Tag Archives: Aéronautique Militaire

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (29 June 1900–31 July 1944)

Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry, Officier de la Légion d’honneur. (Galerie Gallimard)

29 June 1900: Famed French aviator, poet and author, Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint Exupéry, was born at No. 8 rue Payrat,¹ Lyon, Departement du Rhône, Rhône-Alpes, France. He was the third of five children of Jean Marc Martin comte de Saint-Exupéry and Andrée Louise Marie de Boyer de Fonscolombe de la Mole, comtesse de Saint-Exupéry. As the oldest son, Antoine inherited his father’s title of nobility.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. (Succession de Saint-Exupéry d’Agay via www.antoinedesaintexupery.com)

While serving in the French cavalry, Saint-Exupéry took private flying lessons. He made his first solo flight 9 July 1921, and soon earned a civil pilot’s certificate. Now eligible for military flight training, he was transferred to the Aéronautique Militaire in Morocco, where he was awarded his military aviator’s certificate, No. 19398, 23 December 1921.

Saint-Exupéry was promoted to caporal 5 February 1922. He underwent further training as an officer cadet and received a commission as a sous-lieutenant 10 October 1922.

On 1 May 1923, Sous-lieutenant Saint-Exupéry crashed a Hanriot HD-14 trainer on takeoff. A passenger was severely injured. Saint-Exupery was grounded. The accident was caused by pilot error, and he released from military service, 5 June 1923.

In 1922, Caporal Saint-Exupéry was appointed élèveofficier de réserve (a reserve officer cadet). In this image, Saint-Exupéry is wearing the badge of a military pilot. (Succession de Saint-Exupéry d’Agay via www.antoinedesaintexupery.com)

Saint-Exupéry was engaged to marry Mlle. Louise de Vilmorin. Because of the crash, he promised that he would give up aviation and found employment as an office worker. The engagement ended and he went back to flying.

In 1926, he joined la Compagnie Générale d’Entreprise Aéronautique (C.G.E.A.), which in 1927 would become Compagnie générale aéropostale, (C.G.A.)— Aéropostale,—the predecessor of Air France, in North Africa and South America.

“Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of the flickering pictures—in this century as in others our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bring men together.”Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1939

Mme. Consuelo Saint-Exupéry

Comte de Saint-Exupéry married Sra. Consuelo Suncin-Sandoval Zeceña, 22 April 1932, at Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France.

During this time, Saint-Exupéry also began his career as an author. His first book, Courrier Sud, was published in 1929. Vol de Nuit (English edition: Night Flight), was published in 1931. His autobiographical Wind, Sand and Stars, published in 1939, is very highly recommended.

When his friend, Henri Guillamet, went down in the Cordillera de los Andes, about 123 miles (198 kilometers) west of Mendoza, Argentina, and then walked out over the next five days, Saint-Exupéry wrote:

“What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it.”

— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Terre des hommes (English edition: Wind, Sand and Stars), translated from the French by Lewis Galantière, Harcourt Brace & Company, New York, Chapter II at Page 37

Antonine de Saint-Exupery and Andre Prevost with the Caudron C.630 Simoun, F-ANRY, before the flight to Saigon.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (center) and André Prévost with the Caudron C.630 Simoun, F-ANRY, before the flight to Saigon. (Succession de Saint-Exupéry d’Agay via Le Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace)

On 7 April 1930, Saint-Exupéry was appointed Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur.

On 29 December 1935, while flying his red and white Caudron C.630 Simoun, F-ANRY, in a race from Paris, France, to Sài Gòn, French Indo-China, Saint-Exupéry crashed in the Sahara desert. He and his mechanic, André Prévost, were marooned without food or water. They wandered aimlessly for four days and were near death when they were rescued by a Bedouin tribesman. Saint-Exupéry wrote about the experience in Wind, Sand and Stars, and it was the inspiration for his classic novel, The Little Prince.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry stands next to th ewreck of his Caudron C.630 Simoun, F-ANRY, in the Sahara
“What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry stands next to the wreck of his Caudron C.630 Simoun, F-ANRY, in the Sahara, 1935. (Unattributed)

Saint-Exupéry traveled to Spain in 1937 to observe the Spanish Revolution. He was horrified by what he experienced. “War is not an adventure,” he wrote. “It is a disease.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was promoted to Officier de la Légion d’honneur in 1939.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Saint-Exupéry returned to service with the Armée del’Air, flying in a reconnaissance squadron. With the surrender of France to the German invaders, he fled to Portugal. Saint-Exupéry sailed from Lisbon 20 December 1940 aboard S.S. Siboney, arriving at the Port of New York, 31 December.

