Tag Archives: Chevalier de la légion d’honneur

5 September 1908

Goupy I triplane in the original configuration.

5 September 1908: In France, the Goupy I bis triplane makes its first flight. Designed by Louis Ambroise Goupy and built by Appareils d’Aviation Les Frères Voisin, this was a single-engine airplane with three wings. It was a two-bay triplane with a tractor configuration. The I bis was significantly lighter than the original airplane and had longer wings.

This photograph shows Goupy’s triplane in its original configuration. Note the gap between the fuselage and the lower wing. (Flight, Vol. I, No. 4, 23 January 1909, at Page 65.)

The Goupy I bis was 9.80 meters (32.15 feet) long with a wingspan of 7.50 meters (24.61 feet). The  vertical gap between the wings was 0.95 meters (3.12 feet). The three wings were slightly staggered and used assymetrical airfoils. The total wing area was 44 square meters (474 square feet). The “box kite” horizontal stabilizer had a span of 3 meters (9.84 feet) and was  0.75 meters high. The Goupy 1 bis weighed 475 kilograms (1,047 pounds).

Goupy I bis

Goupy’s triplane was originally powered by a steam-cooled, direct-injected, 487.14 cubic-inch-displacement (7.983 liter) Société Antoinette 8V 90° V-8 engine producing 53 horsepower at 1,100 r.p.m. The engine was designed by Léon Levavasseur. The Goupy I bis replaced the Antoinette with an Alessandro Anzani & Co. W-3 “fan-type” radial engine, also rated at 50 horsepower. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 2.30 meters (7.55 feet).

The Goupy I bis was capable of a maximum 33 miles per hour (54 kilometers per hour).

Goupy I bis triplane (Wright State University, Wright Brothers Collection, Item number ms1_20_10_14)

Louis Ambroise Goupy was born at Paris, France, on 4 November 1875. He was the son of Louis Edmond Alexis Goupy, auditor at the Council of State, and member of the Seine-et-Oise General Council, and Mathilde Marguerite Masurier Goupy.

On 15 April 1899, Antoine Goupy married Mlle Marie Marguerite Jeanne Ferquer. They would have six children.

In 1914, M. Goupy was appointed Chevalier de la légion d’honneur. In 1937, he was promoted to Officier de la Légion d’honneur.

Antoine Goupy died in Paris, 25 January 1951.He was 75 years old.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 July 1909

Starting the Anzani engine of Louis Blériot’s Type XI monoplane, 25 July 1909. (Library of Congress)

25 July 1909: At 4:41 a.m., Louis Charles Joseph Blériot took of from the hamlet of les Baraques,¹ near Sangatte, Pas-de-Calais, France, in his own Type XI single-engine monoplane, and flew across the English Channel (la Manche) to Dover. He landed at Northfall Meadow, near Dover Castle, Kent, England.

Feet wet: Blériot crossing the shoreline, outbound, on the morning of 25 July 1909. (Flight)

The airplane did not have a compass, so for a visual reference. Blériot used a 26-knot Pertuisane-class torpedo boat destroyer, Escopette, which was sailing toward Dover.  After passing the ship, visibility deteriorated and he was only able to see the water below him.

A Marine Nationale Pertuisane-class torpedo boat destroyer (contre-torpilleur). This is the same class as Escopette. (Marius Bar)

Blériot flew on and after about ten minutes was able to see the coastline ahead. He realized that the wind had blown him to the east of his intended course, so he flew along the shoreline until he recognized a signal marking the landing point. The wind was gusty near the cliffs and he landed harder than intended, slightly damaging his airplane.

A contemporary aviation news publication reported:

. . . Accounts differ as to the exact moment of departure and descent, and as a matter of fact it is doubtful if any reliable timing was made since M. Bleriot started without a watch as well as without a compass. The distance of the flight was about 31 miles, and hence the speed was in the region of 45 miles an hour. During the crossing he flew at an altitude of 150 ft. to 300 ft., and thus kept much nearer the water than Mr. Latham did on his attempt.

Flight: First Aero Weekly in the World. Vol. I, No. 31, 31July 1909, at Page 458, Column 2.

