Nestled in the idyllic French countryside in Savigny-lès-Beaune, a castle straight out of a fairy tale hides an unexpected secret. It’s not a dragon or a sleeping princess, but the world’s largest private collection of fighter aircraft.
The owner of the castle, the Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune, Michel Pont, has dedicated his life to collecting and preserving these mechanical marvels.
This astonishing collection includes more than 100 aircraft, predominantly from the era of the 1950s and 1960s, a time when jet technology was taking a revolutionary flight.
Pont, a former racing driver, shifted his love for speed from the ground to the sky, culminating in an incredible display of aviation history.
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The collection covers a broad spectrum of fighters, featuring iconic planes such as the Dassault Mirage, North American F-100 Super Sabre, and the Soviet-designed Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG.
These aren’t just any planes; many are rare and historically significant, their value beyond just their impressive engineering.
But what sets this collection apart is its accessibility.
Unlike most aviation museums where aircraft are confined to hangers, here, these steel birds bask in the open air.
Visitors are allowed to walk around, appreciating their majesty from all angles, and getting a real sense of their scale and complexity.
One could almost imagine the roar of their engines, and feel the rush of wind as they took off into the unknown.
His collection grew gradually, through purchases from various sources including militaries and private owners around the world. Many of the aircraft in the collection are decommissioned military aircraft.
As militaries upgrade their equipment, older models are often sold off, and collectors like Pont are able to acquire them. In some cases, the planes were bought in non-working condition and then restored.
Maintaining such a collection is a massive undertaking. It requires not just the funds to acquire the aircraft but also the space to house them, the expertise to restore and maintain them, and the commitment to preserving them for future generations.
It’s also important to note that while the aircraft are impressive to look at, many of them are not in a condition to be flown.
It’s worth noting that the acquisition and display of military aircraft, especially those that are decommissioned, are subject to strict laws and regulations, both in France and internationally.
Collectors need to navigate these regulations effectively to establish and maintain their collections.
Yet, the experience at Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune isn’t just limited to aircraft. Interestingly, Pont’s love for all things mechanical does not stop at the sky.
These same castle grounds are home to an eclectic variety of museums, housing collections of vintage cars, motorcycles, and even antique firefighting equipment.
Notably, it boasts one of the largest collections of Abarth racing and road cars in the world.
At first glance, you might think the pairing of Burgundy vineyards and vintage fighter aircraft to be odd.
Yet, it works, intertwining the elegance of French wine-making with the mechanical beauty of these engineering marvels.
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It’s not just a feast for the eyes but also a journey through history, one that reflects the technological strides humanity has made.
A visit to the Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune offers much more than a tour of a scenic French vineyard.
It’s a journey into the past, making it a must-visit for any aviation enthusiast, history buff, or indeed anyone who appreciates the fascinating blend of the old and the new.
How many fighter jets does France have?
Due to conflicting reports, it’s not clear how many fighter jets the France Air and Space Force has. However, in 2014, the Ministry of Armed Forces claimed they had 658 aircrafts. What we do know is that France has Rafale, Mirage 2000, and Alpha Jet fighter jets made by Dassault Aviation.
In fact, the Cazaux Air Base’s squadron in training was given 45 Alpha Jets while the Salon-de-Pronvence Air Base got 12. In 2018, the Alpha Jet was replaced as the training equipment. To replace the Alpha Jet, 26 Pilatus PC-21 were ordered. Of the 53 Alpha Jet aircrafts that are slated for retirement, 18 will remain in service.