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Pierre-Georges Latécoère was an aeronautical pioneer. He created intercontinental air routes between France, Africa and South America.

In 1918, he founded Latécoère Airlines, which became Aéropostale in 1927, carrying mail and then passengers from France to Argentina. This company was instrumental in the creation of Air France in 1933. 

Pierre-Georges Latécoère was a renowned aviator and the initiator of the great aviation epic in Toulouse, now the European capital of aeronautics and space. He created 80 types of aircraft and seaplanes, which flew from 1919 to 1984 and set 32 world records for France. These include the series of postal and civil aircraft: Latécoère 25, 26 and 28, as well as large seaplanes: Latécoère 300, 521 and above all, the impressive 631, the largest of its time, which operated the longest non-stop commercial flight in the world with Air France.


Aviation Begins in Toulouse

In 1917, during the First World War, France wanted to move its aeronautical factories close to the front, away from Paris. First in line, PG Latécoère applied for and received an order for 1,000 Salmson 2-A2 reconnaissance aircraft to be delivered in one year, a challenge taken up in the face of rivals who were as envious as they were convinced that they would not be able to meet such a commitment given the non-existence of their production facilities.

PG Latécoère had factories in Toulouse, but no experience in aeronautics. He, therefore, created an industrial complex to build and test aircraft. In 1918, the factory was running at a production rate of six aircraft a working day, with a workforce of 800 - a record. Aeronautics in Toulouse was born.

On Armistice Day, these military reconnaissance aircraft were no longer essential. So, the engineer thought about finding a civilian use for them.


Toulouse Factories


Assembly of the Salmon 2-A2

Crazy Airlines Project

Although nobody believed in it, PG Latécoère achieved the impossible: creating airlines to link people across several continents, over deserts, oceans and mountains.

This crazy idea represented an immense technical, political and financial challenge that seemed impossible at first sight. PG Latécoère declared as much in his memorable maxim, so often quoted that it has become legendary:

"I have gone over all the calculations again,

and they confirm the opinion of the experts:

our project is unachievable.

The only thing we can do now is:

achieve it!"

This ambitious project called for uncertain machines with a range of no more than 400 km to carry mail and then passengers from France to South America. The pilots flying the planes had no experience of major navigations. Challenges include flying over the world's largest desert, the Sahara, crossing the South Atlantic and its inter-tropical convergence zone, and crossing the Andes mountain range. To fly over the South Atlantic, one has to link Dakar (Senegal) to Natal (Brazil), a distance of 3,200 km.

Right from the start of his airline project, PG Latécoère had the idea of linking France to Argentina. There were two main reasons for this decision: Argentina had seen a significant emigration of French and Basque people in the 19th century, and the capital, Buenos Aires, was highly developed.

Nevertheless, this project, which was difficult to conceive, came up against the deep scepticism of technicians and the dismay of financiers simultaneously.


Creation of the Airlines

The project was completed in several stages: France to Morocco in 1919, Morocco to Senegal in 1925 and Senegal to South America in 1928.


PG Latécoère, who suffered from severe myopia, could not fly his planes. However, this handicap did not prevent him from taking part in many flights and taking the same risks as his pilots. He boarded the aircraft to make two critical flights to create Latécoère Airlines: Toulouse – Barcelona and Toulouse – Rabat.


To demonstrate the feasibility of its project, on 25 December 1918, the aircraft manufacturer organised an inaugural flight from Toulouse to Barcelona via the Pyrenees with pilot René Cornemont. It was a first, and their welcome was as great as the event. The media were present, photographing and filming their arrival, images that are still carefully preserved today.


General Lyautey, President General of France in Morocco, had yet to be convinced. On 8 March 1919, PG Latécoère took off from Toulouse-Montaudran with aviator Henri Lemaître. Together, they covered 1,850 kilometres in 11 hours, 45 minutes and five stages to Rabat. This journey, completed in less than 36 hours, would have taken more than ten days by boat! On arrival, PG Latécoère presented General Lyautey with a newspaper from the previous day and the classic bouquet of fresh violets from Toulouse for his wife. The General was won over and awarded a contract for postal transport between France and Morocco.


First poster of Latécoère Airlines

Latécoère Airlines initially used converted warplanes. The first was the Salmson 2-A2, a wooden biplane with an open cockpit. This plane was later replaced by the Breguet 14, considered superior and produced under licence by Latécoère.


Since 1918, PG Latécoère has also been studying and building its aircraft, planes and seaplanes, intending to use them on his airlines.