Louis Blériot with his Type XI monoplane at mid-Channel, 25 July 1909. (Library of Congress)

This was the first time an airplane had been flown across the English Channel, and brought Blériot international acclaim. He was appointed Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, by France. A London newspaper, the Daily Mail, awarded him a £1,000 prize.

Very quickly, orders for his Type XI were coming in. Between 1909 and 1914, approximately 900 were sold.

Louis Bleriot’s Channel-crossing Type XI monoplane was donated to the Musée des arts et métiers in Paris by the newspaper Le Matin, in October 1909. It remains in the museum’s permanent collection.

Louis Charles Joseph Blériot and his Type XI airplane at Northfall Meadow, Dover, shortly after arriving from France at 0517 a.m, 25 July 1909. (Library of Congress)
Louis Charles Joseph Blériot, Chevalier de la légion d’honneur. (Library of Congress)

Louis Charles Joseph Blériot was born 1 July 1872 at Cambrai, Nord, Pas-de-Calais, France. He was the son of Louis Charles Pierre Alexander Blériot and Clémence Marie Eugenie Candeliez Blériot. In 1882 Blériot was sent to l’Institution Notre-Dame de Grâce, a boarding school in Cambrai, and then, to a high school in northern France. He next studied at the Collège Sainte-Barbe in Paris. After a year there, he transferred to the École Centrale Paris, at Châtenay-Malabry, in southwest Paris.

In 1895–1896, Blériot served as a sous-lieutenant assigned to the 24ᵉ régiment d’artillerie (24th Regiment of Artillery) at Tarbes in the Pyrenees mountains, which divide France from Spain.

Blériot next worked as an electrical engineer and in 1896, he invented acetylene headlamps for use on automobiles. Blériot gained an interest in aviation after attending l’Exposition de Paris 1900. The income from his lamp manufacturing allowed him to conduct serious aeronautical experiments.

In 1901, Blériot married Mlle. Jeanne Alicia Védere (the marriage banns were published 2 February 1901). They would have six children, born between 1902 and 1929.

Mme. Blériot (née Jeanne Alicia Vedére) and M. Louis Charles Joseph Blériot at the House of Commons, Westminster, United Kingdom, 15 September 1909. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Over the next few years, worked with several other pioneers of aviation, including Ernest rchdeacon,  Léon Levavasseur, Gabriel Voison, Eventually, he started his own aeronautical research and aircraft manufacturing company, Recherches Aéronautique Louis Blériot. In 1913, he bought the aircraft manufacturing company that would become Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés, designers and builders of the legendary fighter of World War I, the SPAD S.XIII C.1. His businesses in France and England manufactured airplanes, automobiles and motorcycles.

In 1930, Blériot established the Blériot Trophy, to be awarded to an aviator who demonstrated flight at a speed of 2,000 kilometers per hour (1,242.742 miles per hour) for 30 minutes. 31 years later, 10 May 1961, the three-man crew of a Convair B-58A Hustler named The Firefly accomplished that feat.

Louis Charles Joseph Blériot died 2 August 1936, in Paris. He was buried at the Cimitière des Gonards, Versailles, Île-de France, France.

Louis Bleriot flew this airplane across the English Channel 25 July 1909. It was donated to the Musée des arts et métiers by the French newspaper, Le Matin, in October 1909. (Musée des arts et métiers)

The Blériot XI was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane. It was 26.24 feet (7.998 meters) long with a wingspan of 25.35 feet (7.727 meters) and height to the top of the cabane strut of 8.0 feet (2.438 meters). It had an empty weight of 507 pounds (229.9 kilograms). (Sources give conflicting specifications for the Blériot XI, probably because they were often changed in an effort to improve the airplane. The model flown across the English Channel was described by Flight as the Blériot Short-Span Monoplane. Dimensions given here are from the three-view drawings, below.)

In its original configuration, the Type XI was powered by an air-cooled, 3.774 liter (230.273 cubic inches) Robert Esnault-Pelterie (R.E.P.) two-row, seven-cylinder fan engine (or “semi-radial”), which produced 30 horsepower at 1,500 r.p.m.,  and drove a four-bladed paddle-type propeller. The R.E.P. engine weighed 54 kilograms (119 pounds). This engine was unreliable and was soon replaced by an Alessandro Anzani & Co. W-3.

