Although it was canceled – or postponed, as the case may be – this year due to the pandemic, the Paris Air Show has been a key event in aviation for over 110 years. Let’s take a look back at the event in its heyday…
At the start of the 20th Century, big international fairs were in fashion and aviation had just been born…This was when, in September 1909, the first “International Air Show” [Exposition internationale de la locomotion aérienne] took off, with André Granet and Robert Esnault-Pelterie at the forefront of the initiative. The Blériot XI, which had crossed the channel two months earlier, was at the top of the bill. The event saw around 100,000 people gather in the center of Paris, at the Grand Palais, and was held every year until World War I.
After the war, the display continued to go ahead, but industry was suffering due to a lack of workers and the restrictions in force. At the time, the event featured between 30 and 40 aircraft, and it was decided that it would take place every two years. It was only in 1934, the year when the French Air Force was created, that the display became “the Air Show” and began to feature a much higher number of aircraft: 62 in total. Among the “stars of the show” were the German Junkers Ju 52 transporter and the experimental French Dewoitine D.500 fighter.
Then came World War II (1939 – 1945), which marked the appearance of the very first fighter jets. The Dassault Ouragan, the first French fighter plane to be mass-produced, featured in the 1949 edition, which offered demonstrations on the tarmac at Orly airport for the first time.
The 1953 edition marked a turning point for the Air Show, because it was held entirely at Le Bourget. It was here that the Dassault Mystère IV was put on display to the general public for the first time. At this time, this “aviation festival” offered, depending on the year, a fleet of 150 – 200 aircraft, for an average audience of over 250,000 visitors.
A definitive name and records
Ten years later, in 1963, the event took up its definitive name, “the Paris Air Show.” The highlight of the decade was the 1969 edition which included, among other things, the presentation of the Concorde and the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. The turnout was simply astounding: there were over 1.3 million spectators.
The 1970s were first marked by the tragic accident involving a Tupolev Tu-144 in 1973, which cost the lives of 14 people. The years went by, and this traumatic memory faded. In 1979, the Paris Air Show made a breakthrough with the presentation of the Ariane rocket and the Mirage 2000 and 4000.
The 1980s saw the presentation, in order, of the Enterprise space shuttle, the new version of the Airbus A320, the presentation of the Rafale and a demonstration of the Russian Antonov 225 carrier. There was also the spectacular Mig-29 accident in 1989, this time with no casualties.
As for the 1990s, they focused first and foremost, of course, on the aircraft used during the first Gulf war. In 1993, an Airbus A340 took off for Auckland (New Zealand) from Le Bourget, which would be the longest flight ever achieved with no stops or refueling, more than 38,000 kilometers.
Ever since then, the most innovative drones, the latest helicopter models, wide-body aircraft like the Airbus A380, the various Rafale standards and business jets such as the Falcon have been arriving in Paris and continue to honor French and global aviation, with more than 350,000 visitors turning up to see them every two years.
Although we were disappointed not to see the 2021 edition take off due to Covid-19, professionals and other aficionados can rest assured that the 54th edition will definitely take place. We must, however, have a little patience, because it will be taking place from June 19-25 …2023.
The 54th International Paris Air Show. www.siae.fr