Route aéropostale 2007
The story of "Ligne"
From Paris to Santiago
The war had not yet ended when the industrialist Pierre Georges Latécoère conceived the mad project of creating an airline link between France and South America. "I've reviewed all my calculations altogether, our idea is unworkable, we have only one thing to do, do it".
On December 25, Mr. Latécoère took off from the Montaudran airport in Toulouse, with the Cornemont pilot aboard a Salmson airplane and under the eyes of a few aviator officers, he said that people write letters every day: "the plane Postcard will only make sense if it takes off every day".
Two hours and twenty minutes later, the plane landed at the Can Tunis racecourse in Barcelona. The welcome was worthy of the feat.
After a lot of work finally, Latécoère, accompanied by the pilot Lemaître, takes off on 8 March from Toulouse with the mission of reaching Morocco!. After a great day, 11 hours and 45 minutes later, the plane landed in Rabat. There General Liautey was waiting for them, being the first to welcome the two messengers from heaven.
Tempted by such a project, he decided at that precise moment to subsidize airmail between Morocco and France.
Meanwhile his friend Beppo de Massimi negotiated with the Spanish government the overflight of the Mediterranean Coast.
In early September, Didier Daurat inaugurated the Toulouse-Rabat line, carrying the first mail baq aboard a Breguet XIV, thus putting the first stone of an airway to South America (Buenos Aires).
The postal flights between Toulouse and Casablanca were daily. In addition to the transport of the mail, that same year nearly a thousand passengers travelled between France and Africa.
A new objective appears: to connect with Dakar, and in order to achieve it, Beppo de Massimi was obliged to negotiate in Spain the stops at Rio de Oro.
On May 3, Captain Roig and his colleagues began the reconnaissance trip with three Breguet XIV planes.
The route of 2765 kilometers between Casablanca and Dakar had to fly over the desert, meeting its hazardous sandstorms, engine reviews under the sun or being caught by pirates of the desert endangering the expedition, their freedom and their lives. All of them took full advantage of their machines, machines made of the same wood and metal as those that opened the line in 1919.
Nothing would have been possible without the hands of those great mechanics that every day repaired the machines and put them back on the air!
The first postal aero-maritime journey between Alicante and Oran was made in a seaplane piloted by Paul Vachet and accompanied by Juan Munar-Marti, of Mallorcan origin and thus becoming the first radio navigator in the history of aviation.
On the first of June, after 18 months of studies and preparations, pilots Emile Lécrivain and Edmond Lassalle officially opened the Casablanca-Dakar airline.
By then, the Latécoère Line totaled 5,000 kilometers and its feat was unprecedented in the history of aviation.
But there was still much to be done and a new mission was entrusted to Captain Roig: "Setting up the foundations of the Line in South America".
In Rio de Janeiro, pilots Paul Vachet, Victor Hamm and Etienne Lafay fly to Buenos Aires southward, and Pernambuco to the North. The three Breguet XIV commissioned for the mission and without infrastructure or support fly over the jungle and rivers, in the hope to find a site for landing on the beaches.
There comes a great feat in the South Atlantic: The Commander Ramon Franco and his Spanish crew conducted the first air journey from the Cape Verde islands until Fernando de Noronha.
Months later, on December 3, Pierre Georges Latécoère, landed in Rio aboard the transatlantic Lutetia with a clear objective.
Finally on January 18, Mr. Latécoère leaves Buenos Aires for France carrying with him the contracts for postal air mail, acquired after an intense and long negotiation with the governments of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.
But once in Paris, he faces a great disappointment, The French government has the will to group the different airlines. Pierre Georges Latécoère decides before this new situation to sell the "Ligne".
Mr. Marcel Bouilloux-Lafont takes over and the CGEA becomes the Aeropostal Line.
During this new stage new hangars are built, and new wireless telegraphy stations are installed, to prepare the new line between Toulouse (Montaudran) and Buenos Aires (Pacheco).
In early March, while Jean Mermoz flies beetween Buenos Aires and Río the first stretch of airmail between America and France, Elisée Negrin took off from Toulouse with the post from France to America.
The first days of the expedition were chaotic and the advantage gained on maritime mail during the day is lost at night.
Faced with this situation on April 16, Mermoz imposes night flights taking off from Campo Dos Affonsos in Rio. The link is a success and Río-Buenos Aires is done in one only day while the ship takes five. Faced with such an event the Argentine people exclaimed:! We have it achieved and won the game!
In October, once the line between Tolouse and Buenos Aires is already established and works at a good pace, it is when it is proposed to cross over to the Pacific Coast, a somewhat complicated task due to the heights of the Andes Mountain Range.
On November 18, Jean Mermoz, accompanied by Alexandre Collenot, carries out a first crossing along the railroad track trasandino but "with great difficulty."
It is determined to find other routes and carry out a more detailed reconnaissance of the Cordillera.
On March 2, Mermoz and Collenot, accompanied by the Count of La Vaulx, try a new route to the south of Concepción but are victims of a forced landing due to a breakdown of the carburetor.
A week later, they take off from Copiapo to try another route to the north but the crew falls into a trap of strong winds causing the plane to fall on the plateau of the Three Condors. At 15 degrees below zero and at 4000 meters high with the broken landing gear and prisoners of the Andes. After fifty hours of work and survival instinct, Collenot finishes repairing the aircraft with his fingers and Mermoz does the impossible: To pull the Laté 25 from the mountain, at the limit of its flight height.
