, local curmudgeon and former member of the Carson City School Board and Nevada State Assembly.


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