Tag Archives: Officier de la Légion d’honneur

24 December 1944

Brigadier General Frederick Walker Castle, United States Army Air Forces. (Photographed circa 1943, as a lieutenant colonel.) (U.S. Air Force)

          The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to

BRIGADIER GENERAL (AIR CORPS) FREDERICK WALKER CASTLE

UNITED STATES ARMY AIR FORCES,

for service as set forth in the following

CITATION:

         “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 487th Bombardment Group (H), 4th Bombardment Wing, Eighth Air Force.

Brigadier General Castle was air commander and leader of more than 2,000 heavy bombers in a strike against German airfields on 24 December 1944. En route to the target, the failure of one engine forced him to relinquish his place at the head of the formation. In order not to endanger friendly troops on the ground below, he refused to jettison his bombs to gain speed maneuverability. His lagging, unescorted aircraft became the target of numerous enemy fighters which ripped the left wing with cannon shells, set the oxygen system afire, and wounded two members of the crew. Repeated attacks started fires in two engines, leaving the Flying Fortress in imminent danger of exploding. Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, the bail-out order was given. Without regard for his personal safety he gallantly remained alone at the controls to afford all other crewmembers an opportunity to escape. Still another attack exploded gasoline tanks in the right wing, and the bomber plunged earthward, carrying General Castle to his death. His intrepidity and willing sacrifice of his life to save members of the crew were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.”

/s/ HARRY S. TRUMAN

War Department, General Orders No. 22 (February 28, 1946)

Colonel Frederick Walker Castle, U.S. Army Air Corps (center) and Lieutenant Colonel Elliot Vandevanter, Jr. (left), speaking to Brigadier General Curtiss E. LeMay, 10 November 1943. (IWM, Roger Freeman Collection)

Brigadier General Frederick Walker Castle, commanding officer of the 4th Combat Bombardment Wing, Heavy, was flying the lead bomber of the 487th Bombardment Group, on Air Force Mission No. 760, which was an attack against German air fields. This was a “maximum effort” involving three air divisions—a total of 2,046 B-17 and B-24 bombers, escorted by 853 fighters. The 487th was leading the 3rd Air Division. The Group’s target, with a total of 96 bombers, was the airfield at Babenhausen, Germany.

As the Wing’s commander, General Castle flew as co-pilot aboard the lead ship, B-17G 44-8444 of the 487th, with pilot 1st Lieutenant Robert W. Harriman and his lead crew of 6 officers and 3 sergeant/gunners. As the leading Pathfinder, Treble Four carried three navigators.

The combat crew of “Treble Four.” Front row, left to right: Lt. Wilkinson, (not aboard for Mission 760); S/SGT Lowell B. Hudson, Waist Gunner; T/SGT Quentin W. Jeffers, Flight Engineer, Top Turret Gunner; T/SGT Lawrence H. Swain, Radio Operator, Top Gunner; Standing, left to right: 1st Lt. Robert W. Harriman, Pilot, Aircraft Commander; 1st Lt. Claude L. Rowe, Co-Pilot (Tail Gunner, Formation Observer for Mission 760); 1st Lt. Bruno S. Procopio, Radar Navigator; 1st Lt. Henry P. MacArty, Pilotage Navigator; 1st Lt. Paul L. Biri, Bombardier. Not included, Captain Edmund F. Auer, Navigator. Lt. Harriman, Lt. Rowe, T/SGT Swain, were killed in action 24 December 1944. (487thbg.org)

The group began taking off from RAF Lavenham at 0900 and assembled at 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) in what was described as “perfect weather.” En route to their target, the B-17s continued climbing to 22,000 feet (6,706 meters) and leveled off at 1223.

B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers of the 487th Bombardment Group, Heavy, circa 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain, Roger Freeman Collection FRE 6772)

At about this time, Treble Four‘s number four engine, outboard on the right wing, began losing oil and could not produce its normal power. As the bomber slowed, it dropped out of the formation, with General Castle relinquishing the lead to a second Pathfinder B-17. The airplane, now on its own, was quickly attacked by Luftwaffe fighters, putting two engines out of operation and setting the bomber on fire. Two crewmen were wounded in the first attack.

The Battle of the Bulge, a major land engagement, was under way, and Castle’s bomber was overhead American 1st Army formations. The General did not want it to come down among the friendly lines with its full load of bombs.

