From the first flight in 1783 to the aerobatics in the 21st century
The Montgolfier Brothers: Pioneers of the sky
Since the beginning of time, humans have dreamt of flying like birds. In France, this dream came true first, on the eve of the French Revolution, with the hot-air balloon built by the Montgolfier brothers on June 4th, 1783. Their balloon was globe-shaped, made of sackcloth and layers of thin paper. It was covered with a fishnet, weighed around 500 lb and for their first public demonstration, it flew over a distance of 1.2 miles during 10 minutes at an estimated altitude of 5,200 feet. Following a demonstration in front of the king Louis XVI at the chateau of Versailles with a hot-air balloon having as passenger a rooster, a duck and sheep, the first flight with humans took place five months later, on November 21st, 1783. History will remember the first passengers, a physics and chemistry teacher, Pilâtre de Rozier and an army officer, the marquis François Laurent d’Arlandes. They flew above Paris over a distance of 3.5 miles at a height of 3,000 feet during 25 minutes.
The first aircrafts and their heroes
Because the French republic was at the forefront of innovation in science and technology, it played a leading role in the development of what has been called for the first time “aviation” by another French pioneer, Gabriel de La Landelle in 1863. This role was carved in the aviation history in France by Clément Ader in 1890 when his plane, “l’Eole”, rose in the air with a steam engine in Armainvilliers. Considered as the “Father of aviation”, Ader also introduced the idea of the aircraft carrier in 1909.
That very same year, Louis Blériot, a French engineer and owner of the aviator certificate number 1 from the Aero-Club, crossed the English Channel on board of his Bleriot XI aircraft in 37 minutes. The crossing of the channel is a symbol of Blériot’s determination and perseverance. Not only he won the prize offered by the “Daily Mail” to whoever would be first to cross, it also brought him fame and his company, Recherches Aéronautiques Louis Blériot”, that was producing the Blériot XI model, received more than 100 orders immediately after this success.
Arthur Charles Hubert Latham, another big name of the aviation history in France, owner of the aviator certificate number 9, was a competitor to Blériot as he was the first to attempt to cross the English Channel and the first to land a plane on water when he failed. In 1909 he set the world altitude record of 509 ft in his Antoinette IV aircraft at. This was the first international flying competition gathering almost 100,000 spectators at its opening. A few months later, in January 1910, he rose to an altitude of 3,600 ft and in July, during the flying competition at Reims, he set a world altitude record of 4,541 ft.
The year 1910 was glorious for the development of flight: it saws the first flight of a seaplane designed and piloted by Henri Fabre on the Etang de Berre near Marseille and the first flight faster than 62 mph by Léon Morane in Reims. It also witnessed the creation of the Inspection générale de l’aéronautique militaire and the first participation of aircrafts in military maneuvers in France.
In 1913, Roland Garros, a French sportsman and aviator, wrote his name in history for having crossed for the first time the Mediterranean sea on an aircraft in 7 hours and 53 minutes at an average speed of 62 mph. He took off from the Fréjus-Saint Raphaël on a Morane-Saulnier monoplane with 200 liters of gasoline and 60 liters of castor oil. Using the compass, he landed in Bizerte in Tunisia with only 5 liters of gas left and a motor that suffered two breakdowns during the flight over Corsica and Sardinia.
In addition to those famous names, we can add Farman, Voisin, Spad, Bréguet, Mermoz; all French pioneers who contributed to the conquest of the sky.
In 1914, the first airfights take place with the first world war and the essential role of aircrafts is fully recognized at the Marne battle and radios on board are used for the first time in 1916.
Innovations and development of commercial flights
In 1930, the first commercial flight without stop between Paris and New York is achieved by the French aviators Dieudonné Costes and Maurice Bellonte with a Breguet Point-d’Interrogation aircraft.
After World War II and the development of jet airplanes, the iconic Concorde successfully executed its test flight in 1969 during 29 minutes with the French pilots André Turcat and Jacques Guignard. In 1974 the Airbus A300 is lauched and in 1988 the Airbus A320 which is the first civilian airplane that pioneered the use of digital commands in commercial aircraft.
In 2001, the Airbus A380 project is launched that will see the birth of the biggest commercial aircraft of all times.
The most famous aviation museum in France : the Air and Space Museum of Le Bourget
Located in the north of Paris, near to “Le Bourget” airport and village, the National Air and Space Museum of France, was inaugurated in 1919. Its land and hangars cover a huge area of more than 1,600,000 sq ft. Probably the oldest museum of flight in the world, it is certainly the biggest one. It offers the visitor a display of almost 20,000 items ranging from aircraft materials dating back as far as the sixteenth century to modern times jets and spacecrafts.
This aviation museum in France is open every day except Mondays from 10am and 6pm from April 1st to September 30th and until 5pm from October 1st to March 31st. Admission fees range from 9 euros to 14 euros and guided tours are available. The National Air and Space Museum is accessible:
- by car within 10 minutes from Paris on the A1 motorway ;
- by bus, it is at the second bus stop on line 350 after the Porte de la Chapelle ;
- it is also accessible by metro line M7 and the RER B in conjunction with bus line 152
Birth and rise of aerobatics
At the beginning of flights, the new pilots entertained the crowds with their ability to maneuver their machines. During the first world war, those maneuvers proved to be a tactical advantage in aerial combat. An aerobatic aircraft can be one of two types of planes: a specialist aerobatic, or an aerobatic capable. To simplify, an aerobatic capable aircraft, can be used for other purpose such as carrying passengers and luggage, as well as to perform aerobatic figures. Whereas the specialist aerobatic is designed specifically for this purpose, like competing at the world aerobatic championships.
Armed forces usually have teams of aircrafts that are specifically used to perform formation aerobatics in order to show the pride of a state. Similar teams can be commercially funded. When such performances are done at low ground levels for spectators, it is is called "stunt flying". Smoke is used to allow the crowd to watch the path of the aircraft.
In the European Union, a specific training and license is required to perform aerobatics. Competitions have different levels with Unlimited being the top competition level. Experienced pilots are able to pull around 5G force for short periods while unlimited pilots can perform more extreme maneuvers and experience higher G force levels.
The World Aerobatic Championships
As a competition organized by the Commission Internationale de Voltige Arienne, and the dedicated commission of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the world air sports federation, it was launched in 1960.
Amateur and passionate around the world can easily admire the demonstration of skills and knowhow of the specialist in the videos of aerobatics youtube. And here are a few examples on the World Aerobatic Championships website.
Flying was indeed a dream for humans and it became true in the twentieth century. Now millions of people travel in the air everyday and countless little boys dream of becoming one day pilots. The conquest of space is now the next dream that will certainly be fulfilled within the next two or three generations. The Ader of space are today a reality. And the conquest of other planets is near.
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