In April 1943, he returned to the war flying with the Free French Air Force, the Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres.

He flew a twin-engine Lockheed F-5B, an unarmed photographic reconnaissance variant of the P-38J Lightning fighter. His squadron, 31e escadre, Groupe 2/33, operated from Borgo, an airfield on the northeast coast of Corsica.

Antoine de Saint Exupery in hi sLockheed F-5B Lightning reconnaissance airplane, circa 1944. (John e Annamaria Phillips Foundation)
Commandant Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Groupe de Chasse 11/33, Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres, in a Lockheed F-5B Lightning photo reconnaissance airplane, circa 1944. “War is not an adventure. It is a disease.” (John e Annamaria Phillips Foundation) 
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry flying his Lockheed F-5B-1-LO Lightning near Alghero on the coast of Sardinia, 1944.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry flying a Lockheed F-5B-1-LO Lightning near Alghero on the coast of Sardinia, 1944. (John e Annamaria Phillips Foundation)

Commandant Saint-Exupéry disappeared with his Lockheed F-5B-1-LO Lightning photo reconnaissance airplane (serial number 42-68223) while on a mission to Grenoble and Annecy, at the base of the French Alps, 31 July 1944.

His identity bracelet was found in 1998 by a fisherman, off the southern coastline of France. Wreckage of the F-5B was located on the sea floor in May 2000.

Commandant Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“Life has meaning only if one barters it day by day for something other than itself.” Commandant Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Free French Air Force, in the cockpit of a Lockheed F-5B Lightning, 1944. (Photograph by John Phillips, LIFE Magazine)
Courrier sud, nrf, Paris, 1929, first edition. (Edition-Originale.com)
Night Flight, first edition in English, 1932 (Rulon-Miller Books)
Night Flight, first edition in English, 1932 (Rulon-Miller Books)
Terre des Hommes, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Nrf, Paris, 1939. Signed First Edition, 7 000 €. Réf: 59758. (Edition-Originale.com)
Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine de Saint Exupery, 1939 (Bauman Rare Books)
Wind, Sand and Stars, first edition, 1939 (Bauman Rare Books)
Flight to Arras, first edition, 1942 (Bauman Rare Books)
Flight to Arras, first edition, 1942 (Bauman Rare Books)
Le Petit Prince, first edition, 1943. (Bauman's Rare Books)
Le Petit Prince, first edition, 1943. (Bauman Rare Books) 
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the Little Prince Statue by Christiane Guillaumet, Place Bellecour in Lyon
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the Little Prince,
statue by Christiane Guillaumet, Place Bellecour in Lyon

¹ Later renamed Rue de Saint-Exupéry.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 June 1919

Adjutant Jean Pie Hyacinthe Paul Jérôme Casale, Aéronautique Militaire, circa 1917

14 June 1919: Sous Lieutenant Jean Pie Hyacinthe Paul Jérôme Casale took off from Issy-les-Moulineaux, France, to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude. Flying a Nieuport-Delage chasseur (an aircraft type we now know as a fighter), he reached an altitude of 9,520 meters (31,234 feet). ¹ At that altitude, he was subjected to air temperatures of -50 °C. ( °F.). Casale landed at Villacoublay after a flight of approximately two hours.

Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29C.1, s/n 12002, right front quarter view.

Casale’s chasseur was a Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29C.1, a single-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane.  The airplane was 6,50 meters (21.3255 feet) long with a wing span of 9,70 meters (31.8241 feet. The total wing area was 26,85 square meters (289.01099 square feet). The fighter had an empty weight of 740 kilograms ( pounds) and gross weight of 1,100 kilograms ( pounds).

The airplane was powered by a water-cooled, turbosupercharged, 18.473 liter (1,127.29-cubic-inch displacement) right-hand tractor Hispano-Suiza 8Fb single overhead cam (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine. The engine was modified with the installation of a Rateau turbosupercharger to increase its output to more than 300 chaval vapeur. This was a direct-drive engine, and turned a two-bladed-fixed pitch propeller. The engine was 1.32 meters (4 feet, 4 inches) long, 0.89 meters (2 feet, 11 inches) wide, and 0.88 meters (2 feet, 10½ inches) high. It weighed 256 kilograms (564 pounds).

