Tag Archives: Chevalier de la légion d’honneur

23 April 1918

1st Lieutenant Paul Frank Baer, Air Service, United States Army. (Campbell Studios, New York)

23 April 1918: at 09:55 a.m., near Saint-Gobain, France, 1st Lieutenant Paul Frank Baer, 103rd Aero Squadron (Pursuit), shot down an enemy Albatross C two-place biplane. This was Baer’s fifth victory in aerial combat, making him the first American “ace.” ¹ [Official credit for this shoot-down is shared with Lt. C. H. Wilcox.]

Albatros C.VII C.2197/16 (Wikipedia)

Paul Frank Baer was born 29 January 1894 at Fort Wayne, Indiana, the fourth of four children of Alvin E. Baer, a railroad engineer, and Emma B. Parent Baer.

In 1916, Baer served under Brigadier John J. General Pershing during the Mexican Expedition to capture the outlaw and revolutionary Francisco (“Pancho”) Villa. He then went to France and enlisted the Aéronautique Militaire, in 20 February 1917. He was sent for flight training at the Avord Groupemant des Divisions d’Entrainment (G.D.E.). He graduated as a pilot, 15 June 1917, with the rank of corporal.

After flight training, Corporal Baer was assigned to Escadrille SPA 80, under the command of Capitaine Paul Ferrand, 14 August 1917 to 20 January 1918, flying the SPAD S.VII C.1 and SPAD S.XIII C.1. Baer was next transferred to Escadrille N. 124, the Escadrille Américaine, under Georges Thénault. This unit was equipped with the Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29 C1.

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

After the United States entered the War, Baer was transferred to the 103rd Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Forces, and commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant with a date of rank retroactive to 5 November 1917. At that time, the 103rd was under the command of Major William Thaw II, and was operating near La Cheppe, France, flying the SPAD S.VII C.1 chasseur.

SPAD S.XIII C.1 S7714 of the 103rd Aero Squadron, France, 1918. The pilot is Captain Robert Soubiran, the squadron’s commanding officer. (U.S. Air Force)

Lieutenant Baer is officially credited by the United States Air Force with 7.75 enemy airplanes shot down between 11 March and 22 May 1918, ² and he claimed an additional 7. (Credit for two airplanes was shared with four other pilots.) After shooting down his eighth enemy airplane on 22 May 1918, Baer and his SPAD S.XIII C.1 were also shot down. He was seriously injured and was captured by the enemy near Armentières and held as a Prisoner of War. At one point, Baer was able to escape for several days before being recaptured.

For his service in World War I, 1st Lieutenant Paul Frank Baer was awarded the United States’ Distinguished Service Cross with one oak leaf cluster (a second award). He was appointed Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by Raymond Poincaré, the President of France. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre with seven palms.

SPAD S.XIII C.1 at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

After World War I, Baer, as a “soldier of fortune,” organized a group of pilots to fight against “the Bolsheviks” in Poland. He returned to the United States, departing Boulogne-sur-mer aboard T.S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam, and arriving at New York City, 4 November 1919. He then flew as a test pilot, an air mail pilot in South America, and worked as an aeronautical inspector for the U.S. Department of Commerce, based at Brownsville Airport, Texas. In 1930, he was employed as a pilot for the China National Aviation Corporation.

Baer was flying from Nanking to Shanghai for with an amphibious Loening Air Yacht biplane, named Shanghai. The airplane crashed after striking the mast of a boat on the Huanpu River. He died at the Red Cross Hospital at Shanghai, China, at 9:00 a.m., 9 December 1930. A Chinese pilot, K. F. Pan, and an unidentified female passenger were also killed. General Hsiung Shih-hui and four other passengers on board were seriously injured.

Paul Baer’s remains were returned to the United States aboard S.S. President McKinley and were buried at the Lindenwood Cemetery in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

In 1925 a new airport was opened in Fort Wayne and named Paul Baer Municipal Airport. During World War II, the airport was taken over by the military and designated Baer Army Airfield. It is now Fort Wayne International Airport (FWA).

