Aeropostale: The hero pilots who related the world by airmail
(CNN) — What do two main nationwide airways, an American style retail model, a big publicly listed industrial company, a Hollywood film and a number of other prize-winning literary works all have in frequent?
They’re all linked to the extraordinary legacy of an airline that ceased to exist 90 years in the past this yr.
Regardless of its comparatively short-lived existence, from 1918 to 1931, the “Compagnie générale aéropostale,” normally recognized merely as Aéropostale, left an indelible mark, each on this planet of civilian aviation and within the public creativeness.
Proper on the finish of World Warfare I, French aviation pioneer Pierre-Georges Latécoère made a actuality of his imaginative and prescient to determine an everyday air hyperlink carrying mail between Europe and Latin America.
The agency that got here to be referred to as Aéropostale was based on the finish of 1918 below the official title of “Société des lignes Latécoère.”
Within the decade that adopted, this enterprise wouldn’t solely contribute enormously to the consolidation of air transportation as an important service in numerous elements of the world, but in addition turned synonymous with journey and fearlessness. The story of Aerópostale is maybe the final massive epic story of the period of exploration.
Aéropostale’s lengthy route began in Toulouse, within the south of France. From there it crossed the Pyrenees to Barcelona, adopted Spain’s Mediterranean coast to Alicante after which over to North Africa, which on the time was below Spanish and French rule.
The road continued south alongside Morocco’s Atlantic coast, with a number of waypoints alongside the best way: Casablanca, Agadir, Cape Juby/Tarfaya and the present-day cities of Dakhla, Nouadhibou and Saint-Louis, till it reached its African terminus at Dakar, in Senegal.
Given the constraints of plane on the time, mail was then loaded on board ships that bridged the South Atlantic at its narrowest level, between West Africa and northeastern Brazil.
From there, the Latin American department of Aéropostale took over. Its planes flew the mail all the best way to Buenos Aires and past. The Argentinian capital acted as a hub from which a number of regional routes sprung, taking air mail throughout the Andes to Santiago de Chile, north to Paraguay and south in the direction of Patagonia.
A magnet for adventurers
This enterprise was not for the faint hearted. Along with the hazards of Nineteen Twenties flying, which was a slightly harmful and uncomfortable job, Aéropostale’s pilots needed to traverse huge areas below excessive local weather circumstances and devoid of any help infrastructure.
However this will even have been a part of the attract.
The Andes’ 20,000-foot-high peaks offered a formidable impediment to the delicate plane of the time. In one of many e book’s passages Saint-Exupéry tells the story of his shut Aéropostale companion Henri Guillaumet, who, after crashing his aircraft on an Andean glacier spent a number of days on an epic trek by way of snow and ice. He managed to achieve a distant Argentinian settlement when he was getting ready to succumbing to chilly and fatigue.
This form of epic can be adopted by “Terre des Hommes” (translated to English as “Wind, Sand and Stars”), about Saint-Exupéry’s personal expertise flying within the Sahara desert. Pilots needed to depend on primitive navigation and there was usually the chance of operating out of gasoline or experiencing technical difficulties. Pilots making emergency landings within the desert risked being captured by native nomadic tribes who would then try to ransom them.
This e book additionally contains Saint-Exupéry’s personal near-death expertise, already in his post-Aéropostale interval, after crash-landing within the Egyptian desert. Saint-Exupéry and his co-pilot endured a grueling desert journey during which they had been near dying of thirst earlier than being rescued by a Bedouin tribesmen.
French author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery pictured circa 1935. His most well-known e book is “Le Petit Prince.”
Hulton Archive/Getty Photos
This pioneering spirit was not unique to the pilots.
The story of Raymond Galtié is a working example. Born in 1901 within the south of France, he joined the French navy’s submarine arm as a young person. After serving all through the World Warfare I years, Galtié left the navy in 1922 to affix Aéropostale, the place he labored as a mechanic.