Engine cooling was provided by Lamblin cylindrical radiators mounted under the lower wing.

Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29C.1, s/n 12002, right profile.

The standard airplane had a top speed of 230 kilometers per hour ( miles per hour), a range of 580 kilometers (360 miles) and a service ceiling of 8,500 meters (27,887 feet).

Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29C.1, s/n 12002, right rear three-quarter view.

FLIGHT reported:

Pushing up World’s Height Record

Not satisfied with his height record of last week Lieut. Casole [sic] on June 14 took his Nieuport up to 10,100 metres (33,330 feet) during a flight from Villacoublay which lasted 1 hr. 55 mins. As in his previous flights, he used a Nieuport, fitted with a 300 h.p. Hispano-Suiza motor. His previous highest was 9,500 metres (31,350 ft.) and not 51,350 ft., as a printer’s error made it appear in our last issue.

FLIGHT & The AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 547, Vol. XI, No. 25, 12 June 1919, Page 799, Column 1

Jean Pie Hyacinthe Paul Jérôme Casale was born 24 September 1893 at Olmeta-di-Tuta, Corsica. His mother died when he was 9 years old, and his father, also, when he was 15.

Bastia high school

1 Oct 1913 enlisted in French Army, assigned to 8th Regiment of Chasseurs à Cheval

wounded in combat 19 Aug 1914; after recuperating volunteered for aviation, Dec. 1914

militsry pilot certificate # 837, 20 April 1915

assigned 1st Avn Grp 20 May. Promoted to corporal 5 June 1915.

Promoted to Sergeant 21 August 1915

Médaille Militaire 19 May 1916, promoted to Adjutant

5th shootdown 10 December 1916

promoted to Sous Lieutenant 24 June 1917

13 victories

Croix de Guerre 9 palms, Chevalier de la légion d’honneur

killed 23 June 1923 crash in the forest of Daméraucourt dans l’Oise.

¹ FAI Record File Number 15455

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 May 1918

Sous-lieutenant Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery, Aéronautique Militaire, circa 1917.  Lufbery is wearing the pilot’s badge of the Aéronautique Militaire on his tunic. He also is wearing the Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, Médaille Militaire, and Croix de Guere with one silver and three bronze palms. The airplane is a Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.VII C.1 of Escadrille SPA 124, “La Fayette.” (Captain Robert Soubiran/Library of Congress LC-USZ62-101970)

19 May 1918: Major Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery, 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Force, a leading Allied fighter pilot of World War I, was killed in action at Maron, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France.

Flying a Nieuport 28 C.1, he engaged by a Rumpler two-place observation plane of Reihenbildzug Nr. 3, a photographic reconniassance unit, flown by Gefreiter Kirschbaum and Leutnant Schieibe. Lufbery’s fighter was hit by gunfire from the Rumpler. The Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte airplane was later shot down and its crew captured.

Lufbery’s Nieuport rolled inverted, and he fell from the airplane. He was killed on impact.

Raoul Lufbery is considered to have been the first American “ace,” although all sixteen of his officially-credited aerial victories took place while in the service of France.

Major Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery, 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Force, with a Nieuport 28 C.1 fighter, 1918.

Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery was a dual American and French citizen, born 14 March 1885 at Chamalières, Puy-de-Dôme, France. He was the fourth child of Edward Lufbery, an American chemist, and Anne Joséphine Vessière Lufbery. Mme Lufbery died when he was about one year old. His father left Gervais in the care of his maternal grandmother, Madeline Vessière Greniere, and returned to the United States. Gervais grew up in France.

In 1907, at the age of 22, Lufbery traveled to America to visit family members in Connecticut. After traveling around the country and working in various occupations, Lufbery enlisted in the United States Army. He was assigned from the recruit depot Fort McDowell, Angel Island, San Francisco, to Company F, 20th Infantry Regiment, at the newly establish Fort Shafter, Territory of Hawaii, 13 December 1908. From 1 April 1909, Lufbery was stationed with Co. M, at the Presidio of Monterey in California. In 1910, he was sent to the Quartel de Espana, Manila, Philippine Islands.

