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Blin, Édouard-Pierre, Jean Mermoz, French Aviator, 1901-1936

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Mermoz was a poetry lover. He also admired sculpture and other forms of art. He has been described as shy and as a quiet adolescent. He also liked literature, but he shunned potential careers in any art fields to concentrate on becoming a pilot. In 1919, he graduated from school. In 1920, he met Max Delby, a teacher who helped Mermoz increase his interest in aviation. In April of 1921, he flew as a pilot for the first time.

Mermoz, whose infancy had been marked by World War I news, joined the French Air Force in 1922, being assigned, as a pilot of the air force's 11th regiment, to duty in Syria. In 1924, he returned to France, having arguably been one of the most successful pilots in the Syrian operations. Mermoz relocated to Toulouse. Later on, Mermoz went on to become an airmail pilot, with Latécoère's company, and almost failed his entry exam by performing dangerous stunts to impress the director. (The director, Didier Daurat had this famous quote: "We don't need acrobats here, we need bus drivers.") He then did a normal, flawless flight and was hired. It was there that Mermoz met Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. At the Compagnie Générale Aéropostale, Mermoz travelled to Morocco, Senegal and other African areas.

In 1926, one of Mermoz's flights ended with an accident, when his plane crashed in the Sahara. Taken hostage by a group of rebel Tuaregs, he was later found alive.

In 1927, Latécoère began building his own brand of planes to replace the aging WW1 aircraft Breguet XIV. The Latécoère 25, (or "Laté 25") and, later, the Latécoère 26 and Latécoère 28 proved to be efficient aircraft when flying from Morocco to Senegal, and Mermoz himself flew the types on those routes on multiple occasions.

But Africa was only the beginning. Latécoère's project was to create a direct airline between France and South America. By 1929, it had become evident that it would be economically viable for France to establish a commercial air route to South America, so Mermoz and others flew over the Andes. Despite Mermoz finding the flying conditions over the Andes to be tough, he became the project's main pilot, determined to reach the Pacific Ocean, and he was able, after multiple stops, to reach Santiago, Chile. During that time, to save time, he decided to fly during the night, using light beacons and flares as guides, and his fellow pilots, for once, were a bit reluctant to see him do it, because they knew it would be their turn next. For some time, as transatlantic flights were not possible, steamboats linked both halves of the "Line".

After flying from Saint-Louis, in Senegal, to Natal Brazil, in 1930, the line was complete at last. Unfortunately, the modified Laté 28 Comte-de-la-Vaulx did not prove reliable enough, and had to crashland at sea during the return flight. Mermoz and his two companions were rescued, but the plane, and the mail it carried, could not be recovered.

In 1933, Mermoz was appointed general inspector by Air France. That same year, he arrived in Argentina, where he and de Saint-Exupery became important persons during the infancy of what would later become Aerolíneas Argentinas. Mermoz and Saint-Exupéry flew many dangerous flights for the then new air company. They became regarded as two of the most important men in the history of Argentina commercial aviation. From 1934 to 1936, Mermoz would fly private expeditions on Latécoère 300 airplanes. He flew 24 expeditions with that type. In 1935, he also flew De Havilland DH88 "Comet" airplanes.

On December 7, 1936, He came back shortly after take off to report a troublesome engine on his Laté 300 "Croix du Sud" ("Southern Cross"). As he found out that he couldn't wait for another one to be prepared, he took off again on the same plane after a quick repair, concerned that he would be late in delivering the mail. (His last words before boarding the plane were "Quick, let's not waste time anymore.")

Four hours later, the radio station received a short message, where Mermoz declared that he had to cut the power on the aft starboard engine. The message was interrupted abruptly. No further messages were received, and neither the Laté 300 nor the crew were ever recovered.

It is assumed that the engine they had tried to repair lost its propeller midflight, and being one of the aft engines, the loose propeller either badly damaged or cut the hull entirely, causing the plane to lose its tail and crash instantly. (Guillaumet, one of Mermoz's fellow pilots, had encountered the same problem a few months before, but as his own engine was on the forward side, airspeed had been sufficient to maintain the propeller in place until the landing.)

As a sidenote, Mermoz's fate was all the more tragic as he himself had grown dissatisfied with the quality of the planes he and his companions had to pilot. In the months before his demise, he had been very vocal about the aircraft' poor quality in both design and material, and was quoted saying "Ask me to pilot anything, even a wheelbarrow, but at one condition: make sure it is solid.". In fact, another Laté 301, F-AOIK "Ville-de-Buenos-Aires", had disappeared eight months before his own, causing the death, among others, of his mechanic and friend Collenot, and the complicated Hispano Suiza 12NER engines thought to be the cause of both crashes were later decommissioned and replaced with older, more reliable ones. His message had been heard, too late.

A French lycée in Buenos Aires is called after him. This bilingual school is one of Argentina's most prestigious and is located in the intersection of Ramsay and Juamento streets in Belgrano.

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