In the 1920s, the Breguet XIX (Br19) was designed as a successor to the Breguet 14 as a bomber and a long range and reconnaissance aircraft.
After a few years, Breguet decided to modify this model specifically for long distance raids et records, that were very popular at this time. Any success in those, unquestionably brought fame to the manufacturer. This lead to the creation of the dedicated type Br19 GR ("Grand Raid").
Soon, the fuel capcity was increased and the aerodynamic design slightly improved. In 1927, a new type was then created : the Br19 TR "Bidon" ("Tank"). It could carry 3 735 Liters of fuel.
Finally, in 1929 Breguet specifically designed the type Br19 TF "Super Bidon" ("Super Tank") for the transatlantic flight that was being prepared by Dieudonné Costes and Maurice Bellonte. This aircraft could carry 5 370 L of fuel...
The "Point d'Interrogation", a very special airplane
From 1997 to 2002, Memorial Flight undertook the restoration of the Breguet 19 "Super Bidon" (Super Tank) on behalf of the Musée de l'Air and de l'Espace.
The aircraft was a close relative of the 'Bidon' type, itself a version of the standard Breguet XIX. The "?" was, in fact, specifically designed for air raid. The aeroplane set several records being flown by Costes with Bellonte, of Codos as navigators. Its most famous achivement was the non-stop flight from Paris to New York, the first Atlantic crossing east to west, on September 2nd 1930. This flight was followed by a goodwill tour from September 2nd to October 10th 1930. This totalled 26,521 km and took 162 flying hours.
The aeroplane was donated to the museum in 1938 and was partially several times, the last restoration being done in 1976. This aircraft holds a very important place in the history of aviation, equalling the achivement of the Spirit of St Louis, flown by Charles Lindbergh.
Two assumption for her name :
The name Point d'Interrogation, or Question Mark, was the nickname given by some mechanics from Breguet who were working in highly secretive conditions on an aeroplane to fly to an undisclosed destination,
The numerous technological innovations could have led to quite a doubtful result.
On the airfield, this aircraft was known with the nickname "Le Rouge" (the red one).
This high performance aircraft was part of a short production run of just five machines, designed and built for long distance flights and based on the Breguet XIX. This aeroplane was specifically modified for just one goal, the non-stop trans-Atlantic flight.
The space between the wings and the wingspan was increased by adding a cabane. The original one-strut arrangement on each wing was replaced by two struts, rigged with steel wires. The two cockpits were equipped with the most up-to-date instruments and a very new type of instrument : an artificial horizon...
The big day was July 13th 1929. The crew took off for the crossing but the attempt was aborted due to bad weather conditions over the Azores. The flight was, nonetheless, a useful experiment and the engine power was increased form 600 to 650 horsepower.
On September 27th 1929 the same crew took off again, although this time toward the east, aiming to break the world distance record. They eventually landed on the 29th in Manchuria after a non-stop flight of 8000km (5000 miles).
This was enough to claim the record and provided even more inspiration for them to cross the Atlantic...
The first East to West crossing of the Atlantic
On September 1st 1930, the Point d'Interrogation took off from Le Bourget airport after several months of intensive preparation. With an exceptionally good North Atlantic weather forecast, Costes favoured an early take off at dawn but was forced to wait as fog developed over Paris. They waited until ten o'clock when they got the green light from their friend Codos who was flying weather missions for them.
The aeroplane was pulled from the hanger and parked at the very end of the field where both men climbed aboard.
At 10:54, Costes opened the throttle and the big aeroplane lifted slowly into the now clear sky, and set course for Ecouen at hardly 200 metres (650 feet ) above the ground. At 11 o'clock it was spotted pointing towards the British Isles close to Les Andelys, now flying at 1100 metres (3500 feet). The two men talked to each other with small handwritten paper notes.
The first radio message was sent by Bellonte at 11:48. They were located between Cap d'Antifer and Barfleur. Their airspeed was 210 kph. The Breguet left French soil at Le Crotoy and flew over the Canal St George at 14:45. They reached the ocean with an altitude of 400-500 meters at a position 52 deg latitude and 12 deg 20 mn West.
Between 19:00 and 22:00, the aeroplane had to change course, flying north ; and then south again between 22:00 and 04:35 the next morning to avoid bad weather before resuming its direct course.
At 11:25, 24 hours after leaving, a message was received at Saint Pierre and the aircraft was sighted off the coast of Boston, Mass, entering a stormy area.
It eventually landed at Curtiss Field at 00:11 completing the first East-West transatlantic crossing, flying against the prevailing winds, in 37 hours averaging a speed of 167 kmh.
As soon as they got out of the aeroplane they were carried on the shoulders of an enthusiastic welcome party to the hanger where all French personalities in New York were waiting to greet them. Among them were Alain Gerbault and tennis player Jean Borotra. All of a sudden Costes and Bellonte noticed a tall man smiling at them from the corner of the hanger. The young man was Charles Lindberg coming to congratulate them. They realised at once they had also become legends.