In 1927, to extend his air routes to South America, he sold them to Marcel Bouilloux-Lafont, a French banker based in Brazil, who renamed them Aéropostale. However, he retained control of the Latécoère aeronautical factories and continued to supply aircraft to the new company. From now on, he would focus on manufacturing increasingly high-performance aeroplanes and seaplanes, particularly large-tonnage seaplanes.


Pierre-Georges Latécoère and the pilot René Cornemont

Renowned Pilots

The pilots who flew for Latécoère became legendary.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Jean Mermoz and Henri Guillaumet are the leading figures.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry joined Latécoère Airlines as a pilot in 1926, first on the route between Toulouse and Casablanca, then as far as Dakar. In 1927, he was appointed airfield manager at Cap Juby, a stopover between Casablanca and Dakar. In 1932, he became an aircraft and seaplane test pilot with Latécoère. During his travels, he wrote several books that immortalised the saga of these aeronautical pioneers, including "Courrier Sud" (1929), "Night Flight" (1931) and "Wind, Sand and Stars" (1939). His adventures as a pilot were also a source of inspiration for his novel "The Little Prince" (1943), the best-selling literary work in the world and the most translated after the Bible.


Jean Mermoz

On 12 May 1930, Jean Mermoz nicknamed the Archangel, crossed the South Atlantic at the controls of a seaplane version of the Latécoère 28, loaded with 130 kilos of mail. It took him 19 hours and 35 minutes to fly from Senegal to Brazil. This first commercial crossing of the South Atlantic had a worldwide impact.

Henri Guillaumet

On 13 June 1930, during one of his missions, Henri Guillaumet was caught in a storm over the Andes. Before being rescued, he walked for five days and four nights in the snow without eating or sleeping. Marked by the event, he later told his friend Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: "What I did, I swear to you, no animal would ever have done". The mail was recovered by Aéropostale, which took care to forward each of these surviving letters, stamping them with the words "Delay due to service". Nicknamed the Angel of the Cordillera, Henri Guillaumet resumed transporting the mail 20 days later.

Wonderful Human Adventure

It took the dedication of exceptional people to achieve this unprecedented human, technical and industrial adventure.


To join Latécoère was, first and foremost, to respect the rules of rigour, punctuality and mutual aid. The commitment of all these men to getting the mail through was absolute, even at the risk of their lives. Jean Mermoz once said, "For us, an accident would be to die in bed". For the vast majority of these men, their lives were entirely devoted to the religion of the mail and not to the cult of achievement.


Extreme regularity was essential because, as PG Latécoère put it so clearly:

"We write every day. The mail plane will only make sense if it takes off every day!"


Before flying, the pilots are confined to the workshops with the mechanics to carry out what is known as the "royal sludge": dismantling the engines and cleaning the equipment. They have to know the aircraft by heart and be able to repair any damage. The dangers are omnipresent: aircraft flying without instruments, with the significant risk of mistaking clouds for desert sand; rebel desert tribes looting aircraft and taking pilots hostage in exchange for ransom.


This magnificent adventure is perhaps the last great epic tale of the age of exploration.

Beppo de Massimi and King Alfonso XIII of Spain


PG Latécoère carried out his projects with the support of some remarkable people. The Marquis Beppo de Massimi, his close friend who would become his business partner, the only person on first-name terms with him. It was a chance meeting in 1907 at a bookshop on the banks of the Seine that marked the start of their deep friendship, with the two of them competing for the same book. His loyal collaborators also included Marcel Moine, the technical heart and soul of the Latécoère companies, and Didier Daurat, a former pilot who became head of operations at Latécoère, the man who instilled the "Spirit of the Line".

Beppo de Massimi

Marcel Moine

Didier Daurat et Camille Enderlin

Outstanding Results

Some illustrious personalities have travelled on Latécoère Airlines, such as Albert I, King of the Belgians, who made a flight between Morocco and France on Latécoère Airlines on 13 October 1921.


Albert I, King of the Belgians, PGL and Beppo de Massimi

In 1922, Latécoère Airlines was the largest airline in the world.

3,000 km of network

75 planes

22 pilots

120 mechanics

1000 employees

At the end of 1930, under the impetus of Marcel Bouilloux-Lafont, Latécoère Airlines, which became Aéropostale, formed a gigantic logistics company.

1,500 employees

200 aircraft make up its fleet, including 17 seaplanes

50 stopovers on a 14,000 km journey from Toulouse to Santiago de Chile

25 states on three continents using the company's services

9 days only for a letter written in Paris to be read in Santiago de Chile

32 million letters transported

3.5 million kilometres travelled each year


Leading Aircraft Manufacturer

PG Latécoère achieves a reputation in the aeronautical industry based on memorable results with SILAT, Société Industrielle Latécoère. Many planes and seaplanes he produces break world records in size, speed, distance flown or outstanding achievements. Examples include the legendary Latécoère 28, the magnificent Latécoère 300, and the airliners Latécoère 521 and 631.

