Some stories make history because they convey universal values such as entrepreneurship, sharing, humanism, self over-achievement respectful of others. The history of the Latécoère and Aeropostale air lines greatly conveyed those values. This history is exceptional also because it resulted from the cooperation of nine countries in three different continents; and each of these countries was key to make this project real.
It all began in 1918, before the war was even over, with one humanist and visionary man, Pierre-Georges Latécoère, who found a peaceful purpose for the planes he had built for war. “Aviation – connecting people”. His objective: transporting mail by air through three continents, from Toulouse to Buenos Aires, then to Santiago del Chile. In those days, the challenge was huge, planes were unreliable, countries were still reluctant towards flights, and the project could not develop without substantial human and financial resources. All these constraints made Pierre-Georges Latécoère say in a now famous sentence : “All the calculations show it can’t work. There’s only one thing left to do: make it work !”. He thus became the founder of the first transcontinental airmail line.
The Latécoère airmail line linked Toulouse to Rabat then Dakar before crossing the South Atlantic Ocean and connected Natal to Santiago via Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo. Pilots, among which the most famous: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Jean Mermoz, Henri Guillaumet, Didier Daurat, put their lives at risk when they crossed the Pyrenees, the Sahara, the South Atlantic Ocean, the Andes… This story was initiated by a French company but it became a universal story. The LATECOERE Airlines (LAL) initially which became then Marcel Bouilloux-Lafont AEROPOSTALE, flew over three continents before becoming Air France in 1933.
Marie-Vincente LATECOEREChair of the Foundation Latécoère / Godmother of the Latécoère Rally
Among the testimonies about Pierre-Georges LATECOERE’s life and work, I have picked one from someone who used to be a journalist for La Depeche du Midi. This quote sums up all the others I have found in the many archives of the foundation. It is from Pierre Dumas and this is an extract of what he wrote about Pierre-Georges LATECOERE: “Who then was this fool who dared to cross continents and brave the elements - and defy common sense - in tiny flying machines with just one engine and fabric-covered wings that made them more like kites, so weak compared to the wind? This fool, remember his name, is Pierre-Georges LATECOERE a Frenchman from the south of France, from a place named Bagneres-de-Bigorre. But there is often wisdom in folly, and this time the folly was crowned with success”. The LATECOERE Rally is in memory of the deeds of Pierre-Georges LATECOERE, who would be proud to see people from France and abroad celebrating his achievements and the achievements of all who participated in this legendary French story. May the LATECOERE spirit always be with our friends from the Rally and bring warmth and friendship to continents, cities and countries that we visit as ambassadors of the passion that unites us all – aviation”.
Laurent ALBARETHistorian, “Pierre Georges Latécoère : Correspondances (1918-1928)” author / Editions Privat, 2013.
In August 1924, as part of his AEROPOSTALE project to link France and South America, the industrialist and aircraft manufacturer Pierre-Georges LATECOERE undertook an aerial reconnaissance of the South American continent, from Brazil to Argentina via Uruguay, to identify suitable stopovers for the route. In the following years, contracts and agreements would be signed with different South American countries, and airfields decorated in AEROPOSTALE colours would be built between Natal and Buenos Aires. Eventually scheduled flights began, and the South American route became a reality. This extension of the route into South America was a natural progression of the one between France and North Africa that LATECOERE had patiently built up since 1918. Regular flights had started in 1920 to Morocco and Senegal, making Saint-Louis du Senegal and Dakar the last AEROPOSTALE stops before the Atlantic Ocean. LATECOERE’s logic for continuing into South America can be summed up in his own words: “I have done the calculations over and over again. It won’t work. Which means there is only one thing to do: make it work!” Today, the LATECOERE Rally follows in the footsteps of those pioneers who opened and flew the route in South America. It is a remarkable human adventure, whose aim is to understand and appreciate the history of the route and the men who built it. Flying it ourselves is perhaps the closest we can come to understanding their commitment and their passion, to preserve a common inheritance and to connect with other pilots and aviation enthusiasts along the way.