Toulouse – Up in the Air

Much of the growth and vibrancy in the city of Toulouse is to do with the aerospace industry. In and around the former region of Midi Pyrenees around 80,000 people, including me, make a living from the aviation industry.

Toulouse is home to a number of important aerospace related companies, including Airbus and the European Space Agency.

A short history of aviation in Toulouse

Latécoère and Aéropostale – pioneers of aviation in Toulouse

Jean Mermoz and Antoine de St. Exupéry, and other early pioneers of French aviation flew to Africa and South America transporting mail from Montaudran, (just south of Toulouse), the headquarters of Latécoère.

One hundred years after Pierre-Georges Latécoère founded the airline Latécoère, which later became Aéropostale, a museum is to open that will retrace the story of air travel in the area.

Latécoère opened his factory on the south east side of Toulouse, where they built 1000 war planes, ordered by the government. At the end of the Great War, the planes were adapted into transportation planes. From 1920 Latécoère started to transport passengers as well as mail.

Latécoère sold his airline to the businessman Marcel Bouyoux-Lafont, who created Aéropostale in 1927. At this time the journey from Toulouse to Buenos Aires took nine days by ship.

Jean Mermoz crossed the south Atlantic, in 1930 in a hydravion Laté 28.3 in 21 hours and 10 minutes.

Of all the flights I worked on from London to Buenos Aires the flight time never went over 14 hours, and still, it felt like an eternity! I guess it is all relative.

PEXAeroscopia 029

At one time, Aéropostale had 200 planes, 17 hydravions and 1500 employees.  The government made plans to merge various companies and create what is now Air France but Bouyoux-Lafont resisted and eventually went bankrupt. L’aéropostale was taken over in 1933 by Air France, who transferred the routes but kept a revision centre at the original site of Montaudran.

From 1935 the hangars were used essentially for the construction and reparation of planes. Latécoère sold his workshops to Louis Breguet in 1939 and reconstructed his factory in another quarter of Toulouse.

When war broke out again, Louis Breguet, an aircraft designer, who later became one of the founders of Air France, transferred his offices from near Paris to Montaudran.  Under occupation the workers were obliged to repair German planes.  Members of the French Résistance movement sabotaged this work and offered the planes to the Spanish republicans.

At the end of the war, Breguet moved his HQ back to Paris but kept the workshops and research centre in Montaudran until the merger with Dassault in 1971. At this time he moved to Colomiers, near the new airport of Blagnac.  Air France also moved headquarters to Blagnac in 2003.

Le Chateau Petit-Espinet Raynal, where the HQ of Latécoère once was, as well as three hangars and 500 metres of runway became classed as ‘monuments historiques’ in 1997.  Air France sold 38 hectares of land to the city who then founded the campus of Toulouse Aérospace.  The research centre Clément-Ader and the research institute technique Saint- Exupéry.


halle de la machine

Clement Ader was born in 1841 in Muret, just south of Toulouse. He was an inventor and engineer, and a pioneer of aviation. He invented the Ader Eole, also called Avion which was an early steam-powered aircraft that he developed in the 1890’s and named after the Greco-Roman wind god Aeolus. It was a bat like design run by a lightweight steam engine that he invented. In 1890 he attempted to fly it and got credit for a powered take-off and uncontrolled flight. He made approximately 50 metres of distance at a height of about 20 centimetres.

The mayor of Toulouse, Jean-Luc Moudenc supervised the construction of the museum– l’Envol des Pionners, which opened the weekend 22/23 December 2018.

Next to the Hall of Machines and this new museum are the Jardins de la Ligne, which opened in June 2017.  Three hectares of landscaped gardens were designed to represent the three continents served by the company Aéropostale.

The museum retraces the history of aviation in Toulouse. It is near the hangar built to house the machines created by François Delarozière for his celebrated street performance le Gardien du Temple. The zone is known collectively as the Piste des Géants.

For information on this exhibition click to visit the post- Chasing Monsters

p'tit prince 002

 Antoine de St Exupéry was a writer, a poet, an aviator and a reporter born on the 29 June, 1900 in Lyon.

He became a pilot during his military service in 1922. He was hired by the company Latécoère in 1926.  St Exupéry was a writer whose stories were often inspired by his experiences as an aviator. From 1932 he worked mainly as a journalist but also participated in air raids.  Vol de Nuit and Terre des Hommes were both successful works by the writer and pilot.

In 1939 he served in the air force. He left France for New York with hopes of convincing the US to join the war effort in Europe and became a voice for ‘la Résistance’. He went to Sardinia and Corsica later in the war with a unit responsible for photographic reconnaissance missions. He disappeared over the sea in a Lockheed P-38 Lightning during one such mission on the 31 July 1944. His plane was found and identified formally on the 3 September 2003 off the coast of Marseille.

The Little Prince (le Petit Prince) was written in New York during the war and published with his own aquarelles illustrations in 1943 and then in France in 1946. The charming tale is both poetic and philosophic. It became a success worldwide and is the second most translated work after the bible.

The Museum of Aeroscopia.

Aviation enthusiasts should also visit is the new Musée de l’Aeroscopia  : which tells the story of early aircrafts, and the pioneers of aviation. From Clement Ader’s ambitious attemps to fly to the creation of the British French Concorde to future projects being invented today to take to the skies tomorrow.

  Airbus Tours: you can also visit the airbus factory visit :

I hope that you have enjoyed this post about the history of aviation in Toulouse. Follow me to keep up with my travels in beautiful Occitanie, next stop Toulouse – City of Space ……à bientôt Christina

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