After completing his term of service with the United States Army, in 1914 Lufbery enlisted in the Légion Étrangère (the French Foreign Legion). He was initially assigned as an aircraft mechanic, but was soon trained as a pilot. In 1916, Sergent Lufbery was assigned to a newly-formed unit, N-124,¹ Escadrille Lafayette of the Aéronautique Militaire (the French Air Service) which was made up primarily of volunteers from America. (The United States did not enter the War until 6 April 1917.)

Lufbery shot down his first enemy airplane 30 July 1916, and his fifth, 12 October 1916.

Sergent Lufbery was awarded the Médaille Militaire 11 September 1916. He was promoted to Adjutant, a non-commissioned officer rank. Adjutant Lufbery was awarded his first Croix de Guerre avec palme 26 September 1916, and his second, 28 October 1916. He was appointed a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur 10 March 1917. Lufbery was promoted to the commissioned rank of Sous lieutenant des Troupes Aeronautiques. Additional awards of the Croix de Guerre followed on 15 May, 15 June, 13 October, 29 October, 9 November 1917, and 11 January 1918.

Between 30 July 1916 and 2 December 1917, while serving with the Aéronautique Militaire, Lufbery shot down sixteen enemy airplanes (officially credited).

Sous-lieutenant Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery, Aéronautique Militaire.

Sous lieutenant Lufbery was transferred to the 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Force, and was commissioned a major in the Aviation Section, Signal Officers’ Reserve Corps, United States Army.

Following his death, Major Lufbery was awarded the Purple Heart, and Britain’s Military Medal. His remains are interred at the Lafayette Memorial du Parc de Garches, Paris, France.

Nieuport 28 C.1 serial number 6215.

The Nieuport 28 C.1 ² was a single-place, single-engine, single-bay biplane fighter built by Société Anonyme des Éstablissements Nieuport for the French military. It was rejected, however, in favor of the SPAD S.XIII C.1. The new United States’ Air Service was in great need of fighters. There were none available of American manufacture, and because the new SPAD was in great demand, 297 Nieuport 28s were acquired by the American Expeditionary Force and assigned to the 94th and 95th Aero Squadrons.

The Nieuport 28 C.1 was 6.30 meters (20 feet, 8 inches) long with an upper wingspan of 8.160 meters (26 feet, 9¼ inches), lower wingspan of 7.79 meters ( 25 feet, 6-2/3 inches)  and height of 2.30 meters (7 feet, 6½ inches). The upper wing had a chord of 1.30 meters (4 feet, 3.2 inches), and the lower, which was staggered behind the upper, had a chord of 1.00 meters (3 feet, 3.4). The upper wing had very slight dihedral, while the lower wing had none. Its empty weight was 399 kilograms (880 pounds) and loaded weight was 626 kilograms (1,380 pounds).

The Nieuport 28 C.1 was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 15.892 liter (969.786-cubic-inch-displacement) Gnome Monosoupape 9 Type N nine-cylinder rotary engine with a compression ratio of 5.45:1. The Monosoupape had a single overhead exhaust valve actuated by a pushrod and rocker arm. As the pistons reached the bottom of their exhaust strokes, a series of intake ports near the bottom of the cylinder were uncovered. The intake charge was drawn from the engine crankcase. The Type N produced 160 horsepower at 1,300 r.p.m. and turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller with a diameter of 2.50 meters (8 feet, 2.4 inches). The engine weighed 330 pounds (150 kilograms).

The Nieuport 28 had a top speed of 198 kilometers per hour (123 miles per hour) at 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) and 1,380 r.p.m., a range of 290 kilometers (180 miles) and a service ceiling of 5,300 meters (17,388 feet). Duration at full power was 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Two .303-caliber Vickers machine guns were mounted on the cowling, firing forward through the propeller arc.

Nieuport 28 C.1, serial number 6215.

¹ The “N” indicates that Escadrille 124 was equipped with Nieuport fighters. When the squadron transitioned to SPADs, the designation changed to SPA 124.

² “C.1” was the French designation for a single-place chasseur, their World War I term for what we now consider to be a fighter.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 May 1918

Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II in flight.

15 May 1918: The prototype Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C.II made its first flight.

The Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II was a single-engine, two-place, two-bay biplane chasseur which was designed by a French aeronautical engineer, Capitaine Georges Lepère, who had previously designed the Section Technique de l’Aeronautique Dorand AR.1 reconnaissance airplane for the Aéronautique Militaire, the military air service of France. The new airplane was built in the United States by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. It was a two-place fighter, or chasseur, light bomber, and observation aircraft, and was armed with four machine guns.

