French Aviation to be admired.

Builders:

Consider this: The British have fought several wars against us, killed tens of thousands of Americans, burned the white house to the ground, sided with the South in the Civil war, and arguably knew about Japan’s war decision a week early and didn’t say anything. Conversely, the French have never attacked us, The were  the first Country to recognize America as a new nation, they gave us the Statue of Liberty and they treat our war dead with great care.  Truthfully, we wouldn’t have even won the Revolution without the French military officers showing us how. Yet today, many Americans perceive the British as better friends. All I can say is the British have much better PR firms.

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Americans have been told to stereotype the French as a cross between Jean Paul Sartre and a Parisian waiter. This makes as much sense as upholding Michael Jackson as the typical American. The pantheon of great Frenchmen is broad, running from Jacques Cousteau to real writer-philosophers Like Albert Camus, who incidentally, was glad to tell anyone Sartre was a pinko-weenie. ( In French: Rose-saucisses)

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Seriously, My grandfather fought in the trenches of WWI with the 78th Division in France. For the remainder of his life, he upheld that without question, the French infantryman was bravest man on the battlefield. He had many stories of entire French units advancing without hesitation into a hail of lead and shell fire. They lost nearly 2 million men in that war. Their Army had a 55% casualty rate, (about eight times higher than the US in WWII) My great aunt was a WWI war bride, lived to 1986, and brought French culture to our childhoods. Growing up in Thailand, we neighbored what was once ‘French Indo China.’ My 7th grade French teacher was in the Underground when she was 16, her sister was caught and killed by the Gestapo. I read enough French to work my way through books and understand slow conversation. If you are an American who doesn’t understand French courage, you are a victim of spoon fed media hype.

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The French also have a very rich aviation history, Below are just a few personal examples that I have always been fond of.

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1) Caudron c.460 Michel Detroyat brought one of the three 460’s built to our 1936 national air races and promptly cleaned house on every American contender. It was an early wake up call that our aviation industry was well behind Europe’s as the storm clouds of WWII were already gathering. Many American engineers took this lesson to heart and used the time to prepare.

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2)  Saint-Exupéry in Toulouse, France, 1933. I think the plane is a Latécoère 28. He flew airmail, and was one of the greatest aviation writers of all time. The little Prince is his master work. It is alleged that Anne Morrow Lindbergh was in love with him. He flew unarmed recon missions over France in WWII in F-5s (P-38).  He was granted permission to fly 5 more, but extended this to 9, and on 31 July 1944 he never returned. He was 44 years old. His watery grave not found for 59 years.

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3) French Paratroopers: Seen below, Col. Pierre Langlais in command of both the (1 BEP) (Foreign Parachute Battalion)  and the (8 BPC) (Parachute Assault Battalion) in the savage fight for Dien Bien Phu in 1954.  It takes a special kind of nerve and confidence to execute a plan of intentionally building a base 220 miles behind your enemies lines and then provoking a battle where you are outnumbered 5 to 1. They lost, but it wasn’t from lack of courage. (I suggest French writer Bernard Fall’s books on Vietnam, Street Without Joy and Hell in a very small place. He was the bravest correspondent who ever lived, killed in Vietnam in 1967.)

Gen Pierre Charles Albert Marie Langlais

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4) Charles Nungesser, French National hero and ace in WWI. Sets the 100% standard for the “triple crown” of fighter pilots in the 20th century (flying, drinking, romancing women), and his countrymen loved him for it. Spent all night in the clubs of Paris, flew against the Hun at dawn. The embodiment of the term Swagger. Dies attempting to fly the Atlantic with Coli 2 weeks before Lindbergh.

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5) Chris Heintz: A man who’s life work has had a direct effect on many of the people reading this. I selected the picture of him at the chalk board because to me, he is foremost a teacher. No other experimental aircraft designer has put in this kind of effort to educate builders.

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6) Louis Bleroit. First man to fly the English Channel. Foresaw a day when virtually all aircraft would be monoplanes. Before WWI, nearly half the flyable planes in the world were his proven model XI. 900 were built in 5 years.

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7) Adolphe Pégoud: He was only the second man to ever fly a loop, he was the first to parachute from a plane.  He taught many people from all over Europe to fly. When WWI started, he quickly became the first Ace the world had ever known. It didn’t last long; he was shot down and killed on 31 July 1915. He was just 26. The German pilot who killed him had been one of Pégoud’s students before the war.

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8) Henri Mignet and the Flying Flea; He had fantastic ideas about just how simple planes could be. His thinking was not impeded by previous existing designs. He wanted flight accessible for every man. The early models had an unseen aerodynamic flaw that developed when people used much larger engines. This was later corrected, but the damage was done, and his public reputation never recovered. 80 years later, people still repeat the original story, in spite of several hundred fleas being reliably flown since.

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9) Latécoère 631, Was a transatlantic flying boat. In the 1930’s the French produced a number of very elegant flying boats, some of which were far prettier to my eye than a Boeing 314 China Clipper. The 631 was not considered a successful design, only a handful were made,  but it still captures my imagination to think that there was a very brief period in flight when airline flight started as a nautical adventure in a plane with great style. Airliners in my lifetime all look like metal mailing tubes to me.

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Latecoere 631 Lionel de Marmier

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10) Dassault Mirage. Everyone tends to think of their own countries aircraft as having some type of monopoly on good ideas and performance. I was like this also, I grew up around airbases in Thailand, and it was easy to think of an F-4 with two angry J-79s as the meanest plane in the sky. Only much later did I learn that an F-8, unappealing in my youth, was a much better fighter.

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The Mirage was another awakening to international designs. The IIIc model was the first operational Mach 2 airplane in Europe, and was the first in a very long line of Mirage models. They were very successful exports for the French, and they went on to fight in a number of conflicts. Few Americans know that it was France, not America, that provided the arms to insure the continued existence of Israel from 1947-67. The Mirage was a mainstay in the Israeli air force for decades.

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