A CNAC Loening Air Yacht amphipian at Lungwha, China, circa 1930. (SFO Aviation Museum & Library R2014.1811.001)
Lufbery

¹ TDiA would like to thank CMSgt Bob Laymon USAF (Ret.) (AKA, “Scatback Scribe”) for pointing out that while Lt. Baer was the first American to become an ace flying in the American service, that,

“The first American Ace was actually Gervais Raoul V. Lufbery, an American immigrant that was serving with the French Air Service when he shot down his 5th German plane in 1916: http://www.veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=903

² U.S. AIR SERVICE VICTORY CREDITS, WORLD WAR I, USAF Historical Study No. 133, Historical Reserch Division, Air University, Maxwell Ir Force Base, Alabama, June 1969, at Page 7

© 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 C.1 at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918. (Rudy Arnold Photographic Collection, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, XRA-5380)

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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Group Captain Sir Douglas R. S. Bader, C.B.E., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar (February 21, 1910 – September 5, 1982)

Group Captain Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar. (Paul Laib)

21 February 1910: Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, Royal Air Force, C.B.E., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, FRAeS, DL, the legendary fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force during World War II, was born at St. John’s Wood, London, England. He was the son of Frederick Roberts Bader, a civil engineer, and Jessie Scott MacKenzie Bader.

Bader attended Temple Grove School, Eastbourne, East Sussex, and St. Edward’s School in Oxford. After graduating in 1928, he joined the Royal Air Force as a cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell in Lincolnshire. Bader was granted a permanent commission as a Pilot Officer, “with effect from and with seniority of 26th July 1930.”

Left to right, Pilot Officer Douglas R.S. Bader, Flight Lieutenant Harry Day and Flying Officer Geoffrey Stephenson, of No. 23 Squadron, during training for the 1931 Hendon Airshow, with a Gloster Gamecock. (RAF Museum)

Bader lost both legs in the crash of a Bristol Bulldog fighter while practicing aerobatics 14 December 1931 and was medically retired, 30 April 1933.

Following his medical retirement, Douglas Bader joined the Asiatic Petroleum Co., a subsidiary of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Petroleum Maatschappij (Royal Dutch Petroleum Company) and the Shell Transport and Trading Company.

Mrs. Douglas R. S. Bader, 1942

On 5 October 1933, Mr. Bader married Miss Olive Thelma Exley Edwards at the registry office of Hampstead Village, London. Miss Edwards was the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Ivo Arthur Exley Edwards, R.A.F. On their fourth anniversary, 5 October 1937, a formal wedding ceremony took place at St Mary Abbots Church in Kensington, London.

In 1939, feeling that war with Germany was imminent, Bader applied to the Air Ministry for reinstatement. He was turned down, but was told that if there was a war his request might be reconsidered.

The Air Ministry did reconsider Douglas Bader’s request for reinstatement and after a medical evaluation and other tests, and on 26 November 1939, he was sent to refresher flight training at the Central Flying School where he was evaluated as “Exceptional,” a very rare qualification.

A page from Douglas Bader’s pilot log book, showing his “exceptional”evaluation. (Royal Air Force Museum)

Flying Officer Bader was posted to No. 19 Squadron, RAF Duxford, 7 February 1940. The squadron was equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire. In April, he was reassigned as flight leader of A Flight, No. 222 Squadron, also flying Spitfires from Duxford. On 24 June 1940, Bader took command of No. 242 Squadron at RAF Coltishall, Norfolk, in East Anglia. No. 242 operated the Hawker Hurricane.

Squadron Leader Douglas Bader with his Hawker Hurricane Mk. I, LE D, V7467, of No. 242 Squadron, RAF Colitshall, Norfolk, East Anglia, September 1940. (Royal Air Force)

On 24 September 1940, Flying Officer Bader was granted the war substantive rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Distinguished Service Order

On 1 October 1940, George VI, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, appointed Acting Squadron Leader Douglas R. S. Bader a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order. The notice in The London Gazette reads,

“This officer has displayed gallantry and leadership of the highest order. During three recent engagements he has led his squadron with such skill and ability that thirty-three enemy aircraft have been destroyed. In the course of these engagements Squadron Leader Bader has added to his previous successes by destroying six enemy aircraft.”

Acting Squadron Leader Bader, D.S.O., was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross 7th January, 1941: “Squadron Leader Bader has continued to lead his squadron and wing with the utmost gallantry on all occasions. he has now destroyed a total of ten hostile aircraft and damaged several more.”

In March 1941, Acting Squadron Bader was promoted to Acting Wing Commander and assigned as Wing leader of 12 Group’s “Big Wing” at RAF Tangmere, just east of Chichester, in West Sussex. The Big Wings were large formations of three to five fighter squadrons acting together to intercept enemy bomber formations.