The Anzani W-3 was an air-cooled, naturally-aspirated, 3.377 liter (206.078 cubic inch) 60° (some sources state 55°) three-cylinder “fan”-type radial engine (or W-3). It was a direct-drive, right-hand-tractor engine which produced 25 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m. The W-3 was 0.300 meters (11.811 inches) long, 0.386 meters (15.197 inches) high, and 0.694 meters (2 feet, 3.323 inches) wide. The engine weighed 65 kilograms (143 pounds). The engine turned a highly-efficient Hélice Intégrale Chauvière two-bladed, fixed-pitch, propeller which had a diameter of 6 feet, 8 inches (2.032 meters). The Anzani W-3 cost 3,000 French francs in 1909.

The Blériot XI had a maximum speed of 47 miles per hour (76 kilometers per hour) and the service ceiling was approximately 1,000 meters (3,281 feet).

A description of the Blériot Type XI appeared in Vehicles of the Air, by Victor Loughead,² Second Edition, The Reilly and Britton Co., Chicago, 1910, Figure 197, between Pages 406 and 407:

Blériot Type XI, front view.

Blériot Type XI, side view.
Blériot Type XI, top view.

¹ The village was renamed Sangatte-Blériot-Plage in 1936.

² Victor Loughead was the older brother of Allan and Malcolm Loughead, founders of the Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company of Santa Barbara, California, better known today as the Lockheed Martin Corporation.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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Joseph Sadi-Lecointe (11 July 1891–15 July 1944)

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe, 1924

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe was born 11 July 1891 at Saint-Germain-sur-Bresle, Departement de la Somme, Picardie, France.

Sadi-Lecointe was employed as an aircraft welder. On 30 January 1910, without any instruction, he took off from Issy-les-Moulineaux in a monoplane designed by George and Gendre Zénith. The Aero Club de France awarded him its license number 431 on 10 February 1911.

Adjutant Joseph Sadi-Lecointe with a Morane-Saulnier, circa 1915. (Musée de l’air et de l’espace)

He joined the Service Aéronautique (the original form of the French Air Force) as a mechanic in October 1912, and was designated pilote militaire nº375, 20 September 1913.

Sadi-Lecointe was promoted to sergeant 6 July 1914. He served as a pilot during World War I, flying the Blériot XI-2 with l’escadrille BL 10 from 1 August 1914 to 6 March 1915. After serving five weeks with the RGA, Sergent Sadi-Lecointe was transferred to N 48, flying the Nieuport X. He was promoted to Adjutant, a warrant officer rank, 17 April 1915. On 23 November 1915 became a flight instructor at l’Ecole de Pilotage d’Avord. Sadi-Lacointe was promoted to sous-lieutenant in October 1916. On 17 September 1917 he was assigned as a test pilot at BlériotSociété Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés, where he worked on the development of the famous SPAD S.XIII C.1 fighter.

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe was a test pilot for the Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.VII C.1 and S.XIII C.1 fighters. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

After the War, he was a test pilot for Nieuport-Delâge, and participated in numerous races and set a series of speed and altitude records with the company’s airplanes. He won the Coupe Deutsche de la Meurthe, 3 August 1920, and the Gordon Bennett Aviation Trophy Race, 28 September 1920, flying a Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V. He also won the Coupe Beaumont, 23 June 1924, flying the Nieuport-Delâge Type 42. Joseph Sadi-Lecointe was appointed Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 1924.

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe with the Blériot-SPAD S.26 during trials for the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider races, 1919. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)
Joseph Sadi-Lecointe in the cockpit of his Nieuport-Delâge NiD-29 V racer during te eGordon Bennett races. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)
Nieuport-Delâge NiD-42 S. (FAI)
Sadi-Lecointe’s record-setting Nieuport-Delâge NiD-40 R. (FAI)

Sadi-Lecointe returned to military service in 1925 and participated in the Second Moroccan War. Then in 1927, he returned to his position as chief test pilot for Nieuport-Delâge. From 1936 to 1940, he served as Inspecteur général de l’aviation civile (Inspector General of Aviation) for the French Air Ministry. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Lieutenant Colonel Sadi-Lecointe was again recalled to military service as Inspector of Flying Schools.

