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Above the South Atlantic : French Airliners on the France-South America Line

Updated on December 16, 2017
A guilty admission : this poster is from outside the era I was covering. But it is so beautiful it is impossible to not add in.
A guilty admission : this poster is from outside the era I was covering. But it is so beautiful it is impossible to not add in.

For much of history, travel to distant lands and places has carried a certain allure. Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Magellan's voyage, Vasco de Gama, Samuel de Champlain: all count as great explorers who traversed great distances to new lands. When aviation first spread its wings, it was the heir to this tradition, and the race to establish air routes to every corner of the earth was a romantic and dashing affair. The attempt to establish air linkages across the Atlantic, or the air lines to the Far East, both ranked among this. But it was not merely to the West and the East that these new airliners soared, but also to the South, where various French companies - Lignes Latécore, Aéropostale, and Air France - worked to create an air line connecting France and South America. This voyage was one which was done mostly for the purposes of mail communication networks, to cut down the time required to transport mail between the two continents. Across the shining blue waters of the Mediterranean, the desert of West Africa, from the jutting peninsula of Dakar, across the dark blue of the Atlantic, to the jungles of Brazil, and finally to be welcomed by the wide arms of Christ the Redeemer at Rio de Janeiro, the promenades of Buenos Aires, and the mountains of Santiago, thus soared French aircraft in a voyage of more than 12,000 kilometers.

The aircraft utilized on this line were very diverse, and are listed below. For those with a knowledge of French who are interested in additional detail, there is a link to a French site about the aircraft included below. It includes much more detail about the capabilities of the aircraft. I myself only partially used it as a source.

The Breguet 14
The Breguet 14

One of the most successful bomber aircraft of the Great War, the Breguet 14 saw extensive service being used as a reconnaissance aircraft in surveying the later aircraft lines of the route.

Farman 70
Farman 70

The Farman 70 was a French one-engined airliner which could transport 6 passengers or freight. 20 were built, of which 4 were used on the Casablanca-Dakar section of the line. Others were used for service from Paris to Amsterdam and Brussels, and between Algiers and Biskra.

Latécoère 3
Latécoère 3

An attempt to improve on the Salmson 2, the Latécoère 3 increased the useful load of the aircraft, but ran afoul of the huge numbers of small light craft available after the Armistice. As a result, only one was used on the France-Spain Morocco line.

Latécoère 8
Latécoère 8

Supposed to be utilized on the Toulouse-Casablanca route, only one of this single-motor, 6-passenger aircraft (which had an enclosed passenger cabin, but an open pilot seating above). Due to being under-powered, and having a radius of short range of only 300 kilometers, it was not used long on the route, transporting mail and passengers until it crashed and was not repaired.

Latécoère 17
Latécoère 17

The first successful commercial design built by Latécoère, the Latécoère 17 was used in South America (eight being there), several were used in Morocco, and others were used on temporary routes in France. At least 15 of the 23 aircraft built were utilized on the line.

Latécoère 25
Latécoère 25

Some 61 Latécoère 25s were built, and 16 were bought by Argentina and 4 by Brazil, providing invaluable connections in the Latin America land connection section of the route. They replaced the Latécoère 17.

Latécoère 26
Latécoère 26

The Latécoère 26 was based on the Latécoère 25, with a longer fuselage. Most were used on the West and North African mail routes of Aéropostale, but two operated in Argentina as well. Over 90 were constructed in total.

Potez 25
Potez 25 | Source

The Potez 25 was one of the most produced aircraft of the interwar, with more than 3,600 being built. At least three were utilized by Aéropostale, in South America.

Salmson 2
Salmson 2

It was a Salmson 2A2 which was first used as an exploratory aircraft for mapping out the line along the African coast to Dakar. It utilized the route Toulouse-Casblanca-Dakar, with stops at Agadir, Cap Judy, Villa Cisneros, Port-Étienne, and Saint-Louis. Thus this French WW1 reconnaissance aircraft continued to see service mapping out the future French aviation lines in the years following the Great War.

Latécoère 14
Latécoère 14
A second version of the aircraft, built later. One was utilized on the line.
A second version of the aircraft, built later. One was utilized on the line.

Only one Latécoère 14 was built. It was slower than the Breguet 14, and so although it carried twice the cargo load, no more were built. The Latécoère 16 was built on the same body, with a more powerful engine (400 vs 300 hp), but still only had one built and used.

Latécoère 15
Latécoère 15

A twin-engine six-passenger airliner, the Latécoère 15 served between Oran and Casablanca. Due to being severely underpowered, it was not utilized on the Casablanca-Dakar section, as the loss of one engine would mean that it would be unable to retain altitude. 10 were utilized for the line.

A version with pontoons, designated the Latécoère 15H, was trialed between Alicante and Oran, but was not very successful.

Potez 62, used on the South American section of the route, across the Andes. It was also used in East Asia.
Potez 62, used on the South American section of the route, across the Andes. It was also used in East Asia.

With a capacity of 14-16 passengers, the robust and reliable Potez 62 served in quite a number of different locations. Air France ordered 12 for internal French networks, it formed connections to various European destinations (mostly from Paris to European capitols),3 traveled East to Saigon, and 3 more served on lines between Buenos Aires and Santiago. In total, up to 23 were used by Air France.

Breguet 393T
Breguet 393T

A French three-engine biplane, the Breguet 393T was already obsolete at the time of its introduction. When introduced, the Laté 25 and 28 were replaced by it. It could hold 10 passengers, and served both Toulouse-Casablanca and in South America (with two long-range aircraft serving here).

