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In the words of Pierre Dumas

In the words of Pierre Dumas

 

 

In those days — and I mean way back in 1918 — France was emerging from a terrible war. The country had waged many battles, fought all over Europe, and sailed the seven seas. But the country with the courageous soldiers and the learned generals, was also, alas, that which had lost most of its youth, their blood spilt in the prime of their lives on the battlements.

France was on the winning side of a monstrous war after which nations on both sides wondered where they would find the daring, the will and the men to make victories out of peace itself.

And yet, one morning — it was the first of September 1919 — the wire services announced that an aircraft had flown, in four stages, from Toulouse in southern France to Rabat in Morocco.

 

 

 

 


Avouez que, pour l’époque, ceci n’était déjà pas mal. Cependant, un communiqué complémentaire apportait une précision ahurissante : ceci n’était là qu’un prélude et la ligne qu’on inaugurait ne constituait qu’un tronçon d’une grande artère qu’on baptisait, dès ce jour là : " Toulouse - Buenos - Aires ". Rien que ça !

Bien entendu, profanes et spécialistes haussèrent les épaules. Mais ce n’est pas avec des sourires narquois qu’on fait bondir les avions, c’est avec de la confiance. Aussi, sans plus attendre, un peintre écrivit - il sur la frêle carlingue d’un Bréguet échappé de la dernière guerre ces mots tracés en rouge sur la toile argentée de l’appareil : France - Espagne - Afrique du Nord - Amérique.

 

Roig expedition, 1923                       Down in the desert

 

Who then was the fool who dared to cross continents and brave the elements — and common sense — in tiny flying machines with just one engine and fabric-covered wings that made them look more like kites than anything else? Who could be so foolhardy? This fool — note his name — was Pierre-Georges Latécoère, a Frenchman from the country’s deep south, from a place called Bagnères-de-Bigorre in the Pyrenees mountains, close to the Spanish border.



Barcelona refuelling station


But there is often wisdom in folly. And this time the folly was crowned with success. Not right away! And certainly not without effort. But success all the same. First, Pierre-Georges Latécoère had to muster a team of other believers, including managers, pilots and mechanics, to form the first core group of the first great airline.


The pace accelerated. First came a test flight from Toulouse to Rabat, Morocco, on 19 March 1919. On 1 September the same year, a regular service was inaugurated with stops in Barcelona, Alicante, Malaga and Tangiers. Already, the route crossed Spain in just three hops.

 

 
The mail arrives at Cape Juby, Morocco               Bréguet Limousine             

 

Almost as soon as the route reached Rabat, efforts began to extend it. Marshall Lyautey, another inspired character, applauded the team’s efforts and encouraged them to push on to Dakar, Senegal. Which meant crossing the hostile Rio-de-Oro region and refuelling at Port Etienne, protected by encircling barbed wire. In 1925, the Casablanca-Dakar service was operated three times a week.

Then, at last, the crowning achievement: on 1 March 1928, the first airmail service between France and South America began. Aircraft with the French colours on their wings and powered by French engines soon became a regular sight as they flew over the capitals of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.

  

 
                  Stopover in Barcelona                  Workers outside their workshop          

 

What began as a dream in 1919 became a reality in 1928. But not without effort, including countless design studies and experiments. And not without pain and the loss of a good many lives.

 

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