With the Fall of France, Sadi-Lacointe was dismissed by the Vichy government. He joined La Résistance française, and operated with the group, Rafale Andromède. He was arrested 21 March 1944 and held at the Fresnes prison in Paris, where he was interrogated and tortured. He was released to l’hôpital Saint-Louis, Paris, and died there, 15 July 1944.

Centre pénitentiaire de Fresnes

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe, Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur, was awarded the Croix de Guerre in three wars. He was posthumously awarded the Médaille de la Résistance. The Aéro-Club de France awarded him its Grande Médaille d’Or. During his flying career, Sadi-Lecointe set six World Records for Speed,¹ and two World Records for Altitude.²

MORT POUR LA FRANCE

The Cross of Lorraine was the symbol of La Résistance française during World War II. (© Ray Rivera)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers: 15489, Speed over 100 km, 279,50 km/h (173.67 m.p.h.), 25 September 1920; 15494, Speed over 200 km, 274,60 km/h (170.63 m.p.h.), 28 September 1920; 15498, Speed over a straight 1 km course, 296,69 km/h (184.36 m.p.h.), 10 October 1920; 15499, Speed over a straight 1 km course, 302,53 km (187.98 m.p.h.), 20 October 1920; 15279, Speed, 375 km/h (233 m.p.h.), 15 October 1923; and Speed over a given distance of 500 km, 306,70 km/h (190.58 m.p.h.), 23 June 1924.

² FAI Record File Numbers: 8246, 10 741 m (35,240 ft.), 5 September 1923; 11750, 8 980 m (29,462 ft.), 11 March 1924.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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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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21 June 1972

Jean Boulet
Jean Boulet, Officier de la Légion d’honneur

21 June 1972: Aérospatiale Chief Test Pilot Jean Boulet set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) Absolute World Record for helicopters by flying the first Aérospatiale SA 315 Lama, serial number 315-001, to an altitude of 12,442 meters (40,820 feet) from Aérodrome d’Istres, northwest of Marseille, France.¹ He also set two class and sub-class world records.² These records remain current.

The SA 315B Lama was designed to perform at the very high altitudes and temperatures necessary for service with the Indian Army. It combined an SE.3130 Alouette II airframe with a much more powerful Turboméca Astazou IIIB turboshaft engine—derated to 550 shaft horsepower—and the rotor system, transmission and gearboxes from the larger 7-place Alouette III.

Jean Boulet in the cockpit of his SA-315B Lama, just prior to his record flight.
Jean Boulet in the cockpit of his SA 315 Lama, just prior to his record flight. (Airbus)

The record-setting helicopter was modified by removing all equipment that was not needed for the record flight attempt. Various instruments and the co-pilot and passengers seats were taken out of the cockpit, as well as the helicopter’s synchronized horizontal stabilizer and tail rotor guard. The standard fuel tank was replaced with a very small tank holding just 70 kilograms (approximately 22.7 gallons) of jet fuel. Turboméca modified the engine to increase the output shaft r.p.m. by 6%. After Jean Boulet started the turbine engine, mechanics removed the battery and starter motor to decrease the weight even further.

Final prepartaions for the altitude record attempt. Jean Boulet sits in the cockpit, wearing an oxygen mask.
Final preparations for the altitude record attempt. Jean Boulet sits in the cockpit, wearing an oxygen mask. (Helico-Fascination)

In just 12 minutes, the Lama had climbed to 11,000 meters (36,089 feet). As he approached the peak altitude, the forward indicated airspeed had to be reduced to 30 knots (34.5 miles per hour, 55.6 kilometers per hour) to prevent the advancing main rotor blade tip from reaching its Critical Mach Number in the thin air, which would have resulted in the blade stalling. At the same time, the helicopter was approaching Retreating Blade Stall.