Dieudonné Costes was born in Septfonds, Tarn-et-Garonne, in Southern France, in 1892. As a child he was soon a mechanical buff and was a brilliant student in Mathematics. He became interested in automobiles although aviation became his passion. During World War One he flew as a pilot in the Near East where he became an 'ace' flying bombers. He was mentioned in despatches eleven times and decorated with the Medaille Militaire and the Legion d'Honneur. As an airline pilot after the war, his usual route was Paris to London or Paris to Casablanca, Morocco. As a record pilot he became the best in the world, his main feats being Paris to Assouan (4100 km, 2562 miles) non-stop with De Vitrolle as navigator, Paris to Calcutta in 1926 and Paris to Djask (5306km, 3316 miles) both with M. Rignot as navigator. He also flew Paris to Nijni-Tajilsk (5000 km, 3125 miles) in 1926, a round the world flight of 57000 km (35625 Miles) with Le Brix, the first non stop South Atlantic crossing and a flight from Tokyo in less than four days. Then, at last, Paris to New York non-stop in 37 hours between 1 and 2 September 1930.
Born in 1896 in Méru (Oise) Northern France he was already a veteran at the time of the flight attempt with 20 years of experience in aviation. He flew for six years as a flight mechanic, navigator and radio operator on transcontinental routes such as Paris to London, Paris to Brussels and Paris to Marseilles boasting more than 3500 flight hours since 1922. Bellonte was able to take the same risks as the pilots and could cope with all situations. He walked the wing of the aeroplane five times to fix problems, thus risking his life. He and pilot Delelse ditched on November 14 1925 and managed to save his life by radioing a mayday to merchant ships sailing in the North Sea. He successfully got his navigator/mechanic licence and then his public transport mechanic licence along with his navigator's licence restored by the Aero Club de France in 20 September 1923 and eventually his pilot's licence upon his return from the Paris to Tsitsikar world record breaking flight (7925 km).
Pilot's compartment (Dieudonné Costes).
Engine control :
Fuel Pressure gauge.
Oil Pressure and temperature gauge.
Carburettor temperature indicator.
Radiator coolant temperature (Adjusted by raising or lowering the radiator).
Carburettor altitude adjustment.
Flight control and radio navigation :
Flight controls (Airspeed, Turn and Bank, Vertical axis).
Emergency airspeed (anenometer).
Gyro attitude indicator (fed by a vacuum generator on the left lower wing).
One Morel Krauss Compass.
One ambient air temperature gauge.
Maps for the flight.
Navigator compartment (Maurice Bellonte).
Flight control and radio navigation :
One Morel Kraus compass.
One Le Prieur Navigraph.
One artificial horizon sextant.
One marine sextant.
Two chronometers (civil).
Orthodromic charts (1/1,000,000).
Forecast of wind velocity and clouds according to altitude.
Position of ships enroute.
One special two way radio transmitter A810, powered from a retractable generator on the fuselage.
Trailing antenna and reel.
Batteries to illuminate instruments at night.
Two Jules Richards Barographs.
Hand operated fuel pump.
Dinghy, flares, weather balloons and a large kite to make the raft more conspicuous in case of ditching.
Engine manufacturer plate.
Pieces of history
Message from Mr Koerner
When we started work on the fuselage, a note containing an address and a message was discovered inside an aluminium panel near the rear cockpit.
It was a good luck message followed by the address of a Mr Koerner of St Paul, Minnesota USA. What could be the story behind these few words ? Mr Koerner certainly scribbled them between 19 and 21 September when Costes and Bellonte visited St Paul on their goodwill tour of the United States.
We are researching the Koerner family but have made little progress although we have found, from an internet source, that the address is now a Pizzeria. Any more information would be gratefully received. Feel free to contact us.
In late 2000, we received an e mail from an american citizen with some news elements :
Among the many Koerners living in that area, a certain Louis Koerner, born in Pennsylvania, was a mechanic for Northwest Airways at its Minnesota headquarters from 1928 to 1965, when he retired as supervisor of maintenance. He could be THE man because, working on the airport as a mecanic in 1930 he had access to the aircraft and his fonction allowed him to talk with the crew
Hand writing on the original paint
Hand writing discovered under the last coat of paint.
Hand writing on the front cowl
Inscription engraved on the front engine cowl.
The date: August 27th 1930, 5 days before the "big jump".
Milos Gazdic from airwarfareforum website was able to give a translation. "Serbian, the mechanic Sava Simic, who worked on this engine wishes you good trip! August 27 1930"
Some names engraved on the side engine cowling.
During their record-breaking flight, the two airmen wrote notes to each other on small pieces of paper that were passed between the cockpits. Some of these had been previously found and published but the ones we have found in the back of the aircraft have not been seen since 1930. Some of these are written on the Breguet firm header paper !
Some vintage pictures of the "Point d'Interrogation" and the crew.
Length: 10.71 m
Wingspan: 18.30 m
Height: 4.08 m
Surface: 59.94 m²
Weight: 6 375 kg
Engine: 650 hp Hispano-Suiza
Speed: 247 km/h