Morane-Saulnier M.S.42

Morane-Saulnier M.S.42

Morane-Saulnier M.S.42

The Morane-Saulnier M.S.42 was a prototype two-seat biplane intermediate trainer that entered service in modified form as the M.S.43. The M.S.42 was an equal span biplane, with tandem cockpits and dual controls. It was developed into the M.S.43, an unequal span biplane that served alongside the parasol wing Morane-Saulnier M.S.35, and like that aircraft was withdrawn from service in 1929.

A century of innovation

Daher predecessors, Morane-Saulnier & Socata gave birth to a plethora of firsts in the history of aviation, such as the first Mediterranean air-crossing by Roland Garros in 1913, and the MS 760 Paris, the first business jet in 1954. The TBM 700 became the first pressurized single-engine turboprop to be certified in 1990 which directly paved the way for today’s Daher TBM Family.

1913 Morane-saulnier type h 1954 Morane-saulnier paris-jet 2014 Daher tbm 900

Bristol Fighter

Introduced by the British in September 1916, the Bristol Fighter was the best two-seater fighter of the war. The pilot had a centre-mounted Vickers machine-gun, and the observer/gunner was equipped with a Lewis gun. Its firepower made it deadly in the air. When the Royal Air Force was formed in 1918, its first combat mission used a Bristol.

Bristol Fighter with Foster-mounted Lewis gun.

Fishing for Saint-Ex

Summer squalls sometimes blow up along France’s Mediterranean coast, and this one left Jean-Claude Antoine Bianco, skipper of the Horizon , a 60-foot, blue-and-white trawler, soaked. “We’d been fishing since morning about an hour east of the port and the weather had turned awful,” he recalls of that September 1998 day. “The wind and waves were tossing us around, the sky was black, and it was raining buckets. I didn’t even have my slicker on. So I decided to haul in the trawl net and head home about 2 p.m.”

Bianco, a stocky, balding 54-year-old, was in his cabin drying off from the squall when Habib Benamor, his Tunisian second mate, came in and announced that among the usual mullet, anglerfish, and squid, he had found a silver bracelet. “I put my glasses on and scratched off some of the concretion that had built up around it,” Bianco remembers. “I saw the name ‘Antoine.’ Hey , I said to myself, this guy has the same name as me . I scratched some more and saw ‘Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.’ I thought, Am I dreaming or what? ”

Bianco yelled excitedly to Habib, “This belonged to Saint-Ex!” But his mate just stared back he’d never heard that name.

That made Habib a rare bird indeed. Few have not heard of the French writer-aviator whose mix of derring-do and literary stature has made him virtually a demigod in France. His novels Southern Mail , Night Flight , and Wind, Sand and Stars chronicled aviation’s heroic era, when cockpits were open and pilots delivered the mail come what may, and his nonfiction Flight to Arras was one of the first accounts of flying combat missions in World War II. His most beloved book, of course, was The Little Prince , a novel about a wistful, wise young man from another planet who wonders at the strange ways of Earthlings it has been translated into 118 languages and dialects, from Azerbaijani to Esperanto. The 100th anniversary of Saint-Ex’s birth last year was greeted with new biographies, the renaming of the Lyon airport in his honor, a French postage stamp, a new American edition of The Little Prince —which still sells some 200,000 copies a year in the United States—and an exhibit in Paris’ hallowed Pantheon crypt, called, aptly, Celebration of a Myth.

The myth began on July 31, 1944. Saint-Ex had shortly before rejoined his old squadron, the 2/33, which had been dissolved in 1940, then reactivated in 1943. The squadron was part of the American Third Photo Group, Mediterranean Allied Photo Reconnaissance Wing, under the command of Colonel Elliott Roosevelt, President Franklin Roosevelt’s son. At 44, Saint-Ex was nine years over the age limit to fly the squadron’s P-38 Lightnings—the photo-reconnaissance version was the F-5B—which were among the fastest fighters of the day. But Saint-Ex made deals, pulled strings, and got the slot. He was of the old school, used to flying French aircraft of the 1920s and 1930s, such as the Morane-Saulnier 317, the Simoun, the Latécoère, and the Caudron, airplanes with primitive instrumentation that pilots flew by the seat of their pants. He didn’t much like the P-38, calling it “a flying torpedo that has nothing whatever to do with flying and, with all its dials and buttons, makes its pilot a sort of chief accountant.” He was wrung out by missions at 30,000 feet in the Lightning’s unpressurized cockpit. But he loved flying with his American comrades, whose “simple and noble courage” he admired.