When the helicopter could climb no higher, Boulet reduced power and decreased collective pitch. The Turboméca engine, not calibrated for the very high altitude and cold temperature, -62 °C. (-80 °F.), flamed out. With no battery and starter, a re-start was impossible. Boulet put the Lama into autorotation for his nearly eight mile descent. Entering multiple cloud layers, the Plexiglas bubble iced over. Because of the ice and clouds, the test pilot had no outside visibility. Attitude instruments had been removed to lighten the helicopter. Boulet looked up through the canopy at the light spot in the clouds created by the sun, and used that for his only visual reference until he broke out of the clouds.

Still in autorotation, the SA 315 missed touching down exactly on its takeoff point, but was close enough that FAI requirements were met.

Aérospatiale AS 315 Lama, FAI World Record Holder, 12,442 meters, in autorotation, just before touching down at at Istres, 21 June 1972
Aérospatiale SA 315 Lama, FAI World Record Holder, 12,442 meters, in autorotation, just before touching down at at Istres, 21 June 1972. (Helico-Fascination)

Two days earlier, 19 June 1972, Boulet and fellow test pilot Gérard Boutin had set another FAI World Record for Altitude Without Payload, when they flew the Lama to 10,856 meters (35,617 feet).³ This record also still stands.

Jean Boulet and Gérard Boutin in the cockpit of SA 315B s/n 315-001. (Airbus)

The SA 315B Lama is a 5-place light turboshaft-powered helicopter which is operated by a single pilot. The helicopter was built to meet the specific needs of the Indian Air Force for operations in the Himalayan Mountains. It was required to take off an land at an altitude of 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) while carrying a pilot, one passenger and 200 kilograms (441 pounds) of cargo.

The fuselage is 10.26 meters (33 feet, 7.9 inches) long. With all rotors turning, the helicopter has an overall length of 12.92 meters (42 feet, 4.7 inches) and height of 3.09 meters (10 feet, 1.7 inches). The SA 315B has an empty weight of 1,021 kilograms (2,251 pounds) and a maximum gross weight of 1,950 kilograms (4,299 pounds). With an external load carried on its cargo hook, the maximum gross weight is 5,070 pounds (2,300 kilograms).

The three-bladed, fully-articulated main rotor has a diameter of 11.02 meters (36 feet, 1.9 inches). It turns clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the left side of the helicopter.) Normal main rotor speed, NR, is 350–360 r.p.m. The three-bladed anti-torque tail rotor is 1.91 meters (6 feet, 3.2 inches) in diameter and turns clockwise, as seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) It turns at 2,020 r.p.m.

The Lama was initially powered by a Turboméca Artouste IIIB (later aircraft, Artouste IIIB1) turbo-moteur. This is a turboshaft engine with a two-stage compressor section (1 axial-flow, 1 centrifugal-flow stages), and a three-stage axial-flow turbine. The engine turns 33,500 r.p.m. and the output drive shaft turns 5,773 r.p.m. The Artouste IIIB1 produces a maximum 870 horsepower, but is derated to 570 horsepower for installation in the Lama. The engine is 1.815 meters (5 feet, 11.5 inches) long, 0.667 meters (2 feet, 2.3 inches) high and 0.520 meters (1 foot, 8.5 inches) wide. It weighs 178 kilograms (392 pounds).

The helicopter has a cruise speed 103 knots (191 kilometers per hour, 119 miles per hour) and a maximum speed of 113 knots (209 kilometers per hour, 130 miles per hour) at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 5,400 meters (17,717 feet). At 1,950 kilograms (4,299 pounds), the Lama has a hover ceiling in ground effect (HIGE) of 5,050 meters (16,568 feet), and out of ground effect (HOGE), 4,600 meters (15,092 feet).

Société nationale des constructions aéronautiques du Sud-Est became Aérospatiale in 1970. The company produced the SA 315B Lama beginning in 1971. It was also built under license by Hundustan Aeronautics in India and Helibras in Brazil.

The total number of SA 315Bs and its variants built is uncertain. In 2010, Eurocopter, the successor to Aérospatiale, announced that it will withdraw the Lama’s Type Certificate in 2020.

