The Paris Airshow

The Paris Air show was staged every other or three years at Le Bourget airport in Paris and alternately at Farnborough in England, least so it was in my day, and Paris was the better one. I attended in the mid-1970s.

In Paris in June 1991, the 39th Airshow, the ‘Salon de l’Aeronautique et de l’Espace’ was once again attracting manufacturers and dealers from all over the world. 1700 companies were exhibiting and the line of temporary chalets stretched for a mile across the old airport of Le Bourget. The more ambitious pavilions and displays of arms corporations and nations competed in splendour. A shiny shed called Israel stared out at the French company Aerospatiale while the main exhibition hall was dominated by Deutschland at one end and Dassault at another.” ... The Arms Bazaar in the Nineties by Anthony Sampson.

“You see the price of these suites?” Errol, the Prime Minister of Barbados, asked.

“Two hundred and fifty dollar.” We looked on the door of the two-bedroom suite in the Intercontinental Hotel in Paris.

“That is only for one room; look on the next door. I cannot commit the people of Barbados to that amount of money. Telephone Françoise and tell her I am going to stay with you all when she comes tomorrow and until then we can share this suite. I am using one of these bedrooms.”

The Prime Minister cancelled his accommodation. Next morning we moved over to Françoise and Christopher’s three-storied house on Avenue Charles de Gaulle where Errol took the smaller of the two guest-rooms and left the larger one to Carlton and me.

“Come with me.” Errol was at my door early the next morning. “I am going to cook breakfast.” Come, meant a walk down to the food shops where we bought breakfast. Errol sent the Barbadian butler, Arnie, out of the kitchen and he cooked.

That year, the Prime Minister of the country which housed the record setting longest firing gun, and the company responsible for great breakthroughs in the accuracy and range of field artillery, were star attractions. There were no women in sight but for the guides like ours, who was Greek and whom Errol charmed by reciting the Iliad in Greek. He may even have used ancient Greek. She was beautiful, black-haired, impressed, and young but not impressed or old enough to follow through on a date. He asked, she accepted and called later and cancelled. The photographers photographed as we walked around the exhibits and watched the fly passes and the aerial stunts from centre stage.

It was the end of the St. Tropez yearly vacation. Carlton represented Space Research Corporation, maker of the base-bleed shell, which added yards of distance to firing power. That year the talk was of the Russian Iylusion, which crashed at the previous show. The Americans had sent up an aeroplane to spy and to take photographs of the aircraft in flight. This distracted the Russian pilot, who lost control for a split second at low altitude and crashed to the ground. This year no two aircraft were allowed in the air together. We boarded the prototype Concord.

Major arms companies like British Aerospace with their Tornadoes, the French company Thompson-CS and a host of others had stalls set up. Military aircraft: helicopters, Migs and F14s went through their paces. The Harrier with its vertical take off and landing was spectacular. Simulators, radars and all kinds of related equipment were displayed. South American military men, Pakistanis and Indians in their turbans, Arabs in their robes, were engrossed in conversation with the American and Europeans arms dealers. A government delegation with their minister was there from St. Vincent. Northrop supplied them with girls, rooms and entertainment and offered their equipment.

“But Raytheon is better equipment.” I said.

The next year Northrop was accused of making unlawful contributions and payments to politicians in and outside of Washington.

“At that price that is the most expensive Chinese food I ever ate. Anyway I am still $150.00 ahead.” Errol said. ………..