Tag Archives: France

Was Orville Wright’s the first flight ever?

Last Monday, December 17, it was 109 years since the first flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk. However, there was some skepticism in Europe about the flight. I had already read about that skepticism in the book “The Airplane: How ideas gave us wings“(1) (by Jay Spencer (2))

In the book, the reader gets the idea of the skepticism, of how in France there was also a race for performing the first flight and how it was not until the Wright brothers flew in Europe years later (1908) that people got convinced of that first flight in 1903. When I read about that, the idea that came to my mind was French chauvinism.

Let me now start connecting the dots…

Flyer I (picture by 350z33, available at Wikimedia)

  • Visiting the National Air & Space Museum, in Washington D.C., you could see a real scale Flyer I, the aircraft with which the brothers first flew. When you see the aircraft you first notice that the surface controls are at the front of the airplane, or that the airplane has no independent ailerons but the wing is bent at the tip…
  • Reading the book “The Airplane” there is chapter dedicated to the evolution of each configuration item of the aircraft. One of them is dedicated to the landing gear. In relation to the Flyer…

[…] European experimenters put the Wrights to shame by adopting wheeled undercarriages from the outset. The Wrights stuck with skids far too long, perhaps because they viewed their airplanes as scientific proof-of-concept vehicles first and practical machines second.

  • Last summer, when we visited the Aviodrome (3) museum in The Netherlands, we found another Flyer model of the Wrights. This one was a bit more complete: it showed the skids and how the airplane was propelled into the air thanks to a system composed of rails and a kind of catapult.
  • Finally, when reading about French aviation pioneers for the previous post in this blog, I got to read in the Wikipedia article about the Brazilian residing in France Santos-Dumont the following passage:

The Wrights used a launching rail for their 1903 flights and a launch catapult for their 1904 and 1905 machines, while the aircraft of Santos-Dumont and other Europeans had wheeled undercarriages. The Wright Brothers continued to use skids, which necessitated the use of a dolly running on a track. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, founded in France in 1905 to verify aviation records, stated among its rules that an aircraft should be able to take off under its own power in order to qualify for a record. Supporters of Santos-Dumont maintain that this means the 14-bis was, technically, the first successful fixed-wing aircraft.

Thus, it was not just simple French chauvinism as the more simple explanation given either in “The Airplane” or Wikipedia article about the Wright brothers may point to, but there was at the time a discussion about the way in which the aircraft were indeed propelled into the air. That is a legitimate discussion, not chauvinism. (4)

Since I am not invested in either position, to me the first flight will always be the generally accepted of Orville Wright on December 17, 1903. That is the one I celebrate (see tweet below). However, you can see how sometimes to get a clearer picture and connect some dots it takes visiting 2 museums in DC and The Netherlands, reading a book and serendipity researching in the Wikipedia. 🙂

(1) “The Airplane” is a terrific book of which one day I hope to write a review. By the way I purchased the book at Boeing HQ in Chicago almost 2 years ago.

(2) Jay Spencer is also coauthor of “747” another great aviation book of which I wrote a review here.

(3) Aviodrome is a great museum north of Amsterdam, at the height of the Smithsonian institution National Air & Space Museum… if only it had free entrance as well. I will have to write about this museum too.

(4) That same federation did not accept as a first flight one made by the French Clément Ader in 1890, because it was an un-controlled flight.


Filed under Aerospace & Defence

French aviation history through the life of its pioneers…

I moved to France about two years ago to work for Airbus in its Blagnac offices. Blagnac is a small village close to Toulouse. The place radiates passion for aviation (I once shared the geek outlook of my dentist’s waiting room).

My office is located at the avenue Didier Daurat, to get there I cross two roundabouts: Maurice Bellonte and Émile Dewoitine… these names probably do not ring a bell to most of you. Neither did to me. But then the back street is called Charles Lindbergh. It is then that you realize what might be going on and wonder who the previous names were.

Many months ago I collected the names of some of the streets of Blagnac and Colomiers (the village at the other side of the airport were Airbus is also located), and then, with the help of Google and Wikipedia, I searched who they were. I started a trip into French aviation history through the life of its pioneers…

Didier Daurat (EN):

Daurat was a fighter pilot during World War I, distinguishing himself by spotting the Paris Gun which was pounding Paris.

After the war, he joined Latécoère’s airline company, (which later became the Compagnie générale aéropostale – Aéropostale, then Air France) where he was a pilot and later operations director.

From this time, the legend of the man with the iron will made Didier Daurat a boss admired by many, feared by all and hated by some. He did not hesitate to dismiss those who showed the slightest sign of weakness, questioned his methods or did not adhere to the ‘spirit of the mail’ (l’esprit du courrier).

Many of his pilots began their careers as grease monkeys, taking apart, cleaning and reassembling engines. According to Daurat, this formed character and taught pilots to respect their machines. But he knew when he saw a talented pilot. When Jean Mermoz presented himself in Toulouse and made a dazzling display of piloting skill, Daurat told him “I don’t need circus artists but bus drivers.” (“Je n’ai pas besoin d’artistes de cirque mais de conducteurs d’autobus”). Nevertheless, he engaged him to clean the engines. […]

Dewoitine D.333 assembly (public domain image).

Émile Dewoitine (EN, FR):

[…] Émile Dewoitine entered the aviation industry by working at Latécoère during World War I. In 1920, he founded his own company, but facing little success at home, went to Switzerland where his Dewoitine D.27 fighter was accepted for operational service.

In 1931, Dewoitine went back to France and founded Société Aéronautique Française – Avions Dewoitine. During the 1930s, several noteworthy aircraft rolled out of the Toulouse-based Dewoitine factories including the Dewoitine D.500, the French Air Force’s first fully metallic, monoplane fighter, as well as the Dewoitine D.338 airliner.