Dewoitine 333, a French trimotor aircraft.
Dewoitine 333, a French trimotor aircraft. | Source

The Dewoitine 333, used for overland parts of the France-South America line. There were 4, and each could carry up to 10 passengers, although mail was always the main focus of the line. From 1939 onward they were replaced by Dewoitine 338.

The Dewoitine 338, the improved successor to the 333.
The Dewoitine 338, the improved successor to the 333. | Source
Source

One of the more successful French airliners, the Dewoitine 338 replaced the Dewoitine 333. It carried 12 passengers as far as Dakar, as well as from Natal to Buenos Aires.

Couzinet 70
Couzinet 70

An aircraft for usage on the Dakar-Natal line for France-South America mail service. The first flight across the Atlantic took 14 hours and 27 minutes. Three were built.

Latécoère 4
Latécoère 4

The first three-engined aircraft built by Latécoère, the Latécoère 4. Supposed to be able to carry 16 passengers, and to work on the Toulouse-Casablanca route, it was difficult to fly and the one example built crashed.

Wibault 280
Wibault 280

Robust and reliable, 9 Wibault 280s would eventually serve on the Africa routes : others (4) served on Mediterranean and Orient and 2 on the European root, in 1939. When the war began, they were used as military transports.

The Farman 2200 Centaures
The Farman 2200 Centaures

Although more famous as a bomber, the Farman 220 series also gave birth to the Farman 2200, utilized for the connection between Dakar and Natal. It replaced the Latécorère 300 flying boat for overland route sections, and was later joined by the Dewoitine 333. 1 of this aircraft and 5 other Farman 220 variants were utilized on the line.

Bleriot 5190.
Bleriot 5190.

The Bleriot 5190 was ordered alongside the Latécoère 300, to serve as a seaplane for the Dakar-Natal mail route. Only one was constructed, although 4 were ordered. One voyage across the Atlantic was carried out per week, between 1935 and 1937.

CAMS 51
CAMS 51

Only one CAMS 51 was utilized on the line, as a pathfinder in the Atlantic from Senegal. It was destroyed by bad weather during a take off.

The text reads "February 21, the CAMS 53 piloted by Jean Mermoz broke down in bad seas, 50 kilometers south of Majorca. The Timgad recovered the mail and crew : the flying boat was lost."
The text reads "February 21, the CAMS 53 piloted by Jean Mermoz broke down in bad seas, 50 kilometers south of Majorca. The Timgad recovered the mail and crew : the flying boat was lost."

A successful French flying boat built utilizing the experience of the CAMS 51, 9 served on Mediterranean lines on the Marseille-Algiers route, and others linked Marseilles with Ajaccio and Beirut. 145 were built as part of the CAMS series as a whole, including the CAMS 53-1, 53-2, 56, and 57.

Latécoère 21
Latécoère 21

Used to deliver mail between France and Algiers, the Latécoère 21 was a twin-engined push-puller flying boat, and could carry up to 7 passengers.

The Latécoère 28, a long-range French transport aircraft.
The Latécoère 28, a long-range French transport aircraft.

Latécoère 28 was used by several very famous French pilots and writers. Jean Mermoz, a famous French aviator-explorer, crossed the South Atlantic in it in 1930, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the later writer of The Little Prince. But it itself had a successful career, with 50 being built, and serving famously as a long range passenger liner, carrying 8 passengers as well as its 2 crew. It was built in both seaplane and regular versions, the seaplane version being designated the 28-3.

The Latécorère 300,
The Latécorère 300,
Croix-du-Sud arriving at Natal with her sacks of mail for transport onwards
Croix-du-Sud arriving at Natal with her sacks of mail for transport onwards

The Latécoère 300 was a French four engine seaplane, utilized by Air France on its Toulouse-South America routes. Some 5 were constructed. It served alongside the Bleriot 5190, and was later replaced by the Farman 2200.

Lioré et Olivier H-13
Lioré et Olivier H-13

A twin-engined flying boat, the Lioré et Olivier H-13 was designed for service in the Mediterranean. It served on Marseilles-Corsica lines, and then between Marseille and Tunisia. It also served on the connection to Algiers, and 7 were exported to Poland. Although an important commercial success, with 53 sold, the old engines (ex-war engines dating from 1915!) attracted much dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and unease from the users.

Lioré et Olivier H-133
Lioré et Olivier H-133

An unknown number of this single-engined Lioré et Olivier H-133 (a variant of the H-13, with a 300 horsepower engine instead of x2 150 horsepower engines) were used on the Mediterranean section of Aéropostale between Marseille and Algiers. 4 were built in total.

Lioré et Olivier LeO H-192
Lioré et Olivier LeO H-192

Two of this aircraft type derived from the Lioré et Olivier H-190 were built. The H-190 had a total production number of 45, and were used as amphibious passenger liners, catapult-launched mail planes, coastal patrol aircraft, and survey craft: Marc Bernard flew one alongside a CAMS 37 piloted by René Guilbaud, for 28,000 kilometers throughout Africa from Morocco to Madagascar, in three months.

Lioré et Olivier LeO H-470
Lioré et Olivier LeO H-470

A long ranged 4-engine flying boat supposed to provide passenger service across the South Atlantic, the 470 unfortunately were never commissioned, with the beginning of the Second World War sabotaging their career. Instead, they were used as mail planes and then impressed into military service when the war broke out, with a total of 6 built.

© 2017 Ryan Thomas

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