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Historic flights over long distances and in closed circuits by French aviators in collaboration

The Joseph le Brix, piloted by Paul Codos and Maurice Rossi, beat the world long-distance record in August 1933

NAMED AFTER A FAMOUS FRENCH AVIATOR, the Joseph le Brix, piloted by Paul Codos and Maurice Rossi, beat the world long-distance record in August 1933 by flying from New York to Rayak (Syria), a distance of 5,657 miles. In the following year Codos and Rossi flew the same machine from Paris to New York. The Joseph le Brix was a Bleriot 110 monoplane, fitted with a 500 horse-power Hispano-Suiza engine. The length of the aircraft was 47 ft 3-in, the span 86 feet and the height 16 feet.

RECORD-MAKING and long-distance flights by French aviators have produced some notable partnerships. Names such as Nungesser and Coli, Costes and Bellonte, and Codos and Rossi are bracketed in the public memory. Teams of pilots of proved ability performed nearly all of the various flights. Two machines, the Point D’ Interrogation (or Question Mark) and the Joseph Le Brix, made historic flights under the pilotage of different sets of partners. A third machine, the Nungesser et Coli, made a world tour.

This third machine was named in memory of Captains Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli, who took off from Le Bourget, the airport of Paris, on May 8, 1927, in l’Oiseau Blanc (or The White Bird) in an attempt to fly to New York. The machine was a Levasseur, with a watertight fuselage and an undercarriage that could be released, to enable the aircraft to alight on water. The under-carriage was successfully dropped into the River Seine, and the machine left the French coast and vanished. A report reached Paris that the Levasseur had arrived in the United States, but rejoicings were premature. Nungesser and Coli had disappeared.

In the autumn of 1927 Captain Dieudonne Costes, well known at Croydon as one of the pilots of the French Air Union Company on the Paris-London service, began a flight with Lieutenant-Commander Joseph Le Brix in the Nungesser et Coli. The machine was a Breguet XIX biplane, with a 600 horsepower Hispano-Suiza engine.

The first stage was a non-stop flight of 2,658 miles. This flight to St. Louis (Senegal) took twenty-six and a half hours. The second stage was across the Atlantic to Natal (Brazil), from which point the partners began an air tour of South America for the purpose of sounding various Governments as to the prospects of establishing French air lines in South America.

Costes and Le Brix made various flights from several capitals on the eastern side of the continent, and then flew over the Andes to Santiago (Chile), and continued their “goodwill” tour to Central America. They used Colon, on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal, as the base for flights to Colombia and Venezuela. Then they flew north to Mexico City, crossed the Gulf of Mexico, and landed at New Orleans.

Their flights to Washington and on to New York brought the distance the engine had flown them to about 23,000 miles — almost the circumference of the Earth at the Equator. An identical engine was substituted and the partners headed westward for a tour that brought them to San Francisco. At that Californian port the machine was shipped across the Pacific to Tokyo, to resume the air tour. Having flown to Hanoi, now the Far Eastern terminus of the Air France route, the partners flew home in record time. They arrived in Paris in the spring of 1928, after one of the most successful flights in the history of aviation up to that time. After this flight, Costes and Le Brix found other partners and became friendly rivals.

Costes paired with Maurice Bellonte in a remarkable machine, the Question Mark, for non-stop flying over a long distance. This Breguet biplane was 35 ft. 2 in. long. The span of the upper wing was 60 feet and that of the lower 37 ft. 8 in; the engine was a Hispano-Suiza.

The Question Mark took off from Le Bourget on September 27, 1929, and was reported next day to have passed over Novo Sibirsk (Siberia), 3,750 miles away. After that nothing was heard for some days. Then came news that Costes and Bellonte were safe in Manchuria (now Manchukuo).

They had flown 4,940 miles before the petrol was exhausted. They landed at a place named He-Louang-Kiang, where they were arrested by Chinese soldiers who thought they were Russians. They had no passports and when they had proved their identity they flew to Moukden, and then to Shanghai and on to Hanoi. At Hanoi, Costes decided to attack the record he and Le Brix had set up for the Hanoi-Paris flight. Costes and Bellonte waited for the full moon to enable them to fly by night as well as by day and then set up a record of four days eleven and a half hours for the flight to Le Bourget. They beat the previous record by some six hours.

THE QUESTION MARK AT DETROIT during the tour of the United States by Dieudonne Costes and Maurice Bellonte in the autumn of 1930. They had flown on September 12 from Paris to New York without a stop. The journey from Le Bourget to the Curtiss Wright Airfield had taken 37 hours 17 minutes. In 1929 the Question Mark, which was a Breguet biplane with a Hispano-Suiza engine, had flown from Paris to Manchuria (now Manchukuo).