Lieutenant Harriman and General Castle continued to fly the disabled airplane as the crew was ordered to abandon ship. Six men bailed out. One man was machine-gunned in his parachute by an enemy fighter and was killed. Another lost his parachute and also died. A third died of his wounds at a hospital.

At about 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) the B-17’s right wing came off and Treble Four entered a violent spin. The fuselage broke into several sections. The largest remaining part of the airplane, the forward fuselage, including the bomb bay, left wing and inboard right wing, crashed approximately 300 yards (275 meters) from Chateaux d’Englebermont in Belgium. The wreck was on fire and bombs exploded.

Lieutenant Harriman and General Castle, still in the cockpit, were killed.

Lockheed Vega B-17G-65-VE 44-8444 Treble Four crash site
The wreckage of General Castle’s Lockheed Vega-built B-17G-65-VE Flying Fortress 44-8444, Treble Four. (U.S. Air Force)

Treble Four was a B-17G-65-VE Flying Fortress, built by the Vega Aircraft Corporation (a subsidiary of Lockheed) at Burbank, California. It was delivered to Dallas, Texas, 14 September 1944. After crossing the continent, the new bomber departed Bangor, Maine, 16 October 1944, and headed across the North Atlantic Ocean for England. On 20 November, 44-8444 was assigned to the 836th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 487th Bombardment Group (Heavy), at Air Force Station 137 (RAF Lavenham), near Sudbury, Suffolk, England.

The airplane was a “Pathfinder,” equipped with H2X ground-mapping radar which allowed a radar navigator to locate a target through cloud cover. The rotating antenna replaced the bomber’s ventral ball turret.

The two B-17s in this photograph, both Lockheed-Vega B-17G-20-VE Flying Fortresses, 42-97627 and 42-97555, are equipped with H2X ground-mapping radar. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Frederick Walker Castle (fourth from left) joins Major John J. McNaboe  during the debriefing of 1st Lt. James A. Verinis and his combat crew of the 324th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy). Verinis had previously served as co-pilot of the B-17F Memphis Belle. (U.S. Air Force)

Frederick Walker Castle was born at Fort William McKinley, Manila, Luzon, Philippine Islands, 14 October 1908. He was the first of three children of 2nd Lieutenant Benjamin Frederick Castle, United States Army, and Winifred Alice Walker Castle.

Castle attended Boonton High School, in Boonton, New Jersey, and the Storm King School at Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York.

Castle enlisted in the New Jersey National Guard in 1924. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, as a cadet in 1926. Upon graduating, on  12 June 1930, he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, United States Army.

Transferred to Air Corps, 1931, trained as a pilot at March Field, near Riverside, California.

12 September 1936, 1st Lt., Air Corps, 27th Division Aviation

Recalled to active duty at the rank of captain, January 1942. He was assigned to the staff of Major General Ira Eaker, engaged in forming Eighth Air Force in England. He was promoted to colonel, January 1943. He served as chief of staff for supply.

From 19 June 1943, Colonel Castle commanded the 94th Bombardment Group, Heavy, at RAF Bury St. Edmunds (USAAF Station 468), and in April 1944, took command of the 4th Combat Bomb Wing, Heavy. Castle was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, 20 November 1944.

Brigadier General Frederick W. Castle receives his insignia of rank from his staff, 14 December 1944. (IWM, Roger Freeman Collection)

General Castle’s remains was buried at the Henri Chapelle American Cemetery near Welkenraedt, Belgium.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Brigadier General Castle was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters (four awards), and the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics awarded him its Орден Кутузова (Orden Kutuzova, the Order of Kutuzov); Belgium, the Croix de Guerre avec palme; France appointed him an Officier de la Légion d’honneur and awarded its Croix de Guerre avec palme.

Merced Army Airfield was renamed Castle Field, 17 January 1946, in honor of General Castle.

NOTE: A detailed analysis of “The Crash of B-17 44-8444 Treble Four” by Paul M. Webber can be found at: http://www.geocities.ws/pmwebber/castle_treble4.htm

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 September 1913

Roland Garros' Morane-Saulnier G monoplane.
Roland Garros’ Morane-Saulnier G monoplane.

23 September 1913: Pioneering aviator Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros (6 October 1888–5 October 1918) was the first pilot to fly across the Mediterranean Sea.