On July 31, the 2/33 ops officer, Lieutenant Raymond Duriez, drove Saint-Ex to the field at the Borgo air base near Bastia, on the island of Corsica, helped him into his flightsuit, and shoehorned his bulky form into the cockpit. Ground crew pulled the chocks, and at 8:45 a.m., sortie 33S176 took off for a mapping run over the Grenoble-Chambery region, east of Lyon. Allied radar at Cap Corse, on the northern tip of Corsica, followed him into southern France. He was due back at 12:30. He was never heard from again. A myth—and a mystery—were born.

Over the years, the search for traces of Saint-Ex, mostly conducted by small groups of enthusiasts, has ranged from the Alps to the Rhone Valley, the French coast around Nice-Monaco, and even Italy. One of the most determined hunts was undertaken in 1992, when Louis Roederer, a French champagne company, launched a costly two-year, publicity-grabbing expedition, engaging IFREMER, the government-supported French ocean research unit that helped find the Titanic , to use its search equipment to scour the Mediterranean floor in the area between Corsica and the French Riviera, where Saint-Ex was presumed to have crashed. But the search came up empty.

Amateur divers have looked too. In November 1996, Marcel Camilleri, owner of a diving school on the southern coast, and friend Alain Costanzo found a P-38 wreck lying on its back in 130 feet of water in La Ciotat Bay, near Marseille. Hoping that it was Saint-Ex’s Lightning, they brushed the sand off it, tamed a toothy, seven-foot conger eel domiciled in its cockpit, and set about trying to identify it.

A friend of Camilleri’s went online and found Jack Curtis, who in World War II had flown 67 missions in P-38s with the Ninth Air Force, giving close support for Patton’s Third Army. Now 80 and living in Rogers, Arkansas, Curtis, who maintains an active interest in P-38s, checked his e-mail one morning and saw a message addressed to him from France: “Hello! I’m scuba diver. I have found in Medditerrannée in France a P38 Lightning. I want know how to find the serial number and model.”

Curtis advised looking for a small embossed plate on the instrument panel, between the artificial horizon and the gyro-compass. When the friend got the number and relayed it, Curtis checked his copies of the Air Force’s Missing Air Crew Reports, phoned the U.S. Air Force’s archives at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, and came up with the disappointing answer: The plane was not Saint Ex’s. Downed on January 27, 1944, it had been flown by Lieutenant Harry Greenup of the 14th Fighter Group, 15th Air Force.

Saint-Ex hunters are not easily discouraged. Philippe Castellano, a 42-year-old hospital technician from Cannes, probably knows more about World War II air combat over the south of France than almost anyone else in the world. He spent 15 years compiling a list of all 38 U.S. Army Air Force airplanes downed in the region, and has visited U.S. Air Force records centers at Maxwell and at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. At the latter, he acquired a copy of what he calls “the Bible”: the official 1,500-page record of every American aircraft lost, everywhere in the world, day by day, during World War II.

“I started looking for Saint-Ex in 1994,” he says. “A fisherman told me about a wreck he had trawled across in La Ciotat Bay. I’d been diving around here for 20 years, but that was the first time I actually looked for a wreck. After three years, I found a P-38 in 95 feet of water—a mass of wings, booms, tail fins, wheels, and cables, all mixed up. For a while I was sure I’d found Saint-Ex’s plane.” To help with the identification, he called on Pierre Becker, a fellow airplane hunter and the head of Géocéan Solmarine, a French underwater engineering firm. The two found the contract number on one of the wreck’s tail booms, and when they looked it up, they learned that the aircraft was a “J” fighter, not an F-5B. It had been flown by Lieutenant James Riley, who had been shot down on the same day as Harry Greenup, his wingman. Escorting a bombing raid by the 15th Air Force, they had been jumped by German Me 109s and Fw 190s.