A contemporary aviation publication reported:

Flying Qualities—The machine exhibits excellent flying qualities, with ready response of all controls. Longitudinal, lateral and directional stability of the machine is good. In taxying, starting and landing it is entirely satisfactory, and on landing it does not roll more than 300 or 400 ft. [91.4–121.9 meters] All stunt maneuvers can readily be performed, and in general, from a pilot’s point of view, the machine is excellent.

The range of vision is very good, the controls well placed, and instruments so arranged that the pilot need only move his eyes.

AVIATION AND AERONAUTICAL ENGINEERING, Vol. VI, No. 8, 15 May 1919, at Page 426, Column 1.

Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II, P 54, S.C. 42138 (U.S. Air Force)

The Packard Lepère was 25 feet, 3⅛ inches (7.699 meters) long. The upper and lower wings had an equal span of 41 feet, 7¼ inches (12.681 meters), and equal chord of 5 feet, 5¾ inches (1.670 meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet, ⅝-inch (1.527 meters) and the lower wing was staggered 2 feet, 15/16-inch (0.633 meters) behind the upper wing. The wings’ incidence was +1°. Upper and lower wings were equipped with ailerons, and had no sweep or dihedral. The height of the Packard Lepère, sitting on its landing gear, was 9 feet, 7 inches (2.921 meters). The Packard Lepère had an empty weight of 2,561.5 pounds (1,161.9 kilograms) and its gross weight was 3,746.0 pounds (1,699.2 kilograms).

The fuselage was a wooden structure with a rectangular cross section. It was covered with three layers of veneer, (2 mahogany, 1 white wood) with a total thickness of 3/32-inch (2.38 millimeters). The fuselage had a maximum width of 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) and maximum depth of 4 feet, 0 inches (1.219 meters).

Packard fuselages under construction. (NARA)

The wings were also of wooden construction, with two spruce spars and spruce ribs. Three layers of wood veneer covered the upper surfaces. Heavy bracing wires were used. These had an airfoil cross-section and actually provided additional lift. The interplane struts were unusual in that they were fully-framed units.

The Packard Lepère was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine and it turned turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 5 feet, 7.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 2 feet, 3.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).

The engine coolant radiator was positioned horizontally in the center section of the Lepère’s upper wing. Water flowed through the radiator at a rate of 80 gallons (303 liters) per minute.

Major Rudolph W. Schroeder flying P 53, a Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II,  A.S. 40015, over McCook Field, Ohio, 24 September 1919. (U.S. Air Force)

The Packard Lepère had a maximum speed of 130.4 miles per hour (209.9 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), 127.6 miles per hour (205.4 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), 122.4 miles per hour (197.0 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), 110.0 miles per hour (177.0 kilometers per hours) at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) and 94.0 miles per hour (151.3 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Its cruising speed was 112 miles per hour (180 was kilometers per hour). The airplane could climb to 5,000 feet in 4 minutes, 24 seconds, and to 20,000 feet in 36 minutes, 36 seconds. In standard configuration, the Packard Lepère had a service ceiling of 20,200 feet (6,157 meters). Its range was 320 miles (515 kilometers).

The fighter’s armament consisted of two fixed M1918 Marlin .30-caliber aircraft machine guns mounted on the right side of the fuselage, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and two M1918 Lewis .30-caliber machine guns on a flexible mount with 970 rounds of ammunition.

The Air Service had ordered 3,525 of these airplanes, but when the War ended only 28 had been built. The contract was cancelled.

The third Packard Lepère, S.C. 42130, under construction at the Packard Motor Car Co., Detroit, Michigan. (NARA)

Six Packard Lepères were used for flight testing at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, assigned project numbers P 44, P 53, P 54, P 65, P 70 and P 80. One of these, flown by Major Rudolph W. Schroeder, set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Altitude at 9,455 meters (31,020 feet), 18 September 1918.¹ On 6 September 1919, Schroeder flew a Packard Lepère to 8,616 meters (28,268 feet) while carrying a passenger. This set two more World Altitude Records.² Flying P 53, A.S. 40015, he set a fifth FAI altitude record of 10,093 meters (33,114 feet), 27 February 1920.³ On 28 September 1921, Captain John A. Macready flew P 53 to an altitude of 40,800 feet (12,436 meters). On 13 October 1922, 1st Lieutenant Theodore J. Koenig flew P 53 to win the Liberty Engine Builders’ Trophy Race at Selfridge Field, near Mount Clemens, Michigan. Koenig completed ten laps of the triangular racecourse in 2:00:01.54, at an average speed of 128.8 miles per hour (207.3 kilometers per hour).

