Apache Aviation : From Martini to Breitling...

Text : Serge Van Heertum   Pictures : Serge Van Heertum, SBAP collection and Apache Aviation


Jacques Bothelin, the creator and boss of Apache Avition was born in 1954 in Dijon. At this time the well known “Patrouille de France”, created one year before, were also based in Dijon and many times Jacques could see the team during their training flights above his house. When he was 13 years old, someone  gave him a book to read.  It was the “Grand Cirque” written by the French pilot in the RAF, Pierre Clostermann. This was for Jacques a revelation and since that moment he got the famous virus of aviation and flight.  In 1971, Jacques began a glider course in the Nancy area. This was cheapest way to start flying and for him also the best way to feel the flight subtilities.  Later, Jacques moved to the Bordeaux area (his father was a French Air Force officer and the family moved regularly in function of the father affectations) and there he began an engine motorised airplane course. These lessons were of course more expensive and Jacques took up different jobs to finace his courses. With his strength of character, Jacques obtained his pilot license but this was not enough for him…his dream was  aerobatic flight!  Jacques began aerobatic flying training at Belvès on board a Zlin 526 and later at Til Châtel.  Some months later he got the precious aerobatic licence and his operational on Avion Mudry Cap 10.  Since 1974 he was always ranked in the top during the “Coupe Mudry” and got the first step on the podium in 1980.  Jacque than started the airshow presentation with a CAP 10 and later on with a second one.
During the Paris Airshow of 1981, Jacques Bothelin took contact with Siai-Marchetti to rent 3 SF.260’s and start an aerobatic team. To start this team, the need for a sponsor emerged.  The sponsor was found some month’s later and since than the dream of Jacques came true, the “Patrouille Martini” was born. The two first pilots were engaged, both being former French Air Force pilot from the EVAA (Equipe de Voltige de l’Armée de l’Air). The first public presentation was held during the Dijon Air show in the summer of 1982.  It is since this presentation that the team was performing the well known “Apache Roll” and it remains the signature of the team till today.  


The signature of the team : the Apache roll ! (Serge Van Heertum)


Also in 1982, Jacques created the Apache Aviation Company needed to manage the operational and administrative aspects.

In 1984 the team changed their name in “patrouille Martini-Europe 1” due to the introduction of a second sponsor, the French radiobroadcast,  as media partner of the team.

1986 brought big changes in the team, the Pilatus PC-7, a Swiss construction aircraft, replaced the SF.260’s. The new plane was equipped with two smoke pods under the wings to underline the fineness of the evolutions.   All went smoothly for the team untill the air show disaster of Ramstein in 1988.  All air shows were cancelled in Germany, France and other countries.  Sadly at the same time the French government voted the new “Evin” law prohibiting all alcoholic related advertising.  It’s time for Jacques Bothelin to quickly find a new publicity partner.

This was done in 1990 when the team became “Patrouille ECCO”. ECCO was a temporary employment company and the planes were painted in the green and white colours of this enterprise. This sponsor was shortly followed by a media partnership with the television broadcast company TF1.   At this time the team was growing and a fourth Pilatus PC-7 was bought. This partnership was a real success, the image of ECCO became internationally famous and the team won the Shell trophy at Bigin Hill (UK) in 1992, 1994, 1995 and 1996.

After 1996, ECCO  merged with the Swiss employment company ADIA. The name became ADECCO. This new company seriously questioned and investigated the deal with Jacques Bothelin to judge whether there was still need for a continuation of the sponsorship or not. The result was positive but the planes had to change their look into the red and white colours of the new company. The sponsoring  stopped in 1998 due to the change of mind in the company management about their marketing priorities.

During the 3 following years the team continued the presentations  but without sponsor ( still in red and white but with an Apache head in stead of the name ADECCO) and only with 2 planes.  During this period the team continues to win some prestigious trophies.