In 1936, part of the French aviation industry was nationalized and Dewoitine’s factories were absorbed by the state-owned SNCAM. During the Battle of France in 1940, the Dewoitine D.520 turned out to be France’s best fighter aircraft. […]

Maurice Bellonte (FR):

Maurice Bellonte […] est un aviateur français. Associé à Dieudonné Costes, il a réussi en 1930, à bord du Breguet XIX “Point d’interrogation”, la première traversée de l’Atlantique Nord d’est en ouest. […]

Dieudonné Costes (EN, FR):

Dieudonné Costes […] was a French aviator who set flight distance records. He was also a fighter ace during World War I. […]

On 26 September 1926 he flew 4,100 km (2,546 miles) from Paris to Assuan, with René de Vitrolles, attempting at breaking a world distance record. He broke the world distance record on 28 October 1926, flying 5,396 km (3,351 miles) from Paris to Jask, Persia, with J. Rignot, as a part of 19,625-km (12,187-mile) Paris-India-Paris flight.

Between 10 October 1927 and 14 April 1928 Costes and Joseph Le Brix flew 57,410 km (35,652 miles) around the world, in Breguet 19GR named Nungesser-Coli, from Paris through Argentina, Brazil, the United States, Japan, India, and Greece, although they traveled across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, California, to Tokyo, Japan, by ship.

On 1–2 September 1930, Costes with Maurice Bellonte, flew the Breguet 19 Super Bidon “?” from Paris to New York, as the first heavier-than-air aircraft to cross the North Atlantic in the more difficult westbound direction between the North American and European mainlands. They covered either 5,850 km (3,633 miles) or 6,200 km (3,850 miles), according to different sources, in 37 hours 18 minutes. While flying over Portsmouth, New Hampshire, they lost their navigational map out of an open window of the plane. Two children saw the map falling from the sky while they were watching for the flight to cross over their farm. The children, Louise Stef and her brother John, returned the map to Costes, who had asked for its return through the media.

Joseph Le Brix (EN, FR):

Joseph Le Brix est d’abord un officier de marine, atteignant le grade de lieutenant de vaisseau, avant de se tourner vers l’aviation.

Avec Dieudonné Costes, il réussit, sur un Breguet 19 baptisé Nungesser et Coli en l’honneur des deux aviateurs français disparus dans l’Atlantique nord à bord de l’Oiseau blanc, la traversée de l’Atlantique sud entre Saint-Louis du Sénégal et Natal (Brésil) où ils arrivent le 15 octobre 1927.

Henri Potez (EN, FR):

Henry Potez […] was a French aircraft industrialist.

He studied in the French aeronautics school Supaéro. With Marcel Dassault, he was the inventor of the Potez-Bloch propeller which after 1917, have been set on most of all Allied planes of World War I.

In 1919, he founded his own company Aviations Potez that between the wars built many planes and seaplanes in factories at that time considered the most modern in the world. He bought the Alessandro Anzani company in 1923. Many Potez planes such as the Potez 25, 39, 54, 62, 63 were an international success, with world records. […]

Santos Dumont (EN):

Alberto Santos-Dumont […] was a Brazilian aviation pioneer. The heir of a wealthy family of coffee producers, Santos Dumont dedicated himself to aeronautical study and experimentation in Paris, France, where he spent most of his adult life.

Santos-Dumont designed, built, and flew the first practical dirigible, demonstrating that routine, controlled flight was possible. This “conquest of the air”, in particular his winning the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize on October 19, 1901 on a flight that rounded the Eiffel Tower, made him one of the most famous people in the world during the early 20th century. […]

Alberto Santos Dumont flying the Demoiselle (1909) (public domain image).

Santos-Dumont described himself as the first “sportsman of the air.” He started flying by hiring an experienced balloon pilot and took his first balloon rides as a passenger. He quickly moved on to piloting balloons himself, and shortly thereafter to designing his own balloons. In 1898, Santos-Dumont flew his first balloon design, the Brésil.

[…] his primary interest soon turned to heavier-than-air aircraft. By 1905 he had finished his first fixed-wing aircraft design, and also a helicopter. He finally achieved his dream of flying an aircraft on October 23, 1906 by piloting the 14-bis before a large crowd of witnesses for a distance of 60 metres (197 ft) at a height of about five meters or less (15 ft). This well-documented event was the first flight verified by the Aéro-Club de France of a powered heavier-than-air machine in Europe and won the Deutsch-Archdeacon Price for the first officially observed flight further than 25 meters. On November 12, 1906, Santos-Dumont set the first world record recognized by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale by flying 220 metres in 21.5 seconds.


The Wrights used a launching rail for their 1903 flights and a launch catapult for their 1904 and 1905 machines, while the aircraft of Santos-Dumont and other Europeans had wheeled undercarriages. The Wright Brothers continued to use skids, which necessitated the use of a dolly running on a track. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, founded in France in 1905 to verify aviation records, stated among its rules that an aircraft should be able to take off under its own power in order to qualify for a record. Supporters of Santos-Dumont maintain that this means the 14-bis was, technically, the first successful fixed-wing aircraft.


The wristwatch had already been invented by Patek Philippe, decades earlier, but Santos-Dumont played an important role in popularizing its use by men in the early 20th century. Before him they were generally worn only by women (as jewels), as men favoured pocket watches.

Clément Ader (EN, FR):

Clément Ader […] was a French inventor and engineer born in Muret, Haute Garonne, and is remembered primarily for his pioneering work in aviation.