At 5:47 a.m., he departed Fréjus, Côte d’Azur, France, in a Morane-Saulnier G and flew to Bizerte, Tunisia, 470 miles (756 kilometers) to the south-southeast. He arrived at 1:40 p.m., having been airborne 7 hours, 53 minutes.

PR 90364 ©musée de l’Air et de l’espace – Le Bourget
PR 90364 © musée de l’Air et de l’espace – Le Bourget

Reportedly, the airplane carried sufficient fuel for just 8 hours of flight. According to a contemporary report, only 5 liters (1.32 U.S. gallons) of fuel remained when he landed.

Roland Garros’ flight. (Lycée Roland Garros)

Garros flew on to Kassar Said Aerodrome the following day. His airplane was then dismantled and shipped back to France.

On 15 October 1913, Roland Garros was appointed Chevalier de la légion d’honneur.

Roland G. Garros standing in the cockpit of his Morane-Saulnier G at Bizerte, Tunisia, 23 September 1913. (Sheila Terry/Science Source)

The Aéroplanes Morane-Saulnier Type G was a two-place, single-engine monoplane, which had first flown in 1912. The airplane used wing-warping for roll control. It’s landing gear consisted of two wheels and a tail skid. The wooden framework was primarily ash and was covered in fabric. The airplane was 21 feet, 6 inches (6.553 meters) long with a wingspan of 30 feet, 6 inches (9.296 meters). The wing had a chord of 6 feet, 0 inches (1.829 meters), no dihedral, and the wingtips were swept. The airplane had an empty weight of 680 pounds ( 308 kilograms) and a maximum weight of 1,166 pounds (529 kilograms).

The pilot’s instrument panel had a revolution indicator (tachometer), a barograph, and a compass.

—FLIGHT, No. 230 (No. 21, Vol. V., 24 May 1913 at Page 562
—FLIGHT, No. 230, No. 21, Vol. V., 24 May 1913 at Page 562

The Morane-Saulnier G was powered by an air-cooled 11.835 liter (722.22 cubic inches) Société des Moteurs Gnome Lamda seven-cylinder rotary engine with a single Bosch magneto, with a nominal rating of 80 horsepower (one source indicates that the engine actually produced 67.5 horsepower at 1,250 r.p.m.), and driving a laminated walnut Chauvière Hélice Intégrale fixed-pitch propeller which had a diameter of 7 feet, 10 inches (2.570meters).

The airplane had a 14 gallon ¹ (63.65 liters) main fuel tank near the engine, and a second 8 gallon (36.37 liters) tank in the cockpit. Fuel had to be transferred forward by using a hand-operated pump. A 5 gallon (22.73 liters) tank for lubricating oil was adjacent to the main fuel tank.

Garros’ airplane maintained an average speed of 59.5 miles per hour (96 kilometers per hour) for this flight. The Morane-Saulnier G had a maximum speed of 76 miles per hour (122 kilometers per hour).

The Morane-Saulnier G was produced under license by Grahame-White Aviation Company, Hendon Aerodrome, London, England, and by Dux at Moscow, Russia. More than 150 Type Gs were built.

Roland Garros was born 6 October 1988 at Saint-Denis, Réunion (an island in the Indian Ocean). He was the son of Antoine Georges Garros and Maria Clara Emma Faure Garros. Garros was a racer and test pilot who had set many aviation records, including a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Altitude Record of 5,610 meters (18,406 feet), set 11 September 1912 at Saint-Brieuc, France. ²

Roland Garros
Sergent Roland Garros, l’escadrille 23, Aéronautique Militaire (Collection Ronan Furic)

Garros flew in World War I as a fighter pilot for France and shot down a total four enemy airplanes. Garros’ airplane went down behind enemy lines and he was captured, 18 April 1915. He escaped nearly three years later and returned to France. For his military service, he was promoted to Officier de la Légion d’honneur, 6 March 1917. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Lieutenant d’infantrie Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros, Officier de la Légion d’honneur, Aéronautique Militaire, flying a SPAD S.XIII C.1, Nº. 15403, was shot down by the German ace, Leutnant Hermann Habich, near Vouziers, France, 5 October 1918. He was killed one day before his 30th birthday.

Stade Roland Garros in Paris, the tennis stadium where the French Open is held, was named in honor the pioneering aviator.

Garros in Tunisia, 1913. (The New York Times/Agence France-Presse—Getty Images)

¹ Fuel and oil capacities from a British publication, so quantities are presumably Imperial gallons.

² FAI Record File Number 15888

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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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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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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