Jacques Bothelin was still busy finding a new sponsor, but was also conscious that the team needed a radical change to get a new sponsor.  In 1999, Jacques discovered the Aero L-39 Albatros.  After some flights on a French based plane he decided to buy 2 L-39C in Estonia.  In 2001 the new sponsor is found, it’s the Algerian Khalifa Airlines. The new “Khalifa Jet Team” starts their presentations in March 2002 with 2 aircraft. Soon the team expanded to 4 aircraft in the summer of 2002.  In 2003 Khalifa Airlines experienced  serious financial problems and the sponsoring was stopped. Miraculously the Breitling company was open for a sponsorship since they had stopped their partnership with the Ray Hannah “Flying Legend” and their warbirds.  The Swiss watchmaker then became the sponsor of the L-39 team of Apache Aviation.  Since 2003 the success of the “Breitling Jet Team” has been growing. The gracious and elegant ballet was rewarded during the international air tattoo when the team received the Lockheed trophy for the best overseas display.

In 2004 the “Breitling Jet Team” got one more plane and the display was done with 5 aircraft.

The decoration of the planes was also modified and this time the Indian head on the vertical fin was replaced by 5 L-39 silhouettes.

In 2005 a new aircraft is integrated and the team performs it’s display with 6 aircraft. The dream of Jacques to lead and being the boss of a real aerobatic display team has come true.

Since 2007 The “Breitling Jet Team” are performing their display with 7 jets !
In 2008 the tail markings changed. The tail was fully yellow with embedded the Breitling name.

Finally, as of 2010, the planes are wearing a complete new decoration choosen by the sponsor to follow the evolution of the company’s public image. The 3 grey tones are replacing the well known blue and yellow paint seen during years in the skies of many international air shows.

For  29 years now  the team of Jacques Bothelin engendered the passion of aerobatic flying, let us all wish the team to continue their wonderful ballet for many years to come !


1982 - 1988   "Patrouille Martini" & "Patrouille Martini - Europe 1"
1982 the start of the Martini team (Serge Van Heertum) 1985 with radio broadcast sponson on the tail (Serge Van Heertum)
1988 - 1990    "Patrouille Martini - TF1"
(Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
1990 - 1996   "Patrouille ECCO"
(Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
1997-1998   "Patrouille ADECCO"
(Coll SBAP) (Coll SBAP)
1999 - 2001   "Patrouille Apache"
(Coll SBAP) (Coll SBAP)
2002-2003  "Khalifa Jet Team"
(Coll SBAP) (Coll SBAP)
2003-2004   "Breitling Jet Team"
(Coll SBAP) (Serge Van Heertum)
2004-2007   "Breitling Jet Team"
(Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
2008-2009   "Breitling Jet Team"
(Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
2010-To be continued   "Breitling Jet Team"
(Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)

Apache Aviation and the CATS program
Pictures courtesy Apache Aviation

The main goal of Jacques Bothelin and his company Apache Aviation was to create a professional display team and as we can witness this goal has been reached. But in 2003 Apache Aviation started a new branch axed on military activities, the CATS (Combat Air Training Support) program.  Since the start of this activity, Apache Aviation signed different agreements with military authorities.  Mostly the French defence department but also with other countries like the Saoudian Navy or the Estonian Air Force.

The different kind of missions performed are target towing, ground to air defence training, active jamming, electronic warfare, missile simulation, aggressor training…

To execute these activities, Apache aviation is equipped with 3 Hawker Hunter (2 Mk 58 and 1 T-7 former Swiss Air Force) and also 1 Aero l-39C. The planes are based at Istres Air Base in the South of France. The Hunters are modified to be able to carry different kind of equipment needed for multiple war scenario: ALQ 167, AST6, ALE43, AST9, ACDMI/LATR, RAM, TSS, RM30, MTR101 and the MBV2.
The success of this concept is due to the Defence budget recession.  To rent such a kind of service is of course cheaper than buying planes especially for these kind of missions.

Former Swiss Air Force Hawker Hunter Mk 58
Hawker Hunter T-7 Hunters are modified for different electronical configurations

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