Ader was an innovator in a number of electrical and mechanical engineering fields. He originally studied electrical engineering, and in 1878 improved on the telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell. After this he established the telephone network in Paris in 1880. In 1881, he invented the “théâtrophone”, a system of telephonic transmission where listeners received a separate channel for each ear, enabling stereophonic perception of the actors on a set; it was this invention which gave the first stereo transmission of opera performances, over a distance of 2 miles (3 km) in 1881. In 1903, he devised a V8 engine for the Paris-Madrid race, but although three or four were produced, none were sold.

Following this, he turned to the problem of mechanical flight and until the end of his life gave much time and money to this. Using the studies of Louis Pierre Mouillard (1834–1897) on the flight of birds, he constructed his first flying machine in 1886, the Éole. It was a bat-like design run by a lightweight steam engine of his own invention, with 4 cylinders developing 20 horsepower (15 kW), driving a four-blade propeller. The engine weighed no more than 4 kg/kW (7 pounds per horsepower). The wings had a span of 14 metres and were equipped with a system of warping. All-up weight was 300 kg (650 pounds). On 9 October 1890, Ader attempted a flight of the Éole. It is accepted that the aircraft took off, reaching a height of 20 cm, and flew uncontrolled for approximately 50 m (160 ft), 13 years before the Wright Brothers.

Ader undertook the construction of a second aircraft he called the Avion II, also referred to as the Zephyr or Éole II. Most sources agree that work on this aircraft was never completed, and it was abandoned in favour of the Avion III. Ader’s later claim that he flew the Avion II in August 1892 for a distance of 100 metres in Satory near Paris, was never widely accepted.

[…] In 1909 he published L’Aviation Militaire, a very popular book which went through 10 editions in the five years before the First World War. It is notable for its vision of air warfare and its foreseeing the form of the modern aircraft carrier, with a flat flight deck, an island superstructure, deck elevators and a hangar bay. His idea for an aircraft carrier was relayed by the US Naval Attaché in Paris[8] and were followed by the first trials in the United States in November 1910.

An airplane-carrying vessel is indispensable. These vessels will be constructed on a plan very different from what is currently used. First of all the deck will be cleared of all obstacles. It will be flat, as wide as possible without jeopardizing the nautical lines of the hull, and it will look like a landing field.

—Clément Ader, L’Aviation Militaire, 1909

Marcel Doret (FR):

En 1910, il est apprenti mécanicien. Il s’engage à 18 ans, dès le début de la Grande Guerre dans l’artillerie et combat à Verdun. Il est blessé 3 ans plus tard et reçoit la médaille militaire. Une fois guéri, il demande son transfert dans l’aviation et rejoint Dijon puis Chartres. Lâché seul après moins de deux heures de vol en double commande, il est breveté pilote militaire en 1918, à l’âge de vingt-deux ans, et il poursuit sa formation à l’École de chasse et d’acrobatie de Pau après un court passage à Avord. À la fin de la guerre, il est ouvrier chez Renault, mais Émile Dewoitine le remarque dans un meeting aérien. Le 1er juin 1923, Doret entre comme pilote d’essai dans ses usines à Toulouse, et devient rapidement chef pilote d’essai. Jusqu’en 1939, il met au point quarante-trois prototypes d’appareils très différents, ce qui lui donne une maîtrise presque totale du pilotage. Avec la production des appareils de ligne, comme le D.332 Émeraude, il est amené à les convoyer dans des pays de plus en plus lointains et devient un des premiers pilotes de ligne.

Roland Garros (public domain image).

Roland Garros (EN):

[…] He started his aviation career in 1909 flying Alberto Santos-Dumont’s Demoiselle monoplane, an aircraft that only flew well with a small lightweight pilot. In 1911 Garros graduated to flying Bleriot monoplanes and entered a number of European air races with this type of machine, such as the 1911 Paris to Madrid air race.

He was already a noted aviator before World War I, having visited the U.S. and South America. By 1913 he had switched to flying the faster Morane-Saulnier monoplanes, and gained fame for making the first non-stop flight across the Mediterranean Sea from Fréjus in the south of France to Bizerte in Tunisia. The following year, Garros joined the French army at the outbreak of World War I. […]

In the early stages of the air war in World War I the problem of mounting a forward-firing machine gun on combat aircraft was considered by a number of individuals. The so-called interrupter gear did not come into use until Anthony Fokker developed a synchronization device which had a large impact on air combat; however, Garros also had a significant role in the process of achieving this goal.

As a reconnaissance pilot with the Escadrille MS26, Garros visited the Morane-Saulnier Works in December 1914. Saulnier’s work on metal deflector wedges attached to propeller blades was taken forward by Garros; he eventually had a workable installation fitted to his Morane-Saulnier Type L aircraft. Garros achieved the first ever shooting-down of an aircraft by a fighter firing through a tractor propeller, on 1 April 1915; two more victories over German aircraft were achieved on 15 and 18 April 1915.

On 18 April 1915, either Garros’ fuel line clogged or, by other accounts, his aircraft was downed by ground fire, and he glided to a landing on the German side of the lines. Garros failed to destroy his aircraft before being taken prisoner: most significantly, the gun and armoured propeller remained intact. Legend has it that after examining the plane, German aircraft engineers, led by Fokker, designed the improved interrupter gear system. In fact the work on Fokker’s system had been going for at least six months before Garros’ aircraft fell into their hands. With the advent of the interrupter gear the tables were turned on the Allies, with Fokker’s planes shooting down many Allied aircraft, leading to what became known as the Fokker Scourge.