Then came the 1998 discovery of the bracelet. Jean-Claude Bianco took the bracelet to Henri-Germain Delauze, who has been France’s Mr. Underwater Research and Engineering for 30 years. Delauze is the founder of Marseille-based Comex, one of the world’s leading deep-water search-and-exploration firms. He has no doubts that the bracelet is the real thing. “I’ve brought up enough silver pieces of eight from sunken sailing ships to know how saltwater corrodes silver,” he says. “That bracelet is authentic.”

Spending $200,000 of his own money, Delauze immediately launched a three-week secret search of the area with his sophisticated research ship, Minibex , using side-scanning sonar, a mini-sub, and a remote-controlled robot explorer. “My idea was to find the wreckage quickly, then announce that we had found both the bracelet and the plane,” he says. “I told Jean-Claude, ‘Then we’ll go and have some champagne with President Chirac.’ But all I found was a German Junkers 88 bomber.”

During Delauze’s search, word of Bianco’s find leaked out. The Office of Maritime Affairs in Marseille, acting under a law covering archaeological sites of historical interest, ordered Delauze to cease his search and told Bianco to turn over the bracelet. Because Saint-Ex had been an air force officer, the bracelet first went to the French air force, which tossed the hot potato to France’s aerospace museum, the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace at Le Bourget airport. The museum, in turn, tossed it to the Louvre museum’s Center for Research and Restoration, which normally authenticates and restores art for the nation’s museums. It did a quick exam under a microscope and reported that it could not say one way or the other whether the bracelet was in fact authentic.

The bracelet is now in the hands of the descendants. They have had it analyzed two more times, but they are keeping the results secret. Family representative Frédéric d’Agay, a nephew of Saint-Ex, says: “This whole affair of the bracelet has been surrounded by mystery, and we would like to clear it up. Saint-Exupéry was not known to have one [a bracelet like the one found], so we wonder what’s going on.” (In Saint-Exupéry: A Biography , author Stacy Schiff reports that  the aviator did own a gold one.)

Some believe the bracelet might have belonged not to Saint-Ex but to his wife, Consuelo. That would account for her name being engraved in parentheses. They also say it is too small to fit the wrist of a hefty man like Antoine. Still, the distinction may prove a minor one. “I think Saint-Ex might have carried [Consuelo’s bracelet] with him as a sort of keepsake, in a bag or pocket or even hanging on his instrument panel,” says Castellano.

Now, with the discovery out in the open, other divers were inspired. One was Luc Vanrell, the owner of a diving equipment shop in Marseille. Son of one of France’s diving pioneers in the 1940s, he had for years searched for an airplane wreck his father had mentioned. “Years went by and I was getting nowhere,” he recalls. “But then Bianco found the bracelet. I noticed that the area he had trawled was right where I had spotted some aircraft debris. Since most of the planes sunk around here are German, I assumed it was a Messerschmitt, Junkers, or Heinkel. But now I began to think I was on to something.”

Vanrell started spending time with aviation buffs like Castellano and putting together documentation on U.S. aircraft that flew during World War II. Knowing where the bracelet was discovered, Vanrell trawled over an area a mile long and 400 yards wide, and he dove to depths of 180 to 250 feet, where divers can stay only 15 minutes. The site is part of an area that has been trawled by fishermen for years, so the remains on the floor there are from all kinds of aircraft. Having discovered the invaluable Jack Curtis on the Internet, Vanrell turned to him for advice on identifying some of the parts he found. By last May he had located—mixed in with pieces of a Messerschmitt 109—a tail boom fragment with an oval air intake particular to the F-5B’s turbo supercharger, a Lightning wheel, and a left landing gear. Significantly, the fulcrum attached to the side strut was rectilinear—a design characteristic particular to the late P-38s and the F-5B and different from the cylindrical fulcrum used on earlier Lightnings.