Acting Wing Commander Bader was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order, 15 July 1941: “This officer has led his wing on a series of consistently successful sorties over enemy territory during the past three months. His qualities of leadership and courage have been and inspiration to all. Wing Commander Bade has destroyed 15 hostile aircraft.”

Douglas Bader climbing into the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire.

On 9 August 1941, Bader was himself shot down while flying his Supermarine Spitfire Mk Va, serial W3185, marked “DB”, along the coast of France. His prosthetic legs caught in the cockpit and made it difficult for him to escape, but he finally broke free and parachuted to safety.

Transcript of message giving status of Bader and requesting a replacement prosthetic leg. (from Bader’s Last Flight: An In-Depth Investigation of a Great WWII Mystery, by Andy Saunders, Frontline Books, 2007, Appendix L at Page 214)

Bader was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He was initially held at a hospital in occupied France and it was there that he met and became a life long friend of Adolf Galland, also a legendary fighter pilot—but for the other side! After arrangements were made for replacement legs, Bader escaped.

Adolph Galland arranged for a replacement prosthetic leg for Bader to be airdropped at a Luftwaffe airfield at St. Omer, in occupied France.

On 9 September 1941, Acting Wing Commander Bader was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross. “This fearless pilot has recently added a further four enemy aircraft to his previous successes; in addition he has probably destroyed another four and damaged five hostile aircraft. By his fine leadership and high courage Wing Commander Bader has inspired the wing on every occasion.”

Prisoners of War held at Colditz Castle, a maximum security prison during World War II. Squadron Leader Douglas Bader is seated, center.

He was recaptured and taken to the notorious Offizierslager IV-C at Schloss Colditz near Leipzing, Germany, where he was held for three years. Units of the United States Army 273rd Infantry Regiment, 69th Infantry Division, and the Combat Command Reserve, 9th Armored Division, liberated the prison 15 April 1945 after a two-day battle.

Schloss Colditz, April 1945. (United States Army)

Douglas Bader was repatriated to England. On 28 August 1945, Squadron Leader D.R.S. Bader, DSO, DFC (Ret) was promoted to Wing Commander (temp), and in September Wing Commander Bader was assigned as commanding officer of the R.A.F. Fighter Leaders School. On 1 December 1945, Wing Commander (temporary) D.R.S. Bader DSO DFC (Ret.) is granted the rank of Wing Commander (War Substantive).

On 21 July 1946, Wing Commander Bader reverted to the retired list, retaining the rank of Group Captain.

During World War II, Group Captain Bader was officially credited with 22 enemy aircraft destroyed, shared credit for another 4; 6 probably destroyed, shared credit for another probable; and 11 damaged. (26–7–11). Group Captan Bader was appointed a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur by France in 1945, and awarded the Croix d’ Guerre.

Group Captain Bader’s medals at the RAF Museum: Distinguished Service Order and Bar; Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar; 1939-1945 Star with clasp BATTLE OF BRITAIN; Air Crew Europe Star with clasp ATLANTIC; Defence Medal; War Medal 1939-45 with Mention in Despatches; Legion d’Honneur, Chevalier, badge; and Croix de Guerre 1939-1940

Bader received civil aviator’s license 3 July 1946. He returned to work for Shell in a management position which involved considerable travel. He flew the company’s Percival Proctor around Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He remained with Shell until 1969, having risen to managing director of Shell Aircraft International.

Bader with a Percival Proctor which he flew while working for Shell.

In the years following World War II, he also worked unceasingly to better the lives of other disabled persons. He would tell them,

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.

In the New Year’s Honours, 2 January 1956, Douglas Bader was appointed an Ordinary Commander of the Most Excellent Order (C.B.E.), by Her Majesty The Queen, for services to the disabled.

He was the subject of Reach For The Sky, (Collins, London, 1954) a biography written by Paul Brickhill, who also wrote The Great Escape. (Brickhill had been a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III.) In 1956, a movie of the same name was released, starring Kenneth More as Bader. Bader was the author of Fight For The Sky: The Story of the Spitfire and Hurricane (Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1973).

Bader and companion in his 1938 MG TA Midget roadster, circa 1945. He was the original owner, but sold it in 1948. This car was recently offered for sale by Bonham’s.(Getty Images)

Thelma Bader died in 1971 at the age of 64 years. The couple had been married for 38 years.

Bader later married Mrs. Joan Eileen Hipkiss Murray. She had three children from a previous marriage, Wendy, Michael and Jane Murray.

4 June 1976: The London Gazette announced that The Queen would confer the Honour of Knighthood on Group Captain Robert Steuart Bader, C.B.E., D.S.O., D.F.C., “For services to disabled people.”

