Hi, my name is Tom; I’m a 4th year Aero and Astro student who spent 5 weeks this summer in France. We spent the time visiting 5 of the best Aeronautical Engineering Schools in France. Others who made the journey with me have already posted about the course as a whole, so I thought I’d give a description of 8 days in July, from the middle of the trip, which were some of the best on the trip!
We begin with the day of the Paris Air Show which is hosted at Le Bourget, an airport in the north of Paris. This is the biggest air show in the world and lasts a whole week! We visited on the first public day and after a brief run in with the French Prime Minister we had the opportunity to explore the whole site. Inside the exhibition halls there was a chance to visit companies in the field and of course scrounge freebies. The apron outside held over 100 aircraft including exhibits by Airbus and Boeing, and big displays from the French and American Air forces. In the skies above the show, flights from a range aircraft wowed the crowds, myself included. Highlights included the Rafale, F35 and my first display by the French Airforce display team, the Patrouille de France. The air show also gave us the chance to catch up with friends made the week before in Poitiers who were also here at the ENSMA booth in the education hall. Jon and I met our friend Alex from Poitiers and went to find Mauritian food in Paris. This led to one of the best evenings of the trip as we tried a new friend’s culture, and explored Paris with a native speaker to help. We finished the evening watching an equestrian display under the Eiffel tower which I’m still a little confused about how we got into.
Weekends were left free to do what we wanted and many of us used the opportunity to travel to places further afield. On this day 5 of us piled into a rented hatchback and drove 2.5hrs to see the beaches and memorials of Normandy. Before lunch we stopped at the American Military Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer overlooking Omaha Beach and at the D-Day museum down the road. A profound experience particularly for the Americans who were with us. After lunch we moved into the British Sector taking in the remains of German Defensive fortifications before finishing at the Museum and remains of the Mulberry harbour at Arramonches-les-Bains. After a dinner in the town, we were on the road back to Paris. Here the length of time we’d been in close company started to become clear, there were some great disagreements about the music being played…
We did however make it back to the hotel without too many fights.
With many of our group taking the opportunity to visit other European cities this weekend there were not many of us left in the French capital on Sunday. David and I met up following our trip the previous day and headed into the centre of the City. We met Nick at the Musée d’Orsay for an brief exploration of the art and artefacts in their collection including a hunt for a statue of a polar bear. After a stop for bubble tea (not for me…) we made our way to the Eiffel tower and had a race to the first floor. From the state of us at the top of the stairs it seems like the tower won… Having succumbed to the desperation I forked out for an $8 not quite pint, which was at least thirst quenching.
Monday was a long travel day as we said goodbye to Paris and our hosts at ESTACA to travel around 700km to Salon de Provence. It included: an early start; a walk along a busy road; a suburban Paris commuter train; 2 metros; an expensive McDonalds at Gare de Lyon; a 3.5hr TGV journey; an electric shock (don’t ask); and finally an hour coach journey from Aix-en-Provence to Salon-de-Provence. We finished our day with a quick introduction to our new host Major Jimenez before preparing for the next day’s classes.
Tuesday 27th & Wednesday 28th
Tuesday and Wednesday were days mostly filled with classes, the engineering topics involved remote sensing and satellite communication. In Salon-de-Provence we were taught at L’Ecole de l’air et de l’espace, the French Airforce officer academy. We also took French classes, though I felt for the teacher having to deal with the range of abilities of our group. French class here was taught entirely in French, a challenge I actually quite enjoyed, even if many others struggled. Tuesday evening a group of us took the opportunity to explore the town taking in a funfair on the town square. Wednesday evening we visited Chateau Virant, a winemaker just outside the town with an opportunity to taste and buy several of their products.
Thursday was a busy day without classes, we began at the base with a visit to the French Airforce acrobatic team. We witnessed some incredible flying and manoeuvres in planes which, after inspection on the ground, appeared to use a lot of duct tape – not sure I could handle flying like that! We then took a short coach trip into Marseille for lunch at the Military fort and a walk along the cost towards the Airforce beach. This gave us all a great opportunity to unwind in the sun. It was also here where for the 3rd time in 2 years where I opened my grades on a beach! When we returned to Salon we took the opportunity to explore the town further. We then chanced upon the French air force band performing a free concert in front of the old town hall – a great end to a great day!
The final day I will discuss here is another action packed one. The morning started with a satellite workshop with the Major where we looked at satellite communications. As part of this we completed a presentation of our results.
After a lunch, which I’ll be honest did not show the best of French food, we had to take our Engineering and French exams for the Salon section of the programme. Even though this section was by far the shortest module they were still pretty challenging.
When we finished, we wandered outside the buildings to find the beginnings of aerial displays by French Mirage Jet fighters. The airbase we were studying on is also home to the Patrouille de France and as part of the graduating students celebrations the airbase holds a small air show. So for the second time in 8 days were got to watch the French aerial display team perform, this time at a much more private event.
Having all passed another module many of us took the opportunity to let loose a little with just a few drinks in town. Having passed in a little of a blur, my main memories of the night were persuading the bar staff in a bowling alley to cook pizza for free at 1:30am and dropping someone in a bush. oops…
I hope this gives an idea of how I kept myself busy on this trip; I did actually do more studying than this makes it seem. My one piece of advice for anyone going abroad for study: say yes to as much as you can!
Thanks to the University for giving me this opportunity, and to our host universities and students for their kindness and hospitality and finally to my fellow travellers – thanks for a summer I’ll never forget!
One More Time?