UP, UP & AWAY

THE SLEEPY SWISS ALPINE TOWN OF SION ROUSES IT­SELF EV­ERY FEW YEARS TO HOLD A SHOW OF ADRENALISED AEROBATICS, UN­DER THE AEGIS OF SEASONED AVI­A­TION WATCH­MAKER BREITLING.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - NEW WATCHES - STORY MIKE CHRIS­TENSEN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY KATSUHIKO TOKUNAGA

When you think about what Switzer­land is most fa­mous for, three things vie for the top spot: ski­ing, choco­late and watches. It’s mid-Septem­ber and we’re here for the lat­ter, kind of. Specif­i­cally, we’re in the small town of Sion, a beau­ti­fully scenic two-hour drive east from Geneva, to at­tend the unique aero­nau­ti­cal spec­ta­cle that is the Breitling Sion Air Show.

Those of you who haven’t heard of Sion are for­given. When not host­ing some of the world’s most ex­cep­tional aerial ac­ro­bat­ics in civil­ian jets and the like, it is merely a sleepy town, pop­u­la­tion 34,000, in the heart of the Alps. The third-largest wine-mak­ing re­gion in Switzer­land, Sion’s great­est claim to fame is ar­guably that Sepp Blat­ter was born here, though now prob­a­bly the less said about the dis­graced ex­pres­i­dent of FIFA the bet­ter.

Any­way, Sion Air­port wel­comed its first of­fi­cial air­show 35 years ago in 1982 (though the aero­nau­ti­cal af­fil­i­a­tion dates back to 1910). When it comes to grand sur­round­ings, there’s no doubt Sion is a mighty fine des­ti­na­tion to lose your air­show vir­gin­ity: for avi­a­tors it of­fers an ex­cep­tional play­ground to fly in and for spec­ta­tors, the blue skies and con­tours of the snow­capped moun­tains make for a beau­ti­ful back­drop. Since 1982 the air­show has re­turned to Sion spo­rad­i­cally (in 1986, 1989, 1997 then 2001) and most re­cently in 2011, which was the first time Breitling had its name at­tached to the event. So, as you’d ex­pect, six years in the mak­ing, the an­tic­i­pa­tion for this year’s event is pal­pa­ble. And aided by the prospect of re­vis­it­ing 110 years of avi­a­tion, from the Blériot XI to the Eurofighter, the ap­pre­ci­a­tion has grown in­cre­men­tally.

We’ll be hon­est – we don’t know what to ex­pect, let alone wear. But, as we walk through the gates, three things are quickly ap­par­ent: first, nigh-on ev­ery air­show en­thu­si­ast wears a base­ball cap. The place is a sea of or­ange caps, red caps and black caps, branded with Rafale, Sion Air­port and Breitling re­spec­tively. Sec­ond, we for­got to bring earplugs, as it turns out air­crafts reach­ing the speed of sound are re­ally loud. Third, judg­ing by the length of some of the cam­era lenses that had gath­ered front row (clos­est to the bar­ri­ers to catch the ac­tion), we are in the vicin­ity of some se­ri­ous avi­a­tion celebri­ties, specif­i­cally Breitling’s DC-3, Breitling’s Jet Team, Italy’s elite Air Force squadron Frecce Tri­col­ori and a crazy Breitling am­bas­sador by the name of Franky Za­p­ata.

So, as 77th birth­days go, the DC-3’s has been quite the ad­ven­ture. To cel­e­brate, Breitling de­cided it was both novel and nec­es­sary to fly the DC-3 around the world in six months, stop­ping at 28 coun­tries and cov­er­ing nearly 50,000km. A Breitling DC-3 World Tour, if you will. Yes­ter­day, the pro­pel­ler-driven twinengine plane reached its fi­nal des­ti­na­tion – fit­tingly, Sion, and es­corted by the Frecce Tri­col­ori. Tor­ren­tial rain, a gath­er­ing of wet diehard fans and a few keen jour­nal­ists were here to greet the birth­day boy.

But to­day, it’s a dif­fer­ent story. Stood ma­jes­tic in all its glory on the edge of the run­way, the Breitling DC-3 is hav­ing its selfie mo­ment – the Ken­dall Jen­ner of the show so far. The sun is shin­ing, the 100,000+ ex­pected crowds are fil­ing in along the run­way, the re­gion’s vine­yards line the moun­tains, with snow-capped sum­mits on show in the dis­tance. The arena is set for some se­ri­ous speed and power, aerotech­nics, mid-air au­dac­ity som­er­saultery – the lot.

Like a bunch of ar­rows drawn, the first act to blow our minds (and per­fo­rate our ear drums), is the in­fa­mous Breitling Jet Team – a band of merry 50-some­thing Gauloises-smok­ing hommes français in seven Al­ba­tros L-39 jets. Tak­ing off in con­voy, the world’s largest pro­fes­sional civil­ian flight team knows how to play a crowd. We over­hear it be­ing likened to a “metic­u­lously co­or­di­nated bal­let” as the septet cuts through the air in for­ma­tion, a mere few me­tres from one an­other. The syn­ergy be­tween the dis­play and Breitling is abun­dantly clear, with boxes ticked for all the brand’s cher­ished val­ues: pre­ci­sion, per­for­mance, aes­thetic, so­phis­ti­ca­tion and in­no­va­tion.

Next up, we have a crowd favourite in the afore­men­tioned Frecce Tri­col­ori. After a 20-year ab­sence from the air­show, there’s a real buzz around the Frecce Tri­col­ori (com­pris­ing Aer­ma­c­chi MB-339s and a fab­u­lous soloist), al­beit amid con­tro­versy: it seems air­shows have their own ver­sion of foul play, with con­se­quent penal­ties dished out. Yes­ter­day, it’s al­leged said soloist flew too low and did not re­spect the min­i­mum alti­tude. As a re­sult, the Ital­ian Army pa­trol’s week­end ac­ro­batic shows have to be mod­i­fied. Though that did lit­tle to stop the show­man­ship, ta­lent and Az­zurri colours jet­ting through the sky.

In our hum­ble, but ever knowl­edge­able, opin­ion, the best is saved un­til last. 2016 was the year Back to the Fu­ture pre­dicted us to have the hover board, but 2017 sees the fan­tasy be­come real as mad­man Za­p­ata de­but his lat­est in­ven­tion: the fly­board. Equipped with tur­bore­ac­tors, it’s able to fly sev­eral me­tres from the ground. Un­til to­day, the French­man has only per­formed above wa­ter, so Sion rep­re­sents the first time he’s per­form a pub­lic demon­stra­tion over solid ground. The crowds let out huge ap­plause as Za­p­ata whizzes up and down the run­way at speeds of up to 200km/h. Though it only lasts for roughly seven min­utes, it’s a for­mi­da­ble sight. In­deed, it’s not dis­sim­i­lar to some­thing out of Blade Run­ner 2049, only 30 years early. There’s a lot more air mus­cle to see, lots more adren­a­line rushes to be had, caps to be worn, but for now, we’re just sat, ab­sorb­ing and en­joy­ing the nov­elty of our first air­show. It’s been fast, it’s been a masterclass, it’s been an eye opener to a new world. And we even man­aged not a sin­gle men­tion of Goose, Tom Cruise or Top Gun. Wait? Damn it.

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