L’escadrille Normandie Niemen (EN):

[…] was a fighter squadron, later regiment (of three squadrons) of the French Air Force. It served on the Eastern Front of the European Theatre of World War II with the 1st Air Army. The regiment is notable for being one of only two air combat units from an Allied western European country to participate on the Eastern Front during World War II, the other being the British No. 151 Wing RAF, and the only one to fight together with the Soviets until the end of the war in Europe.

[…] It fought in three campaigns on behalf of the Soviet Union between 22 March 1943, and 9 May 1945, during which time it destroyed 273 enemy aircraft and received numerous orders, citations and decorations from both France and the Soviet Union, including the French Légion d’Honneur and the Soviet Order of the Red Banner. Joseph Stalin awarded the unit the name Niemen for its participation in the Battle of the Niemen River (1944).

Georges Guynemer 1917 (public domain image).

Georges Guynemer (EN):

Georges Guynemer […] was a top fighter ace for France during World War I, and a French national hero at the time of his death. […]

He was originally rejected for military service, but was accepted for training as a mechanic in late 1914. With determination, he gained acceptance to pilot training, joining Escadrille MS.3 on 8 June 1915. He remained in the same unit for his entire service. He experienced both victory and defeat in the first plane allocated to him, a Morane-Saulnier L monoplane previously flown by Charles Bonnard, and accordingly named Vieux Charles (Old Charles). Guynemer kept the name and continued to use it for most of his later aircraft.

[…] Flying the more effective plane, Guynemer quickly established himself as one of France’s premier fighter pilots. He became an ace by his fifth victory in February 1916, and was promoted to lieutenant in March. At the year’s end, his score had risen to 25. Capitaine Brocard, commander of Escadrille N.3 (Storks), described Guynemer at that time as “…my most brilliant Stork.” Less than a year later, Guynemer was promoted to captain and commander of the Storks squadron.

[…] as described by one of his flying comrades (name withheld due to security reasons):

Guynemer sighted five machines of the Albatros type D-3. Without hesitation, he bore down on them. At that moment enemy patrolling machines, soaring at a great height, appeared suddenly and fell upon Guynemer. There were forty enemy machines in the air at this time, including Baron von Richthofen and his circus division of machines, painted in diagonal blue and white stripes. Toward Guynemer’s right some Belgian machines hove in sight, but it was too late. Guynemer must have been hit. His machine dropped gently toward the earth, and I lost track of it. All that I can say is that the machine was not on fire.

Only 22 at his death, he continued to inspire the nation with his advice, “Until one has given all, one has given nothing.”

René Fonck (EN, FR):

René Paul Fonck […] was a French aviator who ended the First World War as the top Allied fighter ace, and when all succeeding aerial conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries are also considered, Fonck still holds the title of “all-time Allied Ace of Aces”. He received confirmation for 75 victories (72 solo and three shared) out of 142 claims. Taking into account his probable claims, Fonck’s final tally could conceivably be nearer 100 or above. […]

Yet for all his skill and success, Fonck never captured the heart of the French public as Guynemer had. Fonck was ascetic and withdrawn. Instead of drinking or socializing with the other pilots, he planned his flying missions and tactics, ironed his uniforms, and stayed physically fit through calisthenics. He seemed to overcompensate for his shyness by constantly mentioning his exploits. As a result, he seemed distant, arrogant, even abrasive. His comrades respected his skills, but even one of his few friends, Marcel Haegelen, considered him a braggart and shameless self-promoter. Fonck may have resented the fact that Georges Guynemer remained more popular in the French press even after he surpassed him in victories. […]

Fonck returned to civilian life after World War I, and published his war memoirs Mes Combats, prefaced by Marechal Foch, in 1920.

During the 1920s, Fonck persuaded Igor Sikorsky to redesign the Sikorsky S-35 for the transatlantic race or Orteig Prize. On 21 September 1926, Fonck crashed on takeoff when the landing gear collapsed, killing two of his three crew members. Charles Lindbergh shortly afterward won the prize in 1927. […]

Charles Lindbergh (EN):

As a 25-year-old U.S. Air Mail pilot, Lindbergh emerged suddenly from virtual obscurity to instantaneous world fame as the result of his Orteig Prize-winning solo non-stop flight on May 20–21, 1927, made from Roosevelt Field located in Garden City on New York’s Long Island to Le Bourget Field in Paris, France, a distance of nearly 3,600 statute miles (5,800 km), in the single-seat, single-engine purpose built Ryan monoplane Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh, a U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve officer, was also awarded the nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his historic exploit. […]

Henri Guillaumet (EN):

[…] He was a pioneer of French aviation in the Andes, the South Atlantic and the North Atlantic. He contributed to the opening up of numerous new routes and is regarded by some as the best pilot of his age. “Je n’en ai pas connu de plus grand” (I’ve never known a greater one), said Didier Daurat, owner of Aéropostale.

Guillaumet carried the mail between Argentina and Chile. On Friday 13 June 1930, while crossing the Andes for the 92nd time, he crashed his Potez 25 at Laguna del Diamante in Mendoza, Argentina, because of bad weather. He walked for a week over three mountain passes. Though tempted to give up, he persisted while thinking of his wife, Noëlle, until June 19 at dawn when he was rescued by a 14-year-old boy named Juan García. He reached a village whose inhabitants could not believe his story. This exploit made him stand out among the ‘stars’ of Aéropostale.

To his friend Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who had come to find him, he said, “Ce que j’ai fait, je te le jure, aucune bête ne l’aurait fait.” (What I have done, I swear to you, no other animal would have done.) Saint-Exupéry tells the adventure of Guillaumet in his 1939 book Terre des Hommes (published in English as Wind, Sand and Stars).