Aérospatiale SA-315B Lama F-BPXS, s/n 315-001, lifting an external load on its cargo hook, 1980.
The world-record-setting Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama, F-BPXS, serial number 315-001, lifting an external load on its cargo hook, 18 May 1980. (Kenneth Swartz)

After setting the world altitude record, 315-001 was returned to the standard configuration and assigned registration F-BPXS. It crashed at Flaine, a ski resort in the French Alps, 23 February 1985.

Jean Boulet with a SNCASE SE.3130 Alouette II.
Médaille de l'Aéronautique
Médaille de l’Aéronautique

Jean Ernest Boulet was born 16 November 1920, in Brunoy, southeast of Paris, France. He was the son of Charles-Aimé Boulet, an electrical engineer, and Marie-Renée Berruel Boulet.

He graduated from Ecole Polytechnique in 1940 and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de l’aéronautique In 1942. (One of his classmates was André Edouard Turcat, who would also become one of France’s greatest test pilots.)

Following his graduation, Boulet joined the Armée de l’Air (French Air Force)and was commissioned a sous-lieutenant. He took his first flight lesson in October. After the surrender of France in the Nazi invaders, Boulet’s military career slowed. He applied to l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure de l’Aéronautique in Toulouse for post-graduate aeronautical engineering. He completed a master’s degree in 1943.

During this time, Boulet joined two brothers with La Resistance savoyarde, fighting against the German invaders as well as French collaborators.

In 1943, Jean Boulet married Mlle. Josette Rouquet. They had two sons, Jean-Pierre and Olivier.

In February 1945, Sous-lieutenant Boulet was sent to the United States for training as a pilot. After basic and advanced flight training, Bouelt began training as a fighter pilot, completing the course in a Republic P-47D Thunderbolt. He was then sent back to France along with the other successful students.

On 1 February 1947 Jen Boulet joined Société nationale des constructions aéronautiques du Sud-Est (SNCASE) as an engineer and test pilot. He returned to the United States to transition to helicopters. Initially, Boulet and another SNCASE pilot were sent to Helicopter Air Transport at Camden Central Airport,  Camden, New Jersey, for transition training in the Sikorsky S-51. An over-enthusiastic instructor attempted to demonstrate the Sikorsky to Boulet, but lost control and crashed. Fortunately, neither pilot was injured. Boulet decided to go to Bell Aircraft at Niagara Falls, New York, where he trained on the Bell Model 47. He was awarded a helicopter pilot certificate by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, 23 February 1948.

Test pilot Jean Boulet (center), with Mme. Boulet and the world-record-setting SE.3130 Alouette II, 1955. (HELIMAT)
Officier de l’Legion de Honneur

As a test pilot Boulet made the first flight in every helicopter produced by SNCASE, which would become Sud-Aviation and later, Aérospatiale (then, Eurocopter, and now, Airbus Helicopters).

While flying a SE 530 Mistral fighter, 23 January 1953, Boulet entered an unrecoverable spin and became the first French pilot to escape from an aircraft by ejection seat during an actual emergency. He was awarded the Médaille de l’Aéronautique.

Jean Boulet was appointed Chevalier de la légion d’honneur in 1956, and in 1973, promoted to Officier de la Légion d’honneur.

Jean Boulet had more than 9,000 flight hours, with over 8,000 hours in helicopters. He set 24 Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world records for speed, distance and altitude. Four of these are current.

Jean Boulet wrote L’Histoire de l’Helicoptere: Racontée par ses Pionniers 1907–1956, published in 1982 by Éditions France-Empire, 13, Rue Le Sueuer, 75116 Paris.

Jean Ernest Boulet died at Aix-en-Provence, in southern France, 15 February 2011, at the age of 90 years.

Aérospatiale SA-315B Lama "On Top of the World" ( © Phillipe Fragnol)
Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama “On Top of the World” (© Phillipe Fragnol)

¹ FAI Record File Number 11657: Class: E (Rotorcraft): Sub-Class: E-Absolute (Absolute Record of class E)

² FAI Record File Number 753: Altitude Without Payload: Sub-Class: E-1b (Helicopters: take off weight 500 to 1000 kg). FAI Record File Number 754: Altitude Without Payload: Sub-Class: E-1 (Helicopters).

³ FAI Record File Number 788: Altitude Without Payload: Sub-Class E-1c.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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