The only Packard Lepère in existence, serial number A.S. 42133, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II, S.C. 42133, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II, right profile

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 15463 and 15671

² FAI Record File Numbers 15464 and 15675

³ FAI Record File Number 8229

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 April 1917

SPAD S.XIII C.1, s/n 16594, built October 1918 by Kellner et ses Fils, Paris (U.S. Air Force)
SPAD S.XIII C.1, s/n 16594, built by Kellner et ses Fils, Paris, October 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
Sous-Lieutenant Rene P.M. Dorme, Escadrille No. 3
Sous-Lieutenant René Pierre Marie Dorme, Escadrille No. 3, Aéronautique Militaire.

4 April 1917: Sous-Lieutenant René Pierre Marie Dorme of the Aéronautique Militaire (French Air Service) made the first flight of the famous World War I fighter, the SPAD S.XIII C.1.

Lieutenant Dorme was an ace with 18 confirmed victories. In the next seven weeks, he shot down another five enemy aircraft.

Designed by Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés Technical Director Louis Béchéreau and manufactured by SPAD as well as eight other companies, this was an improved and slightly larger version of the earlier SPAD S.VII C.1. It used a more powerful Hispano-Suiza 8Ba engine instead of the S.VII’s 8Aa, with an increase of 50 horsepower. (Later versions used  8Be engines.) Armament was increased from a single .303-caliber Vickers machine guns to two.

The SPAD was faster than other airplanes of the time and it had a good rate of climb. Though a product of France, it was used by both the Royal Flying Corps and the U.S. Army Air Service. In France, the airplane type now considered a “fighter” was called a chasseur (“hunter”). The letter “C-” in the SPAD’s designation reflects this. The “-.1” at the ending indicates a single-place aircraft.

SPAD S.XIII at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
SPAD S.XIII at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

The SPAD S.XIII C.1 was a single-seat, single-engine, two-bay biplane constructed of a wooden framework with a doped fabric covering. Sheet metal covered the engine and cockpit.

The S.XIII was 20 feet, 4 inches (6.198 meters) long.¹ The upper and lower wings had equal span and chord. The span was 26 feet, 3¾ inches (8.020 meters) and chord, 4 feet, 7-1/8 inches (1.400 meters). The vertical spacing between the wings was 3 feet, 10½ inches (1.181 meters), and the lower wing was staggered 1¼° behind the upper. Interplane struts and wire bracing was used to reinforce the wings. The wings had no sweep or dihedral. The angle of incidence of the upper wing was 1½° and of the lower, 1°. Only the upper wing was equipped with ailerons. Their span was 7 feet, 3½ inches (2.222 meters), and their chord, 1 foot, 7½ inches (0.495 meters). The total wing area was 227 square feet (21.089 square meters).

The horizontal stabilizer had a span of 10 feet, 2 inches (3.099 meters) with a maximum chord of 1 foot, 8¾ inches (0.527 meters). The height of the vertical fin was 2 feet, 7/8-inch (0.876 meters) and it had a maximum length of 3 feet, 11¼ inches (1.200 meters). The rudder was 3 feet, 10-5/8 inches high (1.184 meters) with a maximum chord of 2 feet, 2 inches (0.660 meters).

The SPAD S.XIII C.1 had fixed landing gear with two pneumatic tires. Rubber cords (bungie cords) were used for shock absorption. The wheel track was 4 feet, 10¾ inches (1.492 meters). At the tail was a fixed skid.

The airplane had an empty weight of 1,464 pounds (664 kilograms), and gross weight 2,036 pounds (924 kilograms).

Initial production SPAD XIIIs were powered by a water-cooled 11.762 liter (717.769-cubic-inch displacement), La Société Hispano-Suiza 8Ba single overhead cam (SOHC) left-hand-tractor 90° V-8 engine. It was equipped with two Zenith down-draft carburetors and had a compression ratio of 5.3:1. The 8Ba was rated at 150 cheval vapeur (148 horsepower) at 1,700 r.p.m., and 200 cheval vapeur (197 horsepower) at 2,300 r.p.m. It drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch, wooden propeller with a diameter of 2.50 meters (8 feet, 2.43 inches) through a 0.585:1 gear reduction. (The 8Be engine had a 0.75:1 reduction gear ratio and used both 2.50 meter and 2.55 meter (8 feet, 4.40 inches) propellers.) The Hispano-Suiza 8Ba was 1.36 meters (4 feet, 5.5 inches) long, 0.86 meters (2 feet, 9.9 inches) wide and 0.90 meters (2 feet, 11.4 inches) high. It weighed 236 kilograms (520 pounds).