After a number of south Atlantic crossings, he was appointed managing director of Air France. […]

In 1995, Futuroscope paid homage to Guillaumet with a 3D IMAX film by Jean-Jacques Annaud, Wings of Courage (les Ailes du Courage). […]

Saint-Exupéry (EN, FR):

[…] French aristocrat, writer, poet, and pioneering aviator. He became a laureate of several of France’s highest literary awards and also won the U.S. National Book Award. He is best remembered for his novella The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) and for his lyrical aviation writings, including Wind, Sand and Stars and Night Flight.

Saint-Exupéry was a successful commercial pilot before World War II, working airmail routes in Europe, Africa and South America. At the outbreak of war, he joined the Armée de l’Air (French Air Force), flying reconnaissance missions until France’s armistice with Germany in 1940. After being demobilized from the French Air Force, he traveled to the United States to convince its government to enter the war against Nazi Germany quickly. Following a 27-month hiatus in North America, during which he wrote three of his most important works, he joined the Free French Air Force in North Africa, although he was far past the maximum age for such pilots and in declining health. He disappeared over the Mediterranean on his last assigned reconnaissance mission in July 1944, and is believed to have died at that time.

Jean Dabry (FR):

Jean Dabry […] est un pilote français de l’Aéropostale puis d’Air France.

D’abord officier au long cours, il entre à l’Aéropostale dès 1928 comme navigateur. Deux ans plus tard avec Jean Mermoz comme pilote et Léopold Gimié à la radio, il participe au record de distance en circuit fermé sur Latécoère 28.

Les 12 et 13 mai 1930, le même équipage effectue la première traversée postale de l’Atlantique Sud sur l’hydravion Laté 28 “Comte de la Vaulx”.

Lucien Servanty (FR):

[…] fut l’un des plus célèbres ingénieurs de l’histoire de l’aviation française.

Diplômé des Arts et Métiers, Servanty débuta en 1931 chez Breguet, puis entra en 1937 à la SNCASO lors de la création de celle-ci. Pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, Servanty continua son activité sous le contrôle des autorités d’occupation mais réalisa aussi en secret l’étude du SO.6000 Triton, le premier avion à réaction français, qui effectua son premier vol en novembre 1946.

Par la suite, Servanty dirigea les études de plusieurs avions militaires d’importance tels que le SO.6020 Espadon et le SO.9000 Trident, prototype très innovateur d’un intercepteur à propulsion mixte turboréacteur-fusée. C’est toutefois grâce à une œuvre à vocation civile que Servanty acquit sa notoriété : la direction technique du programme Concorde pour la partie française. L’amitié nouée entre Servanty et son homologue anglais Bill Strang permit en particulier au projet de surmonter les nombreuses difficultés d’une collaboration franco-britannique pas toujours évidente au niveau politique.

Servanty mena à bien la totalité du programme d’essais mais, subitement décédé en 1973 à 64 ans, ne put assister au premier vol commercial de sa création en 1976. […]

Leon Bourrieau (FR):

Bourrieau eut l’honneur d’être le premier à faire voler le Fouga « Sylphe ” modèle probatoire, le 14 juillet 1949. Il mit au point cet appareil ainsi que les bancs volants Fouga « Gémeaux ” pour le réacteur Turbomeca. Finalement, le 23 juillet 1952, il y a trente-cinq ans, il décolla le prototype du « Magister “, dessiné par Robert Castello et Mauboussin (d’ou l’appellation C.M. 170), consacré par 871 exemplaires dont beaucoup volent toujours! Léon Bourrieau fut d’abord militaire. La finesse de son pilotage lui valut d’appartenir à la « Patrouille acrobatique d’Etampes ” et d’assumer les responsabilités de moniteur.

Pierre Nadot (FR):

Le 27 mai 1955, la Caravelle effectue son premier vol, décollant à 19 h 15, pilotée par Pierre Nadot secondé par André Moynet et accompagné de Jean Avril et Roger Béteille, pour un vol de 22 minutes. Pour ce premier essai, l’avion restant à basse vitesse, les volets de bord de fuite ne sont pas sollicités. […]

Yves Brunaud (FR):

Le 30 Janvier 1959, le Br-1150 Atlantic motorisé par des turbopropulseurs Rolls-Royce Tyne fut sélectionné par l’OTAN parmi 21 projets. Le 2 Octobre 1961, la SECBAT (Société Européenne pour la Construction du Breguet Atlantic) fut crée.

Les sociétés suivantes prirent part au programme :

  • Breguet & Dassault-Aviation (France).
  • Fokker (Pays-Bas).
  • Dornier & Siebel (Allemagne)
  • SABCA, Fairey & Fabrique Nationale Herstal (Belgique).

Les turbopropulseurs Tyne étaient fournis par Rolls-Royce, SNECMA-Hispano, FN et MTU; les équipements électroniques par des sociétés Américaines. Les chaînes de production ont été installées dans les usines Breguet de Toulouse.

Quatre prototypes furent construits. Le premier effectua son vol initial le 21 Octobre 1961 avec Bernard Witt, Roméo Zinzoni et René Périneau aux commandes. Le second vola le 23 Février 1962, piloté par Yves Brunaud, M. Raymond et René Périneau.

Franz Joseph Strauss (EN):

Franz Josef Strauss […] was a German politician. He was the chairman of the Christian Social Union, member of the federal cabinet in different positions and long-time minister-president of the state of Bavaria.

As an aerospace enthusiast, Strauss was one of the driving persons to create Airbus in the 1970s. He served as Chairman of Airbus in the late 1980s, until his death in 1988 […]. Munich’s new airport, the Franz Josef Strauss Airport, was named after him in 1992.

