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Kings of the Air: 'The world owes its wings to France'

To celebrate 4,000 page views, here are some more posters and other publicity material on an aviation theme.

A selection of planes circle over the town of Bar-le-Duc, with the fourteenth century Tour d'Horloge prominent in the background - but given the presence of other buildings close by, this looks a rather dicey procedure. This particular meeting was rather overshadowed by the Circuit de l'Est endurance race, which was running at the same time, as well as a spectacular landing at Deauville by Hubert Latham (not to mention a train crash, and a fire at the International Expo in Brussels). The route of the Circuit de l'Est ran Paris-Troyes-Nancy-Mézières-Douai-Amiens-Paris, and so missed Bar-le-Duc entirely.

A crowded piece of sky - the parade of entrants at the Champagne Aviation Week, held at Reims in August, 1909. Did such a parade ever happen quite like this, or is it artistic license? The grandstand was built especially for the event, as was a temporary station on the Laon-Reims railway line. At the end of the meeting, everything was later taken down and cleared. The ground had to be cleared again after the Great War, when the site became the site of the Reims-Champagne Air Base.

Now for some post-war posters. The meeting at Strasbourg on 13 July 1924 was organised by the Aéro-Club d'Alsace in association with the 2e Régiment d'Aviation de Chasse (which included the Storks of SPA13, SPA26 and SPA103). The poster shows one of the regiment's aircraft - the unit had soldiered on with its SPAD 7s and 13s until 1924, when they were replaced by the Nieuport-Delage 29, which is perhaps is what the artist intended here.

A bold, abstract design for the 10th Paris Aero Show, 3rd-19th December 1926. The 2nd December issue of Flight lists the aircraft types on show; that of 9th December deals with engines. Of British manufacturers, only Armstrong Whitworth were exhibiting; most were, naturally enough, French, but there was also Fokker, Koolhoven, and Avia from Czechoslovakia (as we used to call it). The aesthetes amongst you will despair at some of slab-sided monsters on display: there aren't many that say 'speed' when you look at them. And Morane Saulnier were still making parasols!

This poster announcing a 'big aviation meeting' at Lyon-Bron is undated, but, judging by the illustration of one of the 35e Régiment d'Aviation's Breguet 19, must date between 1924, when the type began to equip operational regiments, and 1928, when Alfred Fronval was killed. The meeting was organised by the Aéro-Club du Rhône et du Sud-Est, who shared the aerodrome's facilities with the 35e. In this period, Joseph Sadi-Lecointe moved between Military Aviation and serving as a test pilot. When the meeting took place, he was a test pilot for Nieuport-Delage. Alfred Fronval was an expert in aerobatics, and also went down the test pilot route, with Morane-Saulnier. his best claim to fame, though, was his contribution to the invention of the Link Trainer. Marcel Haegelen had been an ace during the Great War, with twenty-three victories to his name. He, too, became a test pilot, for Hanriot. The Coupe Zenith was a prize for fuel economy.

To finish with, another poster in the series 'The world owes its wings to France'. This one commemorates the first commercial crossing of the south Atlantic by Jean Mermoz on 12th May 1930. The aircraft is a Latécoère 28 converted to a float plane, and christened Comte de La Vaux. Leaving Saint-Louis in Senegal, loaded with 130kg of mail, Mermoz arrived in Natal in Brazil nineteen hours later. In an advanced measure for the time, his radio operator Léopold Gimié used the aircraft's radio to triangulate his route.

Mermoz was too young to have taken part in the Great War, but like many of his generation, was inspired to fly by the deeds of pilots of the war. For the inter-war generation, the dangers faced fighting an enemy were replaced by the dangers of distance and space, searching out new routes for passengers and airmail. General Charles Christienne, who was commissioned into the Armée de l'Air in 1939, recalled, 'Aviation had a bit of a aura: aviators were something special. To the young, they had a number of defining qualities. There was their love of risk because the risks then were considerable, or at least they seemed that way to the public. There was a love of adventure, and then there were all the dangers [they faced]; we were perfectly well aware that … there would be another war one day.'

Pictures: the posters are all webfinds; the photo of Bar-le-Duc comes from the town's tourism website


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