Since 1917, the Latécoère aeronautical factories have been located in Toulouse-Montaudran. Later, when PG Latécoère concentrated on manufacturing seaplanes, it needed a hydrobase. As early as 1929, PG Latécoère was looking for an ideal stretch of water to set up a base for assembling and testing large seaplanes, the only ones at the time able to cross the Atlantic. He chose Biscarrosse, where from 1930 onwards, he would receive spare parts for aircraft arriving by road from Toulouse, as the production lines remained at the Latécoère factory in Toulouse-Montaudran. This hydrobase would later become Air France's first "hydroairport" for its Latécoère 531 and Latécoère 631 seaplanes bound for New York and Fort-de-France (West Indies).


Latécoère 350


Latécoère Factory in Biscarrosse

Latécoère 28 (1929)

The Latécoère 28 is a civil and postal transport aircraft with up to eight passengers. Considered the best modern commercial aircraft of its generation, it has been responsible for numerous exploits, shattering several speed records. It also holds 21 French records and 12 world records.

This aircraft was the mainstay of l'Aéropostale in its efforts to establish intercontinental airmail services and support French interests and cultural influence in the inter-war period. The Latécoère 28 found fame in South America thanks to the regular postal service he provided, from France to Argentina and beyond.

It was aboard a modified version of this aircraft, to which floats had been added, that aviator Jean Mermoz managed to cross the South Atlantic with mail for the first time. The year was 1930, and crossing the Atlantic in a conventional aircraft was forbidden. The story of one of these flights in Argentina was recounted in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's book Night Flight.


Laté 300 (1931)

The Latécoère 300 "Croix-du-Sud" was a seaplane built to carry mail over the South Atlantic between Dakar and Natal. It broke several world distance records.

On 7 December 1936, during its 25th mail crossing, the aircraft was lost at sea off Dakar with the famous pilot Jean Mermoz at the controls.

The Laté 300 was the predecessor of the Laté 301, three of which were delivered to Air France between 1935 and 1936.

"I also remember cruel moments like that night in December 1936, the year we arrived, in the middle of the Brazilian summer, when disastrous news shook our house: piloted by Jean Mermoz, the "Croix-du-Sud" seaplane - a Latécoère - had just disappeared in the Atlantic between Dakar and Natal. The grief of my father, whose indifference was not his strong point and who saw history as a family affair, was as intense as the news of Louis Barthou's assassination in Marseille."

Je dirai malgré tout que cette vie fut belle | Jean d’Ormesson of the French Academy | (translated)

Latécoère 521 (1935)

At the time of its completion, the Latécoère 521 "Lieutenant de Vaisseau Paris" was the largest seaplane built in France and one of the first large passenger aircraft to be able to make transatlantic flights.

This aircraft set several world records for payload and endurance. It was introduced into passenger service by Air France, which was able to launch several previously inaccessible long-distance passenger routes. As a civil aircraft, the "Lieutenant de Vaisseau Paris" was designed as a luxurious airliner, offering high comfort for 72 passengers with its art deco lounge and individual cabins. 

On 15 July 1939, Henri Guillaumet and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry piloted the Latécoère 521 on the direct New York – Biscarrosse route. They covered 5,875 km at an average speed of 206 km/h, the record for the average speed across the North Atlantic in a seaplane.


Latécoère 631 (1942)

The flagship of the Latécoère industry, the Latécoère 631 is a 75-tonne transatlantic civil seaplane, the largest ever built. Put into service by Air France in 1947, it is the largest aircraft in service in the world. For a year, the Latécoère 631s flew the longest non-stop commercial route of the time, from Port-Étienne to Fort-de-France, a distance of 4,700 km, breaking several world records. This airliner made the Biscarrosse (France) – Fort-de-France (West Indies) route from 1947 to 1948, carrying 2,000 passengers on two monthly rotations.

It was the emblem of the post-war renaissance of French aviation.

The Latécoère 631 was an innovative aircraft for its generation, transitioning from the pioneers' planes to those that made air travel the safest means of transport in the world.

Audacious Visionary

During the twenty-five years of his industrial life, PG Latécoère established an incredible rhythm of life: four days in Toulouse, three in Paris, always travelling at night to maintain total activity during the days and thus remain available for the intense work.

This odyssey is made up of bets and challenges constantly launched and structured by a man with an innate sense of business, a taste and imagination for vast projects and outstanding achievements, a daring man who never loses sight of the judicious and profitable use of the capital at his disposal.