This list is far from covering all pioneers, nor all the great engineers that built French aviation during the past century. This is just a random walk through Blagnac streets.

While looking for these characters I stumbled upon a great site with a good collection of French aviation characters: “L’Aviation Française: des Hommes et des Ailes“.

PD1: Be sure that not all streets are named after aviation pioneers… I got to meet several doctors, writers, etc. 😉

PD2: Emphasis are mine. Most of the excerpts come from Wikipedia articles.


Filed under Aerospace & Defence, France

Flying to Corsica (3/3)

This post is the third one of a series describing our flight from Toulouse-Lasbordes to Corsica and back. I recommend to read beforehand the first and second posts of the series.

I dedicated a single post to cover each of the 2 flights that took us to Propriano airfield. I will include in this single post some comments and pictures corresponding to the 3 flights that we needed on the way back to Toulouse.

Flight 3 (Asier at the controls): Propriano – Bonifacio – Porto Vecchio – Figari

This first flight had 2 purposes: to go to another airport in Corsica where we could refuel the aircraft (Propriano did not have gas station) and to perform a sight-seeing flight around the island. If the weather had permitted it, Jean Louis would have taken us over the mountains. The weather did not permit so, thus we flew over the coast.

Leaving Propriano.

“Torra di Campomoru” at Calanova.

Quiet beach south of Tralicetu.

Far sight of the commercial airport of Figari.

Approaching Bonifacio.

I have many other beautiful pictures of Bonifacio, but I believe I will soon write a post entirely dedicated to it. So I can give you a view of the city from the land, air and sea.

Southernmost point of Corsica.

Villas at Sperono.

Flight 4 (Asier at the controls): Figari – Propriano – Ajaccio – Saint Tropez – Avignon – Alès

Having refueled the aircraft at Figari, we commenced our return flight to mainland France, by first bordering again Corsican coast.

Propriano airfield.

Ajaccio port.

Some hours later…

Pope’s palace in Avignon.

Rhone river at Avignon.


Flight 5 (Javier at the controls): Alès –  Millau – Montpellier – Béziers – Carcassone – Toulouse Lasbordes

Our original plan was to fly over Millau to see its viaduct (you may see a picture of it in this post about the 100km of Millau). However the weather was quite bad in the mountains between Alès and Millau and we had to change on the spot our plans. Luckily I was flying with Jean Louis who helped me in the preparation of the new route and in buying some time while he was taking the controls.

Change of plans due to the bad weather in the mountains, heading south to the coastline, re-calculating the route.

Avoiding further problems ahead (close to Sète).

Mission accomplished :-).

I guess that after seeing these 3 posts you may appreciate the beauty of learning to fly.

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Flying to Corsica (2/3)

This post is a continuation to a previous post in which I described the first leg of our flight from Toulouse-Lasbordes to Corsica. If you haven’t yet taken a look at that one, I would recommend you to do so, as you would miss basic information and dozens of beautiful pictures of the French Mediterranean coast.

In the previous post I included images up until Cuers. There we refueled the aircraft and I took the controls of the aircraft, with Jean Louis (Asier‘s flight instructor) always by our side. This time Asier took the pictures.

Flight 2 (Javier at the controls): Cuers – Saint Tropez – Corsica – Sanguinary islands – Ajaccio – Propriano

Some curiosities about flying over the sea:

  • the distinction in the horizon between “land” and sky wasn’t very clear thus it was very important to pay attention to the instruments in order not to lose references and keep a horizontal straight trajectory;
  • as we progressed we always tried to spot ships down in the sea so in case of accident we would try to reach as close as possible to them, Jean Louis would do a water landing and we could be easily rescued;
  • we needed to increase altitude up to flight level FL55 (5,500 feet -~1,700m- vs. about 700ft that we held at some times of the first flight along the coast) so we could keep receiving the signals from VOR on ground at the coasts.

First sight of Corsica: Piana.

Flying around the Corsican coastline: Cargèse.

Notice Jean Louis (the instructor) with the life vest on.

Cemetery of Ajaccio, looking like a village.

Jean Louis & me, at Propriano airfield.

The aircraft, a DR-44, put to rest for the weekend at the airfield.

Since we are normally flying within continental France we are not required to produce a flight plan for the air traffic control. This time as we wanted to cross over the sea to Corsica it was required to do so. Thus, this was the first time we prepared one (another learning point!).

“Olivia”, French site where to file a flight plan.

One remark: it is incredible how much eases the communication with air traffic controllers having sent the flight plan beforehand, as they expect you and they know beforehand more or less the information you are going to provide.

And so we made it! We flew from Toulouse to Corsica 🙂

It took us about 4h30′ of flying time (both flights combined). You may check the Garmin records of the first and second flights by clicking on the links, and the route we followed in this second flight in the picture below:

Even though I have mentioned above that we had planned for the contingency of having to water-land in the sea, the fact that the trajectory in the Garmin records stops at half way through Corsica in the middle of the sea does not mean that we indeed carried out such maneuver. Explanation: since we flew so many kilometers as compared to running (the normal use I give to the device), the memory of the GPS reached its maximum as it recorded one “lap” for every kilometer…

(to be continued…)


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Elections législatives in France

Second round of Elections législatives in France; as I did for the first round of the presidential elections two months ago, I went last Sunday morning to my bureau de vote to see how the process, the ballots, etc., were this time.

The striking difference with the elections to the congress in Spain is that in France each seat is circumscribed to a specific area, i.e., Haute-Garonne, the department where Toulouse is located has 10 circumscriptions, each one of them sends one and only one representative to the National Assembly in Paris. For each of those seats there is an election, with first and second round, for which absolute majority is required.