Sir Douglas Bader, Knight Bachelor, and Lady Bader, 1976. (Daily Mail)

Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, FRAeS, DL, passed away 5 September 1982, at the age of 72 years.

Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)
Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 December 1910

Hélène Dutrieu (Library of Congress)
Pierre Lafitte
Pierre Lafitte

22 December 1910: Hélène Dutrieu won the first Coupe Fémina by flying her Farman airplane 60.8 kilometers (37.8 miles) in 1 hour, 9 minutes at Étampes, about 48 kilometers (29 miles) southwest of Paris, France.

The Fémina Cup was established by Pierre Antoinne Baptiste René Lafitte, publisher of Fémina, a ladies’ magazine. A prize of ₣2,000 was awarded to the woman who had completed the longest flight of the year.

Mlle Dutrieu won the prize again the following year with a distance of 243.8 kilometers (151.5 miles) and duration of 2 hours, 58 minutes.

Hélène Dutrieu was just the fourth woman to become a licensed airplane pilot. She began training with a Santos-Dumont Damoiselle, in which she crashed on her first flight. After trying with another aircraft builder, she went to the Farman brothers, who loaned her one of their airplanes and taught her to fly it. She held Aéro-Club de Belgique certificate number 27, issued at the end of August 1910, and a few months later, 25 November, she also received certificate number 27 from the Aéro-Club de France.

 Mlle Hélène Dutrieu with a Santos-Dumont Damoiselle, just before her first flight, 1908. (Unattributed)
Mlle Hélène Dutrieu with a Santos-Dumont Damoiselle, just before her first flight, 1908. (Unattributed)

Hélène Dutrieu was born 10 July 1877 at Tournai, Belgium, to Florent Dutrieu and Clothilde van Thieghem. She became a professional bicycle racer and at the age of 20, Mlle Dutrieu won the women’s cycling world championship and won again in 1898. She also won the Grand Prix d’Europe.

In addition to bicycle racing, Hélène Dutrieu raced motorcycles, cars and airplanes. For her athletic accomplishments, the King of Belgium awarded her the Cross of St. André with Diamonds, and in 1913, France made her a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, the first woman so honored for aviation.

During World War I, Mlle Dutrieu served as an ambulance driver, and was assigned to supervise all ambulances at one hospital. Later she was director of the Campagne à Val-Grâce military hospital.

Mlle Ditrieu married a member of the French Assembly in 1922 and became a citizen of France. Mme Dutrieu-Mortier served as a vice president of the Aéro-Club de France.

Hélène Dutrieu-Mortier died at Paris, 27 June 1961 at the age of 83 years.

Hélène Dutrieu in her Farman airplane, 1911 (Unattributed)
Hélène Dutrieu in her Farman airplane, 1911 (Unattributed)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 November 1934

Hélène Boucher, Chevalier de la légion d’honneur. (Chevalier de la légion d’honneur. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)
Hélène Antoinette Eugénie Boucher, Chevalier de la légion d’honneur. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

30 November 1934: While flying her new Caudron C.430 Rafale near Guayancourt, France, Hélène Boucher crashed into a forested area at Voison-le-Bretonneaux. Apparently, the airplane stalled while on landing approach, rolled, and then hit the trees. The airplane was destroyed and Mlle Boucher was critically injured. She died while en route to a hospital at Versailles. She was just 26 years old.

Wreckage of Mlle. Boucher’s Caudron C.430 Rafale, F-AMVB, 30 November 1934. (Lela Presse via avions-bateaux)

Hélène Boucher’s funeral was held at Chapelle des Invalides, the first time that a woman had been so honored. Posthumously, the government of France awarded her the Croix de Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. She is buried at the cemetery in Yermenonville.

Hélène Antoinette Eugénie Boucher

Hélène Antoinette Eugénie Boucher was born at Paris, France, 23 May 1908. She was the daughter of Charles Léon Boucher, an architect, and Élisabeth Hélène Dureau Boucher. Following World War I, Hélène attended high school at the Lycée Montaigne and then the Collège Sévigné, both in Paris.

Mlle Boucher learned to fly at the Aero Club of Landes, Mont-de-Marsan, making her first flight on 4 July 1930. She quickly earned a tourist pilot license. The Aero-Club de France awarded her its pilot certificate number 182. In 1932, Hélène Boucher qualified for a public transport license.