As a result of this event, the Aeropostal Line decides to change the type of aircraft for a POTEZ 25 with a higher flight ceiling and choosing the route between Mendoza and Cristo Redentor directly.
Finally, on September 3, the pilot Henri Guillaumet, flying alone, made the official inauguration of the line between Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile with success.
On Friday, June 13, in the middle of the austral winter, the pilot Guillaumet is forced to land in the middle of Laguna Diamante due to a storm, in the middle of the Andean mountain range.
After five days of survival, crossing a hundred kilometers on foot through the snow suffering from freezing Guillaumet crosses the Andes in search of help. In the end and after much sacrifice is able to meet with an old friend Saint Exupéry and confesses "what I have done, no animal would have done."
At that time, only the South Atlantic had to be crossed by plane, since the transport by sea between Dakar and Natal was not fast enough!.
Daurat proposed to President Bouilloux-Lafont to put floats on the Late 28 aircraft in order to transport the mail over the Atlantic. On May 12, 1930, 140 kilos of mail from Paris through Toulouse, Barcelona, Casablanca, were transferred to Laté 28 named "Comte de la Vaulx" in order to cross the ocean.
At 10:56, the crew, consisting of the pilot Jean Mermoz, the navigator Jean Dabry and the radio operator Leopold Gimié, took off from the Senegal River in San Luis. The seaplane turned to the west, heading to the ocean, flying at water level, crossing the cycles and fighting against the adverse weather conditions.
With mastery and 21 hours later Mermoz manages to get to Natal. Vanier, Reine and Guillaumet took over from Mermoz and took the mail to Santiago de Chile. That day, the longest postal airline in the world was inaugurated, covering nearly 13,000 kilometers, "the crazy and ambitious dream of 1918 finally came true".
After the success obtained in the jump of the South Atlantic, on January 16, the pilots Mermoz, Carretier and the engineer-builder Couzinet took off from San Luis on board the "Arc-en Ciel" to join Rio, Montevideo and Buenos Aires, the flight is a success and establish this new route.
On October 7, the Air Minister, Pierre Cot, officially opens the new Air France company.
From this year, seaplanes become the protagonists of the South Atlantic, while more modern aircrafts fly the land routes.
On June 3, a Farman 220 military ex-bomber reconverted to civil aircraft and named "Le Centaure" crosses the Atlantic in just 14 hours and 52 minutes.
Air France celebrates its 100th commercial crossing of the South Atlantic and the line between Santiago and Buenos Aires is open to passengers who want to travel aboard a Potez 62.
Unfortunately on December 7 there is a sad event, Mermoz, Pichodou, Lavidalie, Eyzan and Cruveilher send their last message aboard the La Croix de Sud seaplane: "we stopped the right rear engine", and followed by a silence ... Guillaumet he later pronounced: "They have been lucky to die with Mermoz".
On November 20, pilots Paul Elbows and Marcel Reine, aboard the "chef Laurent Guerrero Pilote" registered F-APUZ, took off from Le Bourget to Chile to beat a new record flight in just 3 scales and in 58 hours 41 minutes.
Unfortunately, in September 1939, the political situation in old Europe, annihilates the beautiful dreams of flying and July 2, 1940, The Line with South America is interrupted.
After the break of the war on June 23, a DC4 piloted by Commander Jean Dabry, leaves Paris for Santiago, Chile, stops in Casablanca, Dakar, Recife, Rio, Montevideo and finally Buenos Aires. But on September 8, the stretch between Buenos Aires and Santiago was closed for the reason of not having sufficient profitability.
It will take about 15 years for new Air France planes to fly over the Andes and is not until November 2, 1961 that Air France comes back to Chile.
For that time the company flies Paris-Rio-Buenos Aires-Santiago with a frequency of two weekly flights aboard the B 707, and in 1964, Air France inaugurated its service "Croix de Sud", with only two scales, becoming the fastest flight between Europe and Chile.
In 1974, the B 747 began operating South American routes and in January 21, 1976, Major Pierre Chanoine and its crew made the first commercial flight of Concorde flying Paris to Rio with a stopover in Dakar in just 7 hours and 26 minutes.
On August 31, 1993, the Airbus A 340 flies non-stop in 13 hours and 17 minutes Paris-Buenos Aires, and continues to Santiago. For the first time since the era of heroic pioneers, an airliner manufactured in workshops in Toulouse, lands in Chilean ground. In its cellars brings memories and nostalgia of the workshops and hangars which reflect the shadows of Daurat, Pranville, Delay, Guillauemt, Collenot, Mermoz and their companions, whose feats were told by one of them, Saint Exupéry.
And on March 25, 2001, the commander Gérard Meillat and its crew without any stop over, fly Paris-Santiago aboard a Boeing 777-200 in 14 hours and 20 minutes flight.
At the end “the mad dream” of Latécoère was achieved.
Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and France -land of human rights- are united by a single link, one skate on the world map.
These Latin American countries have solid tourist assets as well as a booming economy. It was normal that Air France followed the lead given by its glorious ancestors.
André Gide wrote in his preface to "Vol de Nuit" the following words: "The happiness of man does not live in freedom but in fulfilling a duty".
What a wonderful symbol that the execution of this line Paris-Buenos Aires-Santiago was the work of a few exceptional men, filled with the sense of duty and selflessness.
Their exploits are one of the most beautiful pages in the history of aviation.