An air display, including various flights of aircraft in formation, first took place in France in 1931. The aircraft were piloted by a group of instructors from the training school at Stampedes airbase. The first real French aerobatic team was later established in Etampes. (N. B. - in France, aerobatic teams are known as "patrouille" (patrols), but, in this article, we will continue to use the terminology "aerobatic team"). This team consisted of three Morane-Saulnier 230 aircraft and they were known as "Patrouille Etampes". The first demonstration by this team was on May 10, 1931 and their first display abroad was that August in Belgium. In 1934, the team transitioned to Morane-Saulnier 225 aircraft. This team achieved very good results and became very popular with the public, by participating in numerous national and international air displays. In 1935, the team suffered its first tragedy when one of its pilots died in a crash. From 1936 until 1939, the team employed Spad 510 aircraft.
In 1937, the "Patrouille Etampes" was relocated to Salon de Provence and co-located with a Flight School. The "Patrouille Etampes" then became the official aerobatic team of that Flight School.
In 1934, in Dijon a Captain Weiser had established another aerobatic team, which some sources name as "Patrouille Dijon" after the location. Other sources list this team as "Patrouille Weiser" after the team leader's name. The team flew both Morane-Saulnier 225 and Spad 510 aircraft, eventually reaching a total number of eighteen planes. A specialty of this team was that, during a demonstration, two of the aircraft would fly their routine while tied together with ropes. This "feature demonstration" brought the team huge popularity and public acclaim.
Not surprisingly, World War II interrupted the activities of all aerobatic teams. In France it was not until 1946 that an ex-"Patrouille Etampes" team member, Captain Perrie, re-established an aerobatic team at the school for air instructors in Tours. This new team again was named after its location and became the "Patrouille Tours". The following year, this team returned to Etampes. Then the Department of Aerial Navigation gave the team official status as a "squadron" in the French Air Force and it was equipped with twelve Stampe SV4 aircraft. The squadron's aim was to represent the French Air Force in aerobatic demonstrations throughout France.
The first French Air Force aerobatic team with jet aircraft was established in 1950 in Dijon by the commander of the 2nd squadron, Captain Marias. This team was equipped with four De Havilland Vampire jet fighters.
The following year Captain Marias went on to found another display team drawn from the 4th squadron based in Friedrichschaffen.
In 1952, the commander of 3rd squadron based in Reims, Commandant Delachenal, established yet another aerobatic team employing four Republic F-84G Thunderjets. This new team was in fact inspired by the USAF "Skyblazers", who had recently visited France.
The "Patrouille de France" was first established in 1953. The first unit who had the honor to carry the name "Patrouille de France" was the team from the 3rd squadron commanded by Commandant Delashenal. Supposedly the name of the team came from a journalist who watched team's display at Maison Blanche, Algeria. And while this is a popular story of the origin of the team's name, it is also likely that, just as a pre-WWII teams were named for the local airfields where they were stationed, "Patrouille de France" were simply named for the country they represented during this international display.
In 1954, as the first French-manufactured jet fighters were being mass-produced, French Air Force headquarters ordered the creation of a new "Patrouille de France" in order to employ French-made Dassault MD-450 Ouragan jets from the 2nd squadron based in Dijon.
From 1955 until 1956, the honor producing the "Patrouille de France" team fell to the 12th squadron based in Combre. The team initially also flew Ouragan jets but later transitioned to the Dassault Mystere IV fighter.
In 1956, the 4th squadron based in Brenngarten assumed the honor and reverted to Ouragan aircraft.
From 1957 until 1961, the 2nd squadron based in Dijon were tasked to be the "Patrouille de France" once again equipped with Mystere IV fighters. At that time, the team flew 11 aircraft.
From 1962 until 1963, the 7th squadron generated the team team. In January, 1964, because of cuts in the military budget, the "Patrouille de France", which flew expensive jet fighters, was on the verge of being disbanded.
Fortunately, the Flight School at Salon de Provence had retained the school's own aerobatic team - the "Flight School Patrol" (the successor to the "Patrouille Etampes"), which since 1957 had been using less expensive Fouga Magister jet trainers. Consequently, on 10 Feb 1964, the school's commandment sent a telegram to the minister of defence advising that, from this time onwards, the school's own "Patrouille" would assume the duties as the "Patrouille de France".
On 4 June 1967, during the closing of the "Le Bourget" airshow, one of the team's Fouga Magisters crashed near the show line. Fortunately, no member of the public was injured but the Patrouille pilot, Capt. Didier Duthois, was unable to eject and was killed in the crash.
For the next few years (until 1980), the team retained the Fouga Magister. The last "Patrouille de France's" demonstration on this aircraft type occurred on September 16, 1980, at Salon de Provence. During this entire time, the total number of aircraft employed by the team varied several times. At first six aircraft were employed, then eight, then eleven and finally - eight again.
In 1981, the "Patrouille de France" received brand new Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet training aircraft. Initially, the team received seven airplanes and, then in 1982, it gained another example. The "Patrouille de France" has retained eight aircraft to the present day.
On August 17, 1983, during the top of a loop crossing maneuver at an airshow in Souche (Niort), France, when two four-ship formations were each crossing from opposing directions, two planes from the separate formations collided. Unfortunately, one of the pilots involved was killed, but the other ejected successfully. (See crash video)
On April 11, 2002, during a training flight, the #4 team member, callsign "Atos-4" perished in another accident. The pilot attempted an ejection at low altitude but his parachute did not fully deploy in time.
For the 2010 show season, the "Patrouille de France" became the first military aerobatic team in the world to be led by a woman - Commandant Virginie Guyot.
On April 13, 2010, during training flight at a civilian airport of Plan-de-Dieu, Vaucluse, the team's #8 crashed. Although the pilot, Capt Sylvian Courtot, was forced to eject, he was only slightly injured.