His visionary side, so firmly rooted in reality, is also remarkable. In fact, his extraordinary intuition, acute lucidity, sense of well-calculated risks and timely use of circumstances have enabled him to pull off some truly "brilliant coups".

PG Latécoère also managed to bring his crazy project to fruition through creativity, hard work and perseverance. Esteemed and respected by his collaborators, for whom he always remained a guide and an example, he totally dedicated himself to this exceptional work, which became the essential goal of his life and to which he devoted all his energy.

Above and beyond the political and economic quarrels of the IIIᵉ Republic, PG Latécoère enabled France to lay claim to being the first nation to have an airmail link, transcontinental and then intercontinental, to Africa and South America.

He was a far-sighted visionary aiming to promote French expertise in aviation, postal freight and passenger transport. He remains one of the most influential figures, if not the most significant, of the French commercial aeronautical adventure of the inter-war period.

Since September 1925, he has been Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur (France). He is also a Commander of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite (Morocco), an Officer of the Order of Leopold (Belgium), and receives the Grand Medal of the Aéro-Club de France for his immense contribution to the progress of aviation.


Personal Life

Born in Bagnères-de-Bigorre in 1883, PG Latécoère was the son of the engineer Gabriel, who owned and ran carpentry, mechanical engineering and wagon manufacturing workshops in the town. His rolling stock customers already included South American companies.

His brother André-Louis, his mother Jeanne, Pierre-
Georges, his sister Berthe, his father Gabriel


In 1903, after studying at the Lycée Louis-Le-Grand, PG Latécoère entered the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures, graduating as an engineer in 1906. His father had died the previous year, and his mother continued to run the industrial establishments. While studying law in Toulouse, where he obtained a degree, PG Latécoère helped his mother. She later pledged her assets to the loans PG Latécoère took out to set up his airlines.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, PG Latécoère was declared unfit for armed service and released from all military service obligations because of his poor eyesight. He did not accept this decision and enlisted as a private in the artillery. However, he was soon singled out by his chiefs, who were quick to judge and recognise him, and he was sent back to civilian service with the comment: "This phenomenon will do his country more service at the head of an industry than behind a cannon". 

On July 11 1931, he married Lucienne Granel. They had an only son, Pierre-Jean, born on June 9 1932.

Lucid to the end, PG Latécoère left instructions to ensure his work's continuity. Three months before his death, he told Beppo de Massimi:

"I am having seaplanes of 120 and 200 tonnes studied, derived from the 631 (75 tonnes).... You see, we must not lose the lead we have over foreign countries…"

On 10 August 1943, PG Latécoère's relentless illness proved fatal. His funeral was grandiose in its simplicity. The highest authorities in French aeronautics travelled from Paris, and all the Toulouse notables were present. The coffin was carried by a delegation of workers from his factory. It was an unexpected, respectful and moving tribute.

"My Dear Boss.

You didn't like speeches and you shunned honours. However, your colleagues thought that you couldn't leave without a word of farewell.

Told by one of them, they thought you would accept it better.

Your work is immense. All of it bears the mark of your genius, the stamp of your character.

To always see further if it's a line, always bigger if it's an aircraft, that's you!

Never being satisfied with the present and always looking to the future and to progress, that's you!

You made this incredible route to Morocco and Africa a reality at the time!

Creating this transcontinental link to South America a little later, which will astonish everyone: that's still you!

You were the first to provide the equipment for the North Transatlantic link in its logical form, non-stop and by seaplane: you again!

And this well-directed technique that puts France in the vanguard in terms of air tonnage: it's you!

From all this come records, raids, prestigious routes, applauded films glorifying the aerial epic, honours that you leave to others. But behind it all : You are there!

In this tough pioneering job, you'll inevitably break down and suffer some painful blows. Who, despite their temperament, remains surprisingly calm, finds the solution that makes sense, pushes everyone around, is never satisfied with deadlines... but also gets things back on track? That's you.

Despite the difficulties of such a job, who, when so many others fail, reveals remarkable qualities as an administrator, keeping a company healthy and stable, with its credit still intact, and never experiencing hideous unemployment? That's you.

Apart from these preoccupations, what an example your life was too: not one excess,... just one passion, but of quality: your precious books and your erudition... And yet, at less than sixty years of age, you have disappeared! What an injustice! Because of your secluded life, it has often been overlooked that in this energetic man there vibrated a very human, very good and very charitable heart.

Oh yes! For those who had the privilege of knowing you well, what a great man you were! What a loss you are for the Air Force and for our country!

Dear Boss, we just had to say it!

We had to take an oath here to respect your memory, your thoughts, to continue your work, with passion, and to express the immense sorrow of all of us! Farewell!"

Text read on the grave of PG Latécoère (translated)

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