Soon after his return Costes, in December 1929, joined with Paul Codos in setting up yet another record with the Question Mark. At this period a number of aviators were concentrating on flying aircraft over a closed circuit with various loads to demonstrate how far each type would fly and for how long without refuelling. There was nothing spectacular about these records and they did not appeal to the public imagination as did the long-distance flights in a straight line. Their value, however, was considerable, as practical tests in carefully observed conditions, and they yielded useful data for designers, constructors and air line companies. Costes and Codos flew 8,070 kilometres (5,014 miles) in fifty-two hours thirty-seven minutes, round a course between Avignon and Narbonne, in the south of France.

A Pioneer of Civil Aviation

Paul Codos, now the chief pilot of Air France, and one of the foremost living pilots, was then recognized as an aviator of exceptional skill. He was a youth of 18 when the war of 1914-18 began, but he volunteered for the Field Artillery and passed through the ordeals of the Verdun and Somme battlefields before entering the Air Service late in 1917. He soon won his wings and displayed such outstanding ability that after the war he became one of the pioneers of civil aviation in Europe.

Codos helped to open the civil air route from France to Casablanca, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, and the air routes in Algeria. He did not emerge unscathed from the pioneer flights over the Sahara Desert, as a crash put him in hospital for seven months.

When he had recovered Codos became a pilot of the Air Union Company on the Paris-London route and was selected to make the first series of night flights between the two capitals. Although the ground facilities were undeveloped for night flying, Codos continued successfully flying passengers and freight even in such unfavourable months as January and February. He was a familiar and popular figure at Croydon. Later he made a series of night flights between London and Marseilles. After having set up the record with Costes, also a veteran of the Paris-London route, Codos continued with Costes, in January and February 1930, to set up various records for flying different payloads over closed circuits. In the summer the Question Mark gained international fame.

AFTER THEIR FLIGHT FROM PARIS TO NEW YORK, Codos and Rossi were welcomed at the Floyd Bennett Airfield. They had left Le Bourget on May 27, 1934, and they had hoped to continue the flight to San Diego (California), on the Pacific Coast. Fog and propeller trouble made them cut short their flight at New York. The partners then made an air tour of Canada in their monoplane, the Joseph Le Brix.

Costes, with his former partner Bellonte, won an enhanced reputation by a flight from Paris to New York and on from New York to Dallas (Texas). They flew from Le Bourget to the Curtiss Wright Airfield, New York, non-stop, in thirty-seven hours seventeen minutes, on September 1-2, 1930. After the flight to Dallas they made a tour of the United States. Then they shipped the Question Mark in a French liner to France and afterwards made a European tour which included a visit to London, where they had a warm welcome.

Meanwhile the future Commandant Maurice Rossi was flying into recognition. Rossi belongs to the category of post-war Service pilots, as he was only 13 when the war broke out. He entered the French Air Service and obtained his pilot’s certificate in 1919. He showed his mastery of various branches of aviation by qualifying as a mechanic, as a navigator and as a radio operator. He spent three years flying in Syria during the troubles there and won the French Military Medal.

When Rossi returned to France he piloted machines of different types. He began long-distance flying in 1926 by flying non-stop with Captain Rignot, first from Paris to Lisbon, and then from Paris to Athens. In 1928, with Commandant Deve, he made the first non-stop flights from Paris to Algiers and from Casablanca to Paris.

In the following year he accompanied Le Brix on an attempt to fly to the Far East. Their machine crashed. Rossi jumped from the aeroplane, but his parachute was damp and functioned badly. He had a long spell in hospital.

In 1930 he was sufficiently recovered to begin, in company with Lucien Boussoutrot, a series of record flights over a closed circuit from Oran, Algeria in a Bleriot monoplane powered by a 600 horse-power Hispano-Suiza engine. The two remained in the air for sixty-seven hours thirty-two minutes, covering 7,722 kilometres (4,798 miles), in December 1930. This record, however, exceeded the previous one by only about twenty minutes. Using the same machine, the two pilots remained in the air without refuelling for more than three dlays in March 1931, when they flew 8,222 kilometres (5,109 miles) in seventy-five hours twenty-three minutes.

The year 1931 was a chequered one for the French long-distance fliers. Joseph Le Brix, with Marcel Doret, who was said to be the best stunt flier in France, beat one of the closed circuit records in March 1931. He flew the Trait d’Union (or Hyphen), a Dewoitine machine with a 650 horse-power Hispano-Suiza engine, 10,372 kilometres (6,445 miles), and remained in the air for seventy and a half hours.

In the summer of 1931 the partners attempted, with René Mesmin as mechanic, to set up a record for a long-distance flight in a straight line. They took off from Le Bourget to fly to the Far East. They encountered fog, which condensed in the carburettors, froze and choked the fuel supply. Doret, who was chief pilot of the Dewoitine Company, made a forced landing in a wood; Le Brix and Mesmin descended by parachute. All three escaped with their lives, although the machine was wrecked.

