French air force confirms July 14 red smoke error

A French Alphajet that displayed a red plume of smoke instead of blue as part of the traditional July 14 Fête Nationale flypast over Paris did so in error, the French air force has confirmed.

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The flypast - from traditional jets known as La Patrouille de France - took place as part of the otherwise-successful July 14 festivities in Paris, watched by thousands of waiting crowds as well as President Emmanuel Macron.

Traditionally - as with the “Red Arrows” in the UK - the jets fly in formation, displaying long flumes of coloured smoke behind them, always in the colours of blue, white and red, to display the French Tricolore national flag.

Yet, this year, one plane that looked as though its trail should have been blue, instead displayed a red plume.

The images spread quickly on social media, with users joking about the mistake.

Three special forces veterans were on board the jets for the first time ever this year, leading some social media users to suggest that the extra red smoke could have been a way to symbolise the “bloodshed” from France’s war heroes.

But the air force today confirmed that the smoke had indeed been a genuine mistake.

Colonel Cyrille Duvivier, air force spokesperson, said: “It was not planned. It was an error.”

He explained: “La Patrouille de France is normally eight planes, and on July 14, it presents as nine. The ninth plane is the ‘extra’...and it can take any position. It is the only one to have all three colours. We must ascertain why, precisely, this colour was not correct.”

The plane smoke was not the only error to take place during the day’s festivities; two motorbike riders taking part in the National Police Motorcyclist Squadron parade took a tumble at low speed during the event, and were forced to scramble back to their feet to continue.

Yet, despite the mistakes, the annual July 14 parade was this year held on the theme of “army fraternity”, and has been heralded as a success.

Huge crowds lined the streets, with numbers said to be higher than usual this year due to the good weather and today’s (July 15) World Cup Final taking place on the same weekend.

As happens every year, members of the armed forces marched down the Champs-Élysées, as part of a parade that also included army vehicles and horses.

Reports show that 4,290 military personnel, 220 vehicles, 250 horses, 64 planes and 30 helicopters took part in the day overall.

President Emmanuel Macron - in his second July 14 parade since coming to power in May last year - opened the event with his traditional welcoming of the troops from his “command car” jeep-style truck.

Mr Macron travelled down the Champs-Élysées before taking his place in Place de la Concorde to watch the rest of the show, welcoming Singaporean Prime Minister Hsien Loong and the Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono as guests of honour.

The Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, had been due to attend the event too - as part of France’s bid to reinforce military links with the Asia-Pacific region - but he was forced to cancel his trip due to deadly flooding and weather conditions currently affecting Japan.

The Singaporean and Japanese flags were paraded alongside the Tricolore in homage to the invitation.

Other air force celebrations included a Rafale flight by Thomas Pesquet, the tenth French person to go to Space; a flight of French military refuelling plane the A330 MRTT Phénix; and the final flight of the French nuclear strike deterrent jet, the Dassault Mirage 2000-N.

Notably, cadets from police school l'Ecole des Officiers de la Gendarmerie Nationale marched in a procession that they had named after Arnaud Beltrame, the lieutenant-colonel who was killed by a terrorist in March this year, and hailed a hero for his bravery.

One day ahead of the event, Mr Macron announced his military plans for 2019-2025, saying that almost 300 billion had been earmarked as part of plans to spend 2% of GDP on cumulative defence credit within the next seven years.

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