From: Min Lee, Associated Press
Published October 21, 2004 12:00 AM

Despite Thick Smog, French Air Force Team Struts Aerobatic Stuff for Hong Kong

HONG KONG — Roaring boldly through the smog, French air force stunt pilots performed spectacular aerobatic jet maneuvers Wednesday in a goodwill gesture from France that was marred by Hong Kong's filthy skies.


The Alphajet training fighters passed in formation above Victoria Harbor in pollution so bad that much of the skyline was obscured, as it often is. Then they flew to the somewhat cleaner south side of Hong Kong Island for their aerial display.


The eight jets performed loops, fly-bys, and one stunt where they soared up in formation and then scattered in a pattern that resembled fireworks. They shot out trails of smoke in the three colors of the French flag — red, blue and white — but the white was difficult to see in the pollution.


Two jets used more smoke to make a heart shape in the sky, drawing applause from dignitaries in a VIP viewing area, even though the pattern was left a bit murky by the haze.


The Patrouille de France pilots got rave reviews from Hong Kongers who watched the show.


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"It was spectacular, but the one imperfection was that the air pollution was really serious," said Ken Wong, a 46-year-old construction company executive.


"Their coordination is superb," agreed Gary Lai, 35, a logistics worker who also noted the smog.


The demonstration comes a week after President Jacques Chirac stopped in Hong Kong on his way home from a trade mission in mainland China, and it highlights growing ties between France and this former British colony.


France has lent a stage screen painted by Pablo Picasso to Hong Kong, and the Centre Pompidou museum in Paris is hoping to be involved with local companies in creating a new cultural center here.


The elite French pilots had to cancel a performance in Beijing when Chirac was there because the air pollution blanketing the capital was too bad for them to fly.


A French air force officer, Capt. Gilles Combarieu, said the pilots had considered scaling back their aerobatics in Hong Kong because of the smog, but they eventually carried on with the entire show.





Source: Associated Press


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