Then Le Brix secured another Dewoitine, Trait d’Union II (or Hyphen II), and prepared to start with the same proved companions. Meanwhile Paul Codos, with Henry Robida as fellow pilot, prepared the famous Question Mark. The two aeroplanes left Le Bourget within a few minutes of each other in September 1931.

The Question Mark was the first to encounter misadventure. There was a leak in the fuel system and she came down safely in Germany; but the descent spoilt her chances for the nonstop record. The Hyphen II crossed the Soviet border and flew through bad weather towards Siberia. Then came disaster. The machine crashed; Doret escaped by parachute, but Le Brix and Mesmin were killed.

Early in 1932 Codos, with Robida, who was a pilot, engineer and navigator of the same company, the Air Union, resumed his efforts to make a flight to the Far East. Using an all-metal general-purpose Breguet biplane driven by a 650 horse-power Hispano-Suiza engine, the fliers reached Hanoi in little more than a week. Then Codos prepared to attack the record for the Hanoi-Paris flight set up by Costes and Bellonte. Codos also waited for the full moon to light him on his way by night.

Codos cut down sleep and refuelling times to the minimum. He encountered headwinds and rain between Basra and Athens. Codos had hoped to fly from Athens to Paris without stopping, but the bad weather added to the risk of taking off with an overload of petrol and he decided to keep the machine light and land at Rome and at Marseilles for fuel. Even with these delays the flight was made in three days four hours ten minutes and beat the previous record by about thirty-one hours.

Meanwhile Rossi and Bossoutrot were adding to the closed circuit records with the remarkable Bleriot machine used previously, which had been named the Joseph Le Brix in memory of that fine pilot. They brought the distance up to 10,601 kilometres (6,587 miles) and then tried to see what the machine would do in a straight line. Time after time, however, they were thwarted.

When Codos collaborated with Rossi in the Joseph Le Brix success was achieved. The object was not so much to fly the North Atlantic but to win the record for distance in a straight line and to excel the flight made by Squadron Leader Oswald Gayford and Flight Lieutenant Gilbert Nicholetts. The Britons, in February 1933, had flown a Fairey monoplane, with a Napier Lion engine, 5,309 miles from Cranwell (Lincolnshire) to Walvis Bay (South West Africa) in fifty-seven hours twenty-five minutes.

Codos, Rossi and the Joseph Le Brix proceeded by liner to the United States, so that the flight should have the advantage of the westerly winds. The Bleriot 110 monoplane, designed for Jong flights, was fitted with a 500 horse-power Hispano-Suiza engine to replace the engine of larger power used previously.

Hazardous Take-Off

The length of the aeroplane was 47 ft. 3 in., the span 86 feet and the height 16 feet; wing area was 872 square feet. The weight empty was 6,000 lb., but when the machine was loaded at the Floyd Bennett Airfield, New York, with 1,700 gallons of fuel, the weight was 18,920 lb, all up, and it seemed doubtful whether she could be made to take off with such a load.

There was a cement runway 4,000 feet in length. The engine was started on the morning of August 5 and the overladen machine gathered speed. She traversed more than three-quarters of the length of the runway, and onlookers held their breath, for she had not risen an inch. Not until only a hundred feet remained did the wheels rise slowly from the concrete. Almost skimming the surface with the engine at full throttle to keep her from falling, she proceeded for some miles before the gradual lessening of the weight of fuel enabled her to rise to a safer height.

Codos and Rossi had found room for radio which enabled them to keep in touch with the world and the weather stations. Before long bad weather was reported from the Bleriot. At last she was seen approaching the French coast at Cherbourg; then she passed over Le Bourget, and flew on above Munich, Vienna and Salonika.

With only thirty-five gallons of fuel remaining she touched down safely at Rayak (Syria), on August 7, having set up a record of 9,105 kilometres (5,657 miles) in fifty-four hours forty-four minutes. After a rest Codos and Rossi flew 1,250 miles without stopping. They landed at Istres, near Marseilles, and then continued to Le Bourget.

Having flown the Atlantic in one direction, Codos and Rossi planned to make a long flight across the ocean from France to the United States in the Joseph Le Brix. They left Le Bourget on May 27, 1934, hoping to traverse the Atlantic and the United States and to descend at San Diego (California), on the Pacific Coast. They failed to achieve this ambitious project. Fog bothered them and one of the blades of the propeller split, setting up vibration. They therefore landed at the Floyd Bennett Airfield.

AT BUENOS AIRES after a flight from Istres, near Marseilles, in November 1937. The Laurent Guerrero, a Farman F-223-! commercial monoplane carried three aviators, with Paul Codos in command. The flight was continued to Santiago, Chile, and the distance of over 7,760 miles was covered in a total time of 58 hours 42 minutes. The Farman monoplane was fitted with four Hispano-Suiza twelve-cylinder engines mounted in pairs in tandem and driving two tractor and two pusher airscrews.

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Famous French Partnerships