Mlle Bouchere was awarded Certificate Number 182 by the Aero-Club de France
Mlle Bouchere was awarded Certificate Number 182 by the Aero-Club de France. (Escadrille Féminine Méditerranéenne)

Mlle Boucher participated in a number of international and long distance air races, such as the Raid Paris-Saigon in 1933. She specialized in aerobatics and her performances made her a popular figure at air shows.

On 2 August 1933, flying a two-place 40-horsepower Mauboussin-Peyret Zodiac M.120, Mlle Boucher set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude at 5,900 meters (19,357 feet).¹

The following year, on 8 August 1934, flying a Caudron C.430, C.450 and a C.530, she set nine FAI world records for speed over the 100 and 1,000 kilometer closed circuits. Mlle Boucher averaged 412,37 kilometers per hour (256.24 miles per hour) over the 100 kilometer closed circuit.² For the 1,000 kilometers she averaged 409,18 kilometers per hour (254.25 miles per hour).³

With crew member Marie-Louise Becker, Boucher flew the C.530, powered by a 140 cheval-vapeur Renault Bengali, to set three records over the 1,000 kilometer circuit at an average speed of 250.09 kilometers per hour (155.40 miles per hour).⁴ She set a fourth 1,000 kilometer record of 250.06 km/h (155.38 mph).⁵

On 11 August 1934, Mlle Boucher set a World Record for Speed over a 3 Kilometer Course of 445.03 kilometers per hour (276.53 miles per hour), flying a Caudron Type Coupe Deutsch, powered by a 6-cylinder Renault Bengali engine.⁶

Hélène Boucher’s Caudron C.430 Rafale, F-AMVB.
Hélène Boucher’s Caudron C.430 Rafale, F-AMVB.

F-AMVB was the second of two specially-built Société Anonyme des Avions Caudron C.430 Rafale racing airplanes, c/n 02/6886. (Rafale means gust: “a brief, strong, rush of wind.”) It was registered 18 October 1934 (Certificate of Registry 3947).

The C.430 was a single-engine, two-place, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. The airplane was constructed of wood, with the fuselage, wings and tail surfaces covered with plywood. Fuel was carried in two tanks in the fuselage, one forward of the cockpit and another placed between the pilot and passenger positions. The wings had no dihedral and were equipped with split flaps.

The Caudron C.430 was 7.100 meters (23 feet, 3.53 inches) long with a wingspan of 7.700 meters (25 feet, 3.15 inches)and height of 1.88 meters (6 feet, 2.02 inches). The total wing area was 9 m² (96.9 square feet). Its empty weight was 480 kilograms (1,058 pounds) and gross weight, 820 kilograms (1,808 pounds). The C.430 had a maximum fuel capacity of 160 liters (42 gallons), and 16 liters (4 gallons of lubricating oil.

The airplane was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 6.333 liter (386.463 cubic inch) Renault Bengali 4Pei inverted four-cylinder overhead-valve (OHV) engine with a compression ratio of 5.75:1, rated at 130 cheval-vapeur (128.3 horsepower) at 2,300 r.p.m., and 150 cheval-vapeur 148.0 horsepower) for takeoff. This was a direct-drive engine, turning a two-bladed, metal Hélices Ratier variable-pitch propeller. The 4Pdi was 1.28 meters (4 feet, 2.4 inches) long, 0.93 meters (3 feet, 0.6 inches) high and 0.52 meters (1 foot, 8.5 inches) wide. It weighed 135 kilograms (298 pounds).

Renault Bengali 4Pei

This gave the C.430 a cruise speed of 260 kilometers per hour ± 5% (153–170 miles per hour) and maximum speed of 305 kilometers per hour ± 5% (180–199 miles per hour) at ground level. The service ceiling was 5,750 meters ± 250 meters (17,922–19,808 feet) and range was 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).

The remaining Caudron C.430 Rafael, c/n 01, F-PJHB, is in at Musée Régional de l’Air, Angers Loire Aéroport, Marcé, Pays de la Loire, France, painted as Mlle Boucher’s blue and red racer with her registration markings, F-AMVB.

Tombe de l’aviatrice Hélène Boucher. (Bibliothèque de France)
Tombe de l’aviatrice Hélène Boucher. (Bibliothèque de France)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12005

²  FAI Record File Numbers 4496, 12111

³ FAI Record File Numbers 4483, 12110, 12112

⁴ FAI Record File Numbers 4494, 12032, 12033

⁵ FAI Record File Number 14860

⁶ FAI Record File Number 12034

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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