“Mechanics at the moment had been usually flying along with well-known pilots, reminiscent of Mermoz or Saint-Exupéry. They developed shut friendships as a result of they spent many hours collectively in these little, fragile plane,” says Sònia Galtié, Raymond Galtié’s granddaughter, who not too long ago got here throughout a trove of outdated household pictures.
This led her to additional analysis the lifetime of her grandfather and of Aéropostale. She got here throughout a number of web sites and boards which have a good time the reminiscence of the airline and this close-knit neighborhood of individuals dedicated to the development of aviation.
Raymond Galtié’s engagement with Aéropostale had a contented ending. He traveled the world, working at a number of of the agency’s outposts in Latin America and Europe and later went on to have a profitable profession with Air France.
However this was not the destiny of the agency’s most well-known pilots.
Mermoz, Saint-Exupéry and Guillaumet would all finish their days tragically on the helm of their plane within the years following Aéropostale’s demise.
The latter two disappeared whereas on obligation within the Mediterranean throughout World Warfare II, in 1944 and 1940 respectively, presumably attributable to enemy motion (an plane wreck discovered close to Marseilles in 2003 has since been positively recognized as Saint-Exupéry’s plane).
Mermoz in the meantime was misplaced in December 1936, when he was crossing the South Atlantic, in an incident which some have attributed to sabotage, though engine reliability points could have been a extra probably trigger.
In Might 1930, French aviator Jean Mermoz (heart) who was the primary pilot to fly from Rio de Janeiro to Santiago throughout the Andes.
STF/AFP by way of Getty Photos
An extended-lasting legacy
Though he remained inextricably linked to the aviation business all his life and went on to construct certainly one of France’s largest aerospace companies, the Groupe Latécoère, which nonetheless exists as we speak, in 1927 Pierre-Georges Latécoère offered the air mail enterprise to Marcel Bouilloux-Lafont, a French financier and politician who gave it a brand new title: “Compagnie Générale Aéropostale”.
By 1930 Aéropostale had grown into an enormous logistics operation, transporting 32 million letters per yr over 17,000 kilometers of air and sea routes (Aéropostale additionally operated a fleet of eight ships) that straddled three continents.
In that exact same yr, Jean Mermoz, one of many agency’s legendary pilots, would shut the Atlantic hole on the helm of a Latécoère 28 seaplane loaded with 122 kilos of mail. It took 19 hours and 35 minutes for Mermoz to fly between Senegal and Brazil. Though common ocean crossings would proceed to be achieved by ship, Mermoz had proven that it was potential for a letter from France to achieve Santiago de Chile in as little as 4 days.
However quickly after reaching its zenith, Aéropostale out of the blue folded.
The 1929 monetary disaster severely impacted the agency and political instability in Brazil and Argentina added to the woes. In 1931 the French authorities denied an attraction for monetary assist and Aéropostale was liquidated quickly after. Its belongings had been absorbed by the group of firms that may ultimately grow to be Air France.
The Aéropostale model was nonetheless retained by Air France, which used it for a few of its mail and cargo actions, operated collectively with the French postal service (La Poste), till 2000.
La Poste then obtained full possession of the enterprise, which was rebranded as Europe Airpost, earlier than promoting it once more, this time to an Irish firm known as ASL Aviation Group, which operates passenger and cargo flights to today below the ASL Airways model.
Aéropostale’s heritage lives on within the Southern Hemisphere too.
The agency’s Argentinian community, referred to as Aeroposta Argentina, stored working effectively after the demise of its European guardian, because it offered the one civilian common air service within the nation. It could ultimately be nationalized and merged with different airways to type Aerolineas Argentinas in 1946.
What’s extra — maybe due to the dazzling personalities of the individuals concerned in its operation and the extraordinary literary work they left behind — the recognition of Aéropostale has transcended the confines of the aviation world to encourage the naming of a US style retail chain (that has no relation to the unique Aéropostale, nonetheless).
But, nothing beats the actual factor.