California Capital Airshow Executive Director Darcy Brewer has a lot of ways to describe the recent, rare appearance by the Patrouille de France air squadron at Mather Field.
A high-performance Cirque du Soleil.
A powerful symbol of a century-old alliance between France and the United States.
An appetizer to an even bigger air event in September.
All are true. But the event, which marked the only West Coast stop during the famed air corps’ first U.S. tour since 1986, is also a huge economic boost to the city of Rancho Cordova and the Sacramento region.
Since 2010, the spring and fall airshows on average pull in about $4.2 million in business annually, with everything from area hotels and restaurants to pharmacies and street vendors sharing the bounty.
Hotels, for example, see a 40 percent rise in bookings the week before the airshow, according to the Rancho Cordova Travel and Tourism Department.
Other groups benefit as well. A revenue-sharing program netted area nonprofits $45,785 in 2016. CCA has also resulted in 94 college scholarships of $500 to $4,000 each since 2007.
Rancho Cordova Mayor Donald Terry says the spring and fall airshows are a key part of the city’s identity. “They draw new visitors to Rancho Cordova, [who] support our local businesses,” he says. “And, overall, it brings families together to experience the magic of flight.”
Landing the Good Guys
Patrouille de France is effectively France’s equivalent of The Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, and the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds, both of which thrill crowds with their narrow flyovers and carefully choreographed aerial acrobatics. The latter two have made appearances at Mather Field. But the former military airbase in Rancho Cordova is new territory for the French team.
Brewer says landing the squad stemmed from a chance conversation at the International Council of Air Shows in December, when it was “suggested” that the unit should come to California during its 2017 North American tour, planned for March through May. “They were only hugging the East Coast,” she says. “I told them they needed to come to the capital of the state of California, which is the sixth-biggest economy in the world. And Mather would be the perfect place for them.”
A little under two months later, Mather appeared on PAF’s final list of cities, eight of which are in the United States. Only Mather is west of the Central Time Zone.
They were excited to come here, and we were thrilled to have them,” Brewer says. “There’s been a lot of coordination since, but we’ve also had a lot of fun.”
Dare to believe
The CCA is a fundraiser for Mather Field’s Title 1 kids’ education program, designed to encourage disadvantaged children that they can do anything they want if they believe it.
"We spend time in one of the hangars at least twice a month, often with special guests, to talk about science, technology and math, and things the kids can do if they just apply themselves,” Brewer says. “The kids get a lot out of it and come away believing that there are goals they can really achieve.”
The five-hour spring show drew about 8,000 visitors, making for a “sweet, simple, inexpensive, easy in, easy out” event, according to Brewer. It also makes it a very little brother to the massive, weekend-long California Capital Airshow held in fall, for which attendance routinely tops 120,000.
To stand out, CCA designs the smaller show around a significant moment in time and recreates it in a theatrical way, Brewer explains. Past shows referenced the film “Tora! Tora! Tora!” and the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor; a 911 tribute; and a recreation of six different battles in the South Pacific that helped bring about the end of World War II.
“We do all kinds of things, and it’s not to illustrate war or the bombings or anything,” Brewer says. “It’s to illustrate the courage and sacrifice of the 20-year-old who, 75 years ago, who was willing to do anything to serve his country. We want our young people to be able to meet people like that.”
Eternal respect and gratitude
Enter the Patrouille de France, which returned to the states in recognition of America’s entry into World War I 100 years ago this month, and of its further support during World War II.
“As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of our entry in WWI, it is an honor to have the French Air Force here,” says Guy Michelier, Sacramento’s honorary consul of France. “Their sacrifice, and the bond between Americans and the French shall not be forgotten.”
The feeling is mutual. Capt. Benjamin Michel, one of nine French AF pilots comprising the PAF, says the opportunity to perform before an American crowd is almost viewed by himself and his comrades as once-in-a-lifetime. “Thirty-one years is a long time,” he says. “All of us [pilots] were children the last time [PAF] performed here. In a manner of speaking, ‘It’s good to be back.’”
Sgt. Vincent Goux, one of PAF’s flight mechanics, says he’s looked forward to this visit since the tour was announced. “We’ve heard a lot about California,” he says. “There are things we all want to see while we’re here, which, unfortunately, will not be very long.”
People want to see the PAF, too. Brewer says one of the things that makes the Mather show different from others is the fact the public can actually meet the 70-plus pilots, mechanics and support staff face to face.
In a grand finale, the jets fired off red, white and blue smoke in a heart shape to show France’s love and respect for the U.S. “We love America,” Michel says. “We want our countries’ great relationship to continue always.”