Vanrell sent Castellano an e-mail asking innocently whether any modifications had been made to P-38 landing gears. “I knew then that he’d found it,” says Castellano with a grin. “I told him straight, ‘If you’ve found a P-38 landing gear with a rectangular fulcrum, it can only be Saint-Ex’s plane.” Only four P-38 photo-reconnaissance craft had been downed in the Mediterranean, and the other three have been found. “All we need to locate is the serial number, 42-68223, and I’m sure we will,” says Castellano’s fellow searcher, Pierre Becker.

Not if the family has anything to say about it. “That plane is a sepulchre that must be respected,” says d’Agay. “It’s such a beautiful myth, disappearing over the ocean the way the Little Prince disappeared from the earth. Those divers are just trying to make money from selling photos.”

In discussing the family’s position, one French official, who asked not to be identified, wonders: “Are they acting solely in the interest of his memory, or for more financial reasons?” The descendants hold rights to royalties from all of Saint-Ex’s books, and also sell Little Prince products ranging from pens and watches to stuffed animals and cosmetics. If the mystery of Saint-Ex’s fate is solved, would product revenues be affected? “That’s the stupidest idea in the world,” responds d’Agay. “I don’t need to protect revenues from a book that’s sold 50 million copies.”

Apparently, the family has the ear of the authorities. According to Philippe Grenier de Monner, assistant director for archaeology at the Ministry of Culture: “The defense ministry is against [a salvage attempt], partly because the descendants of Saint-Exupéry are.” The defense ministry itself will only say: “This is considered to be a private affair.”

Almost no other government office will allow its spokepeople to speak on the record. And this being France, there are lots of offices involved. Locally there are the Maritime Affairs Office and the Department of Subaquatic and Underwater Archaeological Research in Toulon there is the Maritime Prefecture. The final authorities are the ministries of culture and defense in Paris. One official at Underwater Research says, “I can’t tell you what the government’s position is on this because it hasn’t declared one yet, and I think it’ll be quite a while before it does. It’s all very Latin.”

On May 12, 2000, Vanrell officially declared his find to the Maritime Affairs Office in Marseille, which duly forwarded the report to the local Department of Subaquatic and Underwater Archaeological Research, a branch of the Ministry of Culture. Initially, the culture ministry planned to hire Vanrell, Delauze, and others to undertake a 10-day study of the site: mapping, photographing, filming, and raising parts for examination. “We were ready to go,” recounts Delauze, “but suddenly the culture ministry said they’d had a call from the prime minister’s office: ‘Don’t touch it.’ ”

“For us at the culture ministry, this is not a scientific priority, and it would be very expensive,” Grenier de Monner says today. “And if we did excavate it, that could lead to requests by families who lost members during the war for us to do costly excavation of other wrecks. We don’t want to encourage that.”

Philippe Castellano is optimistic about breaking through the bureaucratic inertia. “This has now gone too far for anybody to stop it,” he says. But the ministry of culture’s Grenier de Monner disagrees: “Unless there’s a surprising, high-level political decision,” he says, “I don’t believe this excavation is going to happen.”

The simple quest for historical truth has produced a very complex French affaire . At stake is the future of the myth of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry—and the possibility of ever learning what really happened to him.

A trailblazer for aviation and a war hero: Roland Garros

The French Open stadium may not be named after a tennis champion, but Roland Garros certainly deserves his place in the history books.

The French Open stadium may not be named after a tennis champion, but Roland Garros certainly deserves his place in the history books.

As astounding as it may seem, not many people know the full story behind the man whose name was adopted by one of the world’s most legendary tennis venues. Admittedly, it is rather unusual that the name of an aviator should be adopted for a tennis stadium. This is just one of the originalities in the French Open story, and a well-deserved homage to a man who was both a pioneer and a hero.

