RAF to join Paris Bastille Day display

In a remarkable demonstration that the entente cordiale flourishes at state level despite popular tensions over the beef crisis, Royal Air Force aircraft will participate in the Bastille Day flypast over Paris this year, the first time either British or foreign aircraft have taken part.

Eight air force aircraft - a Viscount, three Harriers and four Tornados - will mount a joint display with an equal number of French aircraft - a KC-135 transporter and seven Mirages.

Bastille Day, celebrated on 14 July, is France's biggest public holiday and traditionally an exclusively national occasion. The French Revolution inaugurated a quarter of a century during which Britain and France were at war for most of the time. The only other time non-French forces have been involved in the military parade was in 1994, when a contingent from the mainly French-German Eurocorps, a joint military force, took part in the march-past.

British diplomatic sources in Paris said the joint flypast is intended to demonstrate the strength of co-operation between the air forces of the two countries. The British Government is strongly against belonging to multinational units on the Eurocorps model, but in favour of closer co-operation between national forces like the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps now working in Bosnia.

A French-British air planning group was inaugurated during Jacques Chirac's first visit to Britain as President on 30 October last year. It consists of only a small planning cell based at High Wycombe. Britain and France are also co-operating in the naval sphere, following France's move closer to the Nato military structure.

The air display presents the spectacular sight of formation flying low over the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs Elysees. For any foreign troops to take part is a signal honour. But the French will also have something to savour. The appearance of British aircraft in RAF insignia contributing to such an anti-royalist occasion as the celebration of the French Revolution will doubtless draw a wry smile from the crowds.