13. September 2022
The journey by our ellipse planes to France went smoothly. We were looking forward to the festival because we did not know how we would perceive it from the position of exhibitors. The organisation of the landing suggested that there would be no shortage of cute misunderstandings and adventures, improvisations and smiles, surprises and embarrassments.
The organisers of the Mondial de L'ULM event say that Blois is Europe's largest exhibition of ultralight flying – from airplanes to paramotor parachutes. They provide some figures for this, which may be inflated or refer to other years, as we had a slightly different experience.
One booth was next to another along the runway about 800 meters long. There were dozens of booths in the aisles and several exhibitors with small presentation booths in large tents. It was only possible to walk through once, which is probably why a small train ran past the main line of exhibitors.
You might believe it, the show lasted three days, slots were carefully allocated, and arrivals and departures were scheduled from 7.15 am each morning until sunset at 8.30 pm. This year's show was a bit unlucky for the weather, though, there were many thunderstorms over France on Saturday, and many pilots did not fly.
Yes, this seems a reasonable estimate as the field adjacent to the airfield has been turned into a huge car park with considerable traffic. Families with children, pilots and lively retired people came to watch and talk about aerodynamics or that it was good that there were so many manufacturers in the Czech Republic, otherwise, there would be no one to exhibit in Blois.
We were scheduled to land at 8:25 PM, or 5 minutes before local sunset, and we had a minimal margin, but in the end, we made it and arrived slightly ahead of schedule. That the time wasn't all that serious was evident when the aerobatic group was practising on the display line, and we waited and waited and waited.
We went in for a landing at 20:33, and by then, there wasn't much to see. But we were far from being the last – more and more pilots were landing after us in the dark, when we had already parked the planes and were looking for registration.
We always told similar jokes, and many new ones were told by our French friends who came to us. We didn't mean it in a wrong way; we just thought it was strange that the nation of oysters, snails and frog legs only offered a burger everywhere.
It was an adventure to order in English at the stand and get what one wanted. But mostly, it was fun - we were trying to speak French and trying to specify in English which of the six dishes on offer we meant, the native waiter, in turn, telling us in French how excellent their food was, what and how it tasted, where we got the salt and ketchup and tasking the food truck staff to show us what each name meant.
For good measure, to shorten the debate and reduce the line that formed behind us, we ended up at just the "chicken classic burger" for almost four days. There was no pronunciation error to be made there.
During the event, all the exhibitors moved into tents they had set up right behind their booths or on a prepared campsite on the show grounds. We were adjacent to the big JMB team, who hosted a disco every night – they must have loved the 80's because they rocked the camp every night until midnight with ABBA and BoneyM. A little further down the road was the French paramotor team PARAMANIA, who alternated between Kurt Cobain and French rappers.
Mostly, after being around planes all day, we were so tired that we fell into a swoon faster than we could contemplate the psychedelic mix of sounds from the surrounding area. Since even the biggest partygoers were probably in a similar state, everything died down around midnight.
Breakfast was only possible in the exhibition area. There, the situation was a bit more complicated when ordering. Some kinds of menus or packages with Windows icons (I would guess the version Windows 3.11) were printed and put in the office folder, and depending on how much we paid, we could take that much.
But how much is "that much"? It evolved. Whatever the meal was, it always went with a croissant baked right in the oven at the airport. At the breakfast stand, there just had to be a croissant in the morning. We tried several times to find logic in what we ordered and for how much money, but we couldn't. As long as it was a crossaunt!
To keep the diet varied, we added fries to our dinner, and our burger became the "chicken classic burger with pommes frites". When we topped it with ketchup, it tasted a little different than it did at noon and we felt like we were eating varied and healthy food.
However, we didn't come to examine snails and tell jokes. Still, we presented two of our ellipses - a classic version with a fixed chassis and a carbureted 100hp engine and a cruising version with a retractable autopilot and two EFIS displays.
To add some numbers for us, we’ll also close with a little statistic. We had a lot of people visiting us every day - it was impossible to count. The three of us were running around the interested people, and sometimes we couldn't keep up.
We flew several demonstration flights, and the commentators had a text from us on how to introduce the aircraft in French, but it always ended up with shouts of "spitfire". Or that was the only thing we understood. We handed out nearly 100 catalogues, and stacks of business cards and arranged a host of other appointments.
We explained our elliptical wing with its aerodynamic slit so many times that by the end, we could do it like the guides at the castle and even speak French.
Although it was such a very fast, jumbled and rearranged thing, it was happening in France, and it seemed like everything that didn't work was the very intention of the organisers, and we just needed to smile about it.
So from the first moment, we were looking forward to flying to the show again next year, to learn more jokes and to have a "cross aunt" or a "chicken classic burger" again. We were just going to get better tents because our lightweight gear wasn't built for several storms a night.
(And finally, next year, we have to find the shuttle bus that was supposed to run every hour to the town of Blois. No one has seen it for the entire four days, but all the organisers were convinced it was definitely there!)
Photo credit: Lubor Sobek