Let’s go back to Spain: e.g. the province of Madrid has 36 seats in the parliament, in the last November elections citizens from Madrid voted to the list of a party which proposed 36 names and, depending on the number of votes that each party obtained, those 36 seats were distributed according to the D’Hondt method (see a discussion on the method here – in Spanish). You will now see the effect.

In Madrid last November, the Popular Party obtained 50.84% of the vote (absolute majority), Socialist PSOE obtained 26.03% followed by UPyD (10.29%) and IU-LV (8.04%). The seats 36 were awarded as follows: 19 for PP, 10 PSOE, 4 UPyD and 3 IU-LV.

In the first round of the Elections législatives in Haute-Garonne:

  • In the 1st circumscription: the Socialist Party obtained 43.63% of the votes, followed by UMP (23.34%), Front National (9.96%) and Front de Gauche (9.01%)…
  • In the 2nd circumscription: the Socialist Party obtained 46.38% of the votes, followed by UMP (21.63%), Front National (12.46%) and Front de Gauche (7.86%)…
  • In the 3rd: UMP (35.14%), Europe Écologie Les Verts (22.24%), Divers gauche (21.36)…

If in the first round no candidate obtained an absolute majority in her circumscription (this only happened in the 8th circumscription, where the Socialist Party won the seat in the first round) a second round was needed. Only those parties with more than 20% of the vote in the first round competed in the second round; sometimes there were 2 candidates and in few cases 3.

In the week from the first to the second round, those parties not qualifying could elect to support one of the candidates in the second round and that was in the end reflected in the ballot papers, where you can see that the Socialist candidate of my circumscription was backed by 3 parties apart from PS and that one of the UMP by another 4 parties.

In the second round, the socialist party candidates who in the first round had obtained around 45% of the vote were collecting around 65% of the vote, beating one by one the other candidates except for the 3rd circumscription where the UMP won (and the 8th where there wasn’t a 2nd round).

This in the end gave the PS 9 out of 10 seats (90% of the seats) while in the case of Madrid, the PP obtained with about 50% of the vote 19 out of 36 seats (53% of the seats). This is the striking effect and main difference that the second round system provokes.

Result of the elections in Haute-Garonne.

I also found interesting the freedom at the time of arranging the information provided in the ballot paper, it seems that only size and white background are required.

The Socialist ballot doesn’t mention for which circumscription the candidate is competing (they may consider it redundant information, as the voter knows in which circumscription she lives) while they introduce the subtle message “Députée sortante” to let the voter know who won last time or who represented and worked for them during the last term. On the other hand, the UMP not being able to use the last-winner message opts for the inclusive “Candidat de la droite et du centre”. Note as well the difference in the colour, red vs black / grey, I guess that the latter was compromise among the different parties.

Ballot papers and envelope for the second round in the 4th circumscription of Haute-Garonne.


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Aerogeek dentist

Some time ago I wrote about the impact of Airbus in the employment in the Toulouse area. Some weeks ago I went to a dentist in Blagnac, a village close to Toulouse (where Airbus is in fact based). There I could see how Airbus is impacting Toulouse area in other ways. I then tweeted the following with the picture below attached:

Waiting room seats.

What I missed in that first visit was the geek details of the cloth covers of the seats. Take a closer look in the pictures below…

"Briteeth" Airways.


Definitely, my dentist must be another aerogeek.


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Ballot papers in France

Today there is the first round of the Presidential elections in France. According to the latest polls, it seems that Hollande is going to win with Sarkozy coming second and the two going to the second leg of the elections.

After my flying class today, I took the opportunity to go to one of the “bureau de vote” installed at the city hall in Capitole square. As I did 7 years ago while living in Aachen (then with the election between Merkel and Schröder), I wanted to check first-hand how the voting works here in France.

Well, it is very simple and very much like in Spain, even simpler. There were just 10 small stacks of ballots, one stack per candidate. The ballots are much simpler than in Spain. Just white papers with the name of the candidate. No name of the party, no fancy logo of the party. The envelope: simpler as well, just a small blue envelope reading “République Française”, nothing mentioning like “Presidential election 2012”, first or second round…

French Presidential election 2012: Ballot papers.

It raised my attention that there were many isoloirs, these cabins with curtains where you decide which ballot you place in the envelope. There are those as well in Spain. I did this detour today with a colleague coming from the Spanish Basque Country, he mentioned that in his village people also uses those cabins. However, in the village where I come from in Madrid, people almost never uses them. While I agree that their presence is a must, the need to use them is sad.

Finally, the rest of the process is the same. The voter comes to the table, hands her ID to the president of the table, the name is checked in the list and the voter places her vote in the urne.

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Le Petit Prince

Le Petit Prince.

Last summer I visited an exhibition on occasion of the celebration of “2011 Year of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry”. Elsewhere he is mainly known as the author of “The Little Prince” (Le Petit Prince), however I learnt in that exhibition that in Toulouse he is mainly known as an aviation pioneer, flying airmail routes (for the emblematic Aéropostale based in Toulouse) and then for the French Air Force.

I guess that some of you had read Le Petit Prince early in your lives, I didn’t. I received the book as a present from former colleagues when moving to France and only finished it some weeks ago, being the first book I’ve read in French. Not bad for a start, as according to the Wikipedia it is the most read book in French language and was voted as the best book of the 20th century in France.

It has some idealistic messages or fine criticisms, to name a few:

  • “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
  • A businessman who goes on “owning” stars and counting them not having time for anything else, not knowing what to do with them and having a very serious thought of him.
  • The geographer, proud of his profession, but who lacks any practical knowledge as “that” is the responsibility of someone else, the explorer in this case.
  • The concept of domestication being two-ways. I loved when the prince goes Il y a une fleur… je crois qu’elle m’a apprivoisé… (“There is a flower … I think she domesticated me …”) I believe this could be applicable to many pet owners.