SPAD S.XIII C.I, right profile. (Unattributed)
The SPAD S.XIII C.1 was developed from the earlier SPAD S.VII C.1. This is Capitaine Georges Guynemer’s SPAD S.VII C.1, N° S 254, “Vieux Charles,” at the Musée de l’Armee. The flowers on the landing gear are a tribute the the fighter ace following his death, 11September 1917. Today, this airplane is in the collection of the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace at Le Bourget Airport.

The airplane had a main fuel tank behind the engine, with a gravity tank located in the upper wing. The total fuel capacity was 183 pounds (83 kilograms), sufficient for 2 hours, 30 minutes endurance at full throttle at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), including climb. There was also a 4.5 gallon (17 liters) lubricating oil tank.

The SPAD S.XIII had a maximum speed of 135 miles per hour (218 kilometers per hour) at 6,560 feet (2,000 meters) and a service ceiling of 21,815 feet (6,650 meters).

The chasseur was armed with two fixed, water-cooled, .303-caliber (7.7 mm) Vickers Mk.I machine guns with 400 rounds of ammunition per gun, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc. Because of the cold temperatures at altitude, the guns’ water jackets were not filled, thereby saving considerable weight.

The SPAD S.XIII was produced by nine manufacturers. 8,472 were built. Only four are still in existence.

Instrument panel of SPAD S.XIII C.1 16439 at NMUSAF. (U.S. Air Force)
Instrument panel of a SPAD S.XIII C.1 at NMUSAF. (U.S. Air Force)

The airplane in the photograph above is SPAD S.XIII C.1, serial number 16594. It was built in October 1918 by Kellner et ses Fils, an automobile manufacturer in Paris, France. It did not see combat, but was shipped to the United States at the end of the War and was stationed at San Diego, California. The airplane was restored by the National Museum of the United States Air Force and is painted in the markings of the airplane flown by Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, commanding officer of the 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Forces. It is on display at NMUSAF, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker with his SPAD XIII C.1, 94th Aero Squadron, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker with his SPAD XIII C.1, 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Forces, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Arthur Raymond Brooks, U.S. Army signal Corps
Captain Arthur Raymond Brooks, U.S. Army Signal Corps

The airplane in the photograph below is another SPAD S.XIII C.1, serial number 7689, also built by Kellner et ses Fils, in August 1918. It was sent to the 22nd Aero Squadron at Colombey-les-Belles and assigned to Lieutenant Arthur Raymond Brooks. Brooks’ fiancée attended Smith College and he named the SPAD Smith IV in her honor. With this airplane, Lieutenant Brooks shot down six enemy airplanes. Other pilots also flew it to shoot down another five.

After the War came to an end, 7689 was shipped to the United States and used in a Liberty Bond fund-raising tour. In December 1919, the United States Army gave the fighter to the Smithsonian Institution. It was restored at the Paul E. Garber Center, 1984–1986, and remains in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.

SPAD S.XIII C.1 serial number 7689, Smith IV, after restoration at the Paul E. Garber Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
SPAD S.XIII C.1 serial number 7689, Smith IV, after restoration at the Paul E. Garber Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

René Dorme fought 120 aerial engagements, many while flying a SPAD S.VII C.1. He is officially credited with 22 victories, and may have shot down as many as 59 enemy aircraft. His personal airplane was marked with a green Cross of Lorraine. He was a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, and had been awarded the Médalle Militaire and the Croix de Guerre with 17 Palms. Dorme was killed in action 25 May 1917 when his SPAD VII was shot down by Oberleutnant Heinrich Kroll of Jasta 9 at Fort de la Pompelle near Reims.

Sous-lieutenant René Pierre Marie Dorme, Aéronautique Militaire, Chevalier de la légion d’honneur.

¹ Dimensions, weights, capacities and performance data cited above refer to SPAD S.XIII C.1 serial number 17956 (A.S. 94101), which was tested at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio (Project Number P-154), 1921.

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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