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Showing posts from May, 2014

Kings of the Air: Not just a tennis player ....

Since the French Open Tennis Championship is being played at the Stade Roland Garros at the moment, it provides the perfect cue to talk about the man after whom the stadium is named (not about tennis, which is dull. Dulldulldulldull. Ohgodhowdull. Not altogether that keen, to be frank.).
Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros, to give him his full name, was born in Saint-Denis on the Indian Ocean island of Réunion on 6 October 1888, but went to school in Paris. He began his aviation career in 1909 flying Alberto Santos-Dumont's Demoiselle monoplane, an tiny aircraft that only flew well with a small lightweight pilot like Garros. He gained his pilot's licence in July 1910. In 1911 he changed to Blériot monoplanes and entered a number of European air races, including the 1911 Paris to Madrid air race and the Circuit of Europe (Paris-London-Paris), in which he came second. In September 1912, he established a new world altitude record of 5,610 m (18,410 ft) in the skies over T…

Kings of the Air: Bibendum and Bombing

The company of Michelin is well-known for tyres, and has been since the nineteenth century. But André and Edouard Michelin, who ran the company were aviation enthusiasts as well; in particular, they were bombing enthusiasts. 'You should decide whether aeroplanes were just a reconnaissance tool, or if they could become a terrible weapon of war,' they wrote to the president of the Aéro-Club de France in August 1911. 'Perhaps they could cut a country's mobilisation in two ... and more - destroying arsenals, supply centres, enemy powder works. ... We are making available to you the sum of 150,000 francs, to be used in four prizes to be called the Michelin Air Aiming Prize [prix de l'aéro-cible Michelin].'
They followed this up by issuing a series of postcards showing how the Michelin competition would improve the nation's defences. 'It could,' André thundered in the pages of Le Matin, 'be as indispensable to a country's defences as rifles and …

The heat, the sand, the flies: across the Sahara

Having just watched a repeat of a Ripping Yarnsepisode recently, I was tempted to add 'by frog' to my title. But no - it's the Sahara, not the Andes.
Mention of Eugène Estienne in my last post (here) leads me on to his two sons, Georges (who served in Aviation with N12 and N49) and René. All three men were involved with attempts to cross the Sahara in the 1920s and open it up to commercial routes.
Since acquiring Algeria and territory in west Africa from Senegal to Lake Chad during the nineteenth century, the French sought ways to join the two together. The first attempt was the Flatters expedition of 1880-81, which intended to survey a route for a trans-Saharan railway. Flatters and most of his men were killed. A second mission, in 1898-1900, the Foureau Lamy expedition (on Gallica here) managed to reach Lake Chad, but it was not followed up.

A motorised expedition to cross the Sahara under Georges Haardt and Louis Audouin-Dubreuil left Colomb-Béchar in December 1922, an…

Kings of the Air: The Father of Tanks (and Godfather of Aviation)

In a recent post, I mentioned Charles de Rose, who was a member of the pre-war aviation research team at Vincennes. The team was under the command of Eugène Estienne (1860-1936), a man who deserves a post of his own (his first name was actually Jean-Baptiste, but he preferred his middle name Eugène).
In that post, I also used the term 'the snake pit of French military aviation'. In Estienne's case, I might expand this to 'the snake pit of French defence procurement'.
Estienne entered the Artillery, and was commissioned into the 35e Artillery in 1884. By 1909, with plenty of regimental and staff experience under his belt, he was a major and commander of the Artillery school in Grenoble. From here, he went to the main Artillery depot at Vincennes just outside Paris. In March 1910, he was made a lieutenant colonel and give charge of the Artillery's aviation establishment in the same location.
With the introduction of the first flying machines to the French Army, …