24 June 2013

From Paris With Love: The Paris Air Show 2013

One of the wonderful things about living in Paris one would think, would be the feeling of being at the centre of the world, or near enough to it that it is all the same. Love tennis? Roland Garros is a metro ride away. Love cars? The Paris Motor Show is a train ride away. Love fashion? Go to Paris Fashion Week and if you love cycling go stand on the Avenue Champs Elysée in August to see the winner of the Tour de France cycle the last few metres to victory (we all know this time it won't be Lance Armstrong so it might actually be interesting again).

But the reality is I have always been too busy to attend any of these things. I remember well the Paris Motor Show coincided with my mid-semester exams. Sometimes what you are left with is a feeling of so near and yet so far away...but not today! I got to go to the Paris Air Show!
And the funny thing is that I actually wasn't going there when I woke up that day, a cancelled appointment left me in town with nothing to do and a quick phone call to a friend who assured me the first day of the show was free for students (one knows the reputation of Ndebele's and free things) saw me making my way to Le Borget one of Paris's four airports where it was being held.

So that's how I ended up at the show where dreams take flight. And oh how did they fly! Jets were making complicated shapes in the sky with the vapour jets behind then. French army pilots did breathtaking tricks that left me wondering if they were either highly trained, high on drugs, unafraid of death or all of the above. A French military unit showed the ever appreciative crowd how to fly a helicopter with six soldiers hanging from a rope below the aircraft like fruit flailing in the wind. To say we held our breaths as we watched them high above us with nothing but a rope and the pilot's skill between them and a Youtube worthy death would be an understatement.

And the whole world was there it seemed. Every European country seemed to have a stand showing off the latest in aeronautics. The Russians had a stand where two very Russian looking pilots (all they needed was a bottle of vodka to complete the scene) were posing for pictures in front of an adoring crowd. Civilian aircraft were posed next to unmanned drones and missile launchers a sobering reminder at times of the highly profitable market that is war. But I couldn't let myself become too philosophical, awe was the most appropriate word to describe the maze of space rockets and Formula 1 racers parked within reach. For a geek like me: it was heaven!

But even in the heaven of the Greeks certain gods dominated the arena and who else could dominate an Air Show but Airbus with their magnificent Airbus A380 parked in the centre of the exhibition. "Own the sky" was splashed on its side in bright blue letters and the logos of airlines, for once, were printed in small print near the bottom of the plane. I have never been a fan of the Engineering Sciences but today I could not but be in awe of the sheer technical and scientific genius that was able to bring 300 000 kilograms of aluminium into flight. And according to French media, between them today, Airbus amd Boeing signed deals worth 130 billion Euros.

And there were the lighter moments too. The commentator on the public address system had a highly developed sense of humour not to mention his heavily French accented English translations. And the makers of the Parrot iPhone controlled drones had them doing a simply delightful aerial dance routine. I just found myself wishing as I walked away that amongst the many flags that were flying today, I could have seen an African flag. We have come a long way but we still have some way to go. Reminded me a bit of an Eskom advert I saw a years ago:

Dreams speak to the man 
The man whispers his dreams to the stars 
The stars wink back and say, 
“Come up anytime you are ready”

Our time shall come.

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