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A look back at the epic L'Oiseau Blanc, 90 years on
On May 8, 1927, L'Oiseau Blanc, a biplane, disappeared during an attempt to make the first non-stop transatlantic flight between Paris and New York City. The aircraft was flown by two French pilots, Charles Nungesser and François Coli, who were also reported missing.
The Lorraine 12 Eb engine
The Lorraine 12 Eb engine powering L'Oiseau Blanc is something of a cornerstone of the historical heritage of Safran and the aerospace industry. The 450 hp engine was developed in the 1920s, with more than 8,000 of them manufactured by Lorraine-Dietrich, acquired in 1941 by Gnome & Rhône, the ancestor of Safran as we now know it.
Béatrice de Géa / CAPA Pictures / Safran
L'Oiseau Blanc model
Over the past 90 years, several hypotheses have emerged to explain the disappearance of L'Oiseau Blanc and its two pilots. The most common of them is that the aircraft hit thick fog and then went hurtling into the ocean. Other research suggests that the biplane reached Newfoundland and then crashed close to the archipelago of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, or even closer to the coast of Maine in the United States. Others have come to the conclusion that rum-runners had mistaken L'Oiseau Blanc for a US Coast Guard aircraft and was shot down – a plausible scenario during the prohibition period.
Less than two weeks after the disappearance of the infamous biplane, the American Charles Lindbergh successfully completed the non-stop transatlantic flight with the Spirit of St. Louis, leaving from New York and touching down at Le Bourget airport on May 21, 1927.
One question remains: who was the first to make the non-stop transatlantic flight?
Even today, the names Charles Nungesser and François Coli are still very present in our collective imagination. In addition to the streets named after them in several cities across France, a statue was erected in their honor at Paris-Le Bourget airport, their point of departure, as well as a monument in Étretat, where they were seen for the last time from France. Less often, though, do we associate their venture with Safran, whose ancestor powered L'Oiseau Blanc!