In mid-March, a full-scale reproduction Salmson 2A2 went on display at the l’Envol des Pionniers museum, on the site of the former Toulouse-Montaudran airfield. It was here that Pierre-Georges Latécoère built his first aircraft and created the legendary Aéropostale mail line towards South America, whose pioneering spirit was celebrated in the books by pilot and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The museum — which only opened its doors on 17 December 2018 — is located in the very buildings once used by Latécoère.
The Salmson 2A2 was developed in 1917 to a requirement of the French Air Force for a new two-seat reconnaissance aircraft. Its design owes much to the Sopwith 1½ Strutter, which had been manufactured under licence by Salmson. The project to reconstruct a 2A2 was launched in 2011 when Ailes Anciennes Toulouse received a rare original Salmson 9Z radial engine from engine manufacturer Safran in exchange for a Concorde main undercarriage. Soon, the idea was born to re-create one of the aeroplanes once powered by this engine.
Being the very first aircraft manufactured in Toulouse, the 2A2 was an obvious choice.
The new type entered service in early 1918 and served with more than two dozen French Air Force squadrons, mainly in the reconnaissance role. Despite its ability to carry up to 230kg (507lb) of bombs, the Breguet XIV was preferred in the bomber role. In addition to the French Air Force, the US Army Air Service procured the type.
In total, some 3,200 aircraft were built, including several hundred under licence by Latécoère. Pierre-Georges Latécoère had originally specialised in the construction of railway wagons, but took the opportunity presented by the First World War to diversify into aircraft manufacturing, the Salmson 2A2 being his first licenced product. When the war came to an end, he realised the need to develop a civil aviation sector and created Lignes Aériennes Latécoère to link France with its colonies.
The first mail flight, by licence-built 2A2 number 457, connected Montaudran with Barcelona on 25 December 1918.
The Ailes Anciennes Toulouse president, Jean-François Bruna-Rosso, co-ordinated a network of partners, including Latécoère, local aviation supplier Metalavia which manufactured metal parts such as the engine cowlings, and two technical schools from the region which produced much of the wooden structure. One of the objectives of the project was to motivate students to pursue a career in the aviation sector and develop specialised skills which are highly sought-after in Toulouse.
Volunteers from Ailes Anciennes then took over final assembly and the covering and painting of the aircraft.
Jean-François, who also spent many hours working on the project, says, “This is a great example of what can be achieved through co-operation. Some of the involved partners did not have much of a connection with aviation before. For example, the wooden structure was done by the Lycée Roland Garros, which specialises in woodwork. But all shared the enthusiasm to re-create a piece of history and celebrate the pioneers who, exactly 100 years ago, had the vision to create one of the first intercontinental airlines.”