I felt especially caught when the book first said “Les grandes personnes aiment les chiffres” (adults love numbers) and later when it went:

“Si les deux milliards d’habitants qui peuplent la terre se tenaient debout et un peu serrés, comme pour un meeting, ils logeraient aisément sur une place publique de vingt milles de long sur vingt milles de large. On pourrait entasser l’humanité sur le moindre petit îlot du Pacifique.

Les grandes personnes, bien sûr, ne vous croiront pas. Elles s’imaginent tenir beaucoup de place. Elles se voient importantes comme des baobabs. Vous leur conseillerez donc de faire le calcul. Elles adorent les chiffres: ça leur plaira.

(“If the two billion inhabitants who people its surface were all to stand upright and somewhat crowded together, as they do for some big public assembly, they could easily be put into one public square twenty miles long and twenty miles wide. All humanity could be piled up on a small Pacific islet.

The grown-ups, to be sure, will not believe you when you tell them that. They imagine that they fill a great deal of space. They fancy themselves as important as the baobabs. You should advise them, then, to make their own calculations. They adore figures, and that will please them.”)

When I read the first paragraph and before reading the second, I was already writing a remainder note to make the calculation…

In demonstrations, the range of people per square meter is between 2 and 3.5 (4 being “like a rock concert”). A square of 20 miles by 20 miles covers an area of 1,035 millions of square meters. Therefore, in such a square we could pack between 2 and 4 billion people, the population of the Earth at the time, yes.


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Numbers, numbers, numbers…

As part of my effort to learn French, I was reading some passages of “Le Petit Prince” last weekend. There was one that directly struck me:

Les grandes personnes aiment les chiffres. Quand vous leur parlez d’un nouvel ami, elles ne vous questionnent jamais sur l’essentiel. Elles ne vous disent jamais: “Quel est le son de sa voix? Quels sont les jeux qu’il préfère? Est-ce qu’il collectionne les papillons?” Elles vous demandent: “Quel âge a-t-il? Combien a-t-il de frères? Combien pèse-t-il? Combien gagne son père?” Alors seulement elles croient le connaître. Si vous dites aux grandes personnes: “J’ai vu une belle maison en briques roses, avec des géraniums aux fenêtres et des colombes sur le toit…” elles ne parviennent pas à s’imaginer cette maison. Il faut leur dire: “J’ai vu une maison de cent mille francs.” Alors elles s’écrient: “Comme c’est joli!

Some days before I had seen the following tweet by the management guru Tom Peters:

Having said this, I can only confess that I am one of those. One of those old people, grande personne, that loves numbers, crunching numbers, spreadsheets, etc…

If you asked me something about for example my drive to the job every morning, I wouldn’t say “Oh, it’s beautiful, there are lots of trees, you can smell this or that”, no, no…

I would tell you: “it takes door-to-door an average of 31 minutes -which coincidentally is the exact time most repeated-, I depart at 8:35am on average, I have tried 3 different routes and route number 3 seems to be about 4 minutes shorter on average than the other 2 routes, I found out that it is as good to be an early comer to the office than to arrive at about 9:30am, while the worst time to leave home is about 8:15am… Tuesdays are the worst days normally, taking on average about 5 minutes more than Wednesdays, the best day”. Numbers.

And I would have said all these because during the last 7 months I had been taking note of the all the numbers related to those trips, crunching them in a spreadsheet, etc, etc…

Door to door time to reach the office.

Frequency of different trip times.

Certaines grandes personnes aimons les chiffres.


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3 billion of Takatoris

In this post I just wanted to share a couple of thoughts that I discussed with my father and older brother some months ago on the welfare state that we enjoy in Europe.

Luca and I went on a holiday trip to Japan 3 years ago. There, while in Kyoto and thanks to a cultural association, we enjoyed an activity consisting of spending the afternoon and evening with a Japanese family at their place.

The Takatori family lived in the centre of Kyoto (a wonderful city). He was an engineer who worked for a big electronics company (I forgot the name), thus I imagine that he earned a decent salary. The family lived in a 40-50 sqm flat, without bedrooms for the teenage children as they slept in futons in the living room. The Takatoris had no car and travelled either by bike or public transport every where.

At some point in the conversation we talked about travelling, holidays, etc., and then I asked him how many holidays did he had? “120 days.” I was surprised, “120 days?!?” He explained it better: “There are 120 days a year in which I don’t work, including weekends”… I started making the numbers: since the year has 52 weeks, 104 days are weekends, these left only 16 days off for Mr. Takatori, including bank holidays. This was in Japan and a medium class family.

I take it that in the rest of East Asia the conditions will be lower and work ethics will be at par with Japan (think of Chinese shops opening schedules in Europe).

When I compare that with Europe: 35 hour work-week (in France), a collective bargaining agreement with 211 working days a year (or 154 non-work days as Takatori viewed it – since weekends are the same here and in Japan, that means we enjoy 34 days more of holidays, or 7 more full weeks!), subsidies for a myriad of things, retirement at 60 (in France, with protests when raised to 62)… well, there’s simply no comparison.

Sure, the system we have here is something to be proud of, but then again, will it last? It’s not like the Takatoris of Japan, China, South Korea, etc., will refrain to: work an hour or a day more, lower a dollar in a price, retire a year later, etc., so we can continue to enjoy our welfare state.

Will it last? I have no answer, it escapes my power of analysis, but if I were you, I’d start saving yesterday.


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