Roland Garros was not an avid tennis player, despite being a keen sportsman. When he was younger, he had a talent for football, rugby and cycling, a sport that helped get his respiratory system back to full strength after a bout of pneumonia when he was 12.

Born in Saint-Denis de la Réunion on 6th October 1888, Garros graduated from the HEC business school and founded his own company at the age of 21 – a car dealership not far from the Arc de Triomphe – before his life took a new direction in August 1909. Having been invited to the Champagne region by a friend, he attended his first air show and fell completely in love with these crazy machines. Since Garros never did anything by halves, he immediately bought a plane and taught himself how to fly before obtaining his pilot’s licence.

The world’s first flight across the Mediterranean

On 6th September 1911, two years after the birth of this all-consuming passion for aircraft, Garros broke his first altitude record, reaching 3,910 metres (just under 13,000 feet) after taking off from Houlgate beach. He took part in a series of air show and races, astonishing spectators with his bravery and inventiveness. He quickly became a star in the discipline, with hundreds of thousands of people in both Europe and South America flocking to watch him in action.

Roland Garros had great ambitions and wanted to fly over the seas. He set himself a new challenge: to cross the Mediterranean, something that had never been done at the time. On 23rd September 1913, he flew from Saint-Raphaël (French Riviera) to Bizerte (Tunisia) on his Morane-Saulnier monoplane. This epic journey would take nearly eight hours.

Setting off at 5.47am – with 200 litres of fuel and 60 litres of castor oil on board, and despite two engine failures that the mechanical genius managed to rapidly fix – Garros landed in Tunisia at 1.40pm after flying 780 kilometres (485 miles). He had just five litres of fuel left in the tank! This exploit made him the blue-eyed boy of the Parisian smart set. Jean Cocteau, among others, became a friend. The poet and filmmaker, who Garros sometimes took out in his plane, even dedicated a text to him: "Le Cap de Bonne Espérance" (The Cape of Good Hope).

Inventor of the first on-board machine gun

When World War I broke out, the skilled pianist signed up to fight. At the time, planes were equipped with very little weaponry, if any at all. Roland Garros’ inventing and trailblazing skills kicked in and he developed the first single-seater fighter plane equipped with an on-board machine gun that fired through the propeller. It was revolutionary. He returned to the front equipped with his new firing device.

In early April 1915, sub lieutenant Garros notched up three consecutive victories in a fortnight, but was then hit by the German anti-aircraft defence over Belgium.

Forced to land, he was taken prisoner before he had chance to destroy his plane. His invention therefore fell into the hands of the enemy, who used his ideas to adapt their own aircraft.

It took strong-headed Garros three years to escape, clumsily disguised as a German officer. But his health had seriously deteriorated during his captivity. He had become severely short-sighted and had to make himself pairs of glasses in secret so that he could keep flying. Though Clémenceau wanted him to stay home as an advisor, stubborn Garros went back off to battle. This time, his bravery proved fatal: he was killed on 5th October 1918 over the Ardennes, though not before winning a fourth duel.

"Victory belongs to the most persevering." A quote attributed to Napoleon I and one which Roland Garros made his own. so much so that he inscribed it on his planes’ propellers. A phrase that could also be applied to the winners of the Roland Garros tournament…

A legacy in Paris

A First World War hero and trailblazer for aviation, Roland Garros was also a man who nurtured solid friendships. Ten years after his death, in 1928, the tennis stadium that had been built for the Mousquetaires to defend their Davis Cup title was named after Roland Garros, at the request of Emile Lesueur, president of the Stade Français and Garros’ former classmate at the HEC, whose campaign to chair the Stade Français had been supported by the pilot several decades previously.

So, yes, Roland Garros was only vaguely linked with the tennis world. But very few sports stadiums carry the name of a person who showed so much drive, intelligence and courage: cardinal values for anyone who hopes to reign supreme at the Porte d’Auteuil.