Charles Nungesser : biography
Charles Eugène Jules Marie Nungesser, MC (15 March 1892 – presumably on or after 8 May 1927) was a French ace pilot and adventurer, best remembered as a rival of Charles Lindbergh. Nungesser was a renowned ace in France, rating third highest in the country for air combat victories during World War I.
After the war, Nungesser mysteriously disappeared on an attempt to make the first non-stop transatlantic flight from Paris to New York, flying with wartime comrade François Coli in The White Bird (L'Oiseau Blanc). Their aircraft took off from Paris on 8 May 1927, was sighted once more over Ireland, and then was never seen again. The disappearance of Nungesser is considered one of the great mysteries in the history of aviation, and modern speculation is that the aircraft was either lost over the Atlantic or crashed in Newfoundland or Maine. Two weeks after Nungesser and Coli's attempt, Charles Lindbergh successfully made the journey, flying solo from New York to Paris in Spirit of St. Louis. Monuments and museums honoring Nungesser and Coli's attempt exist at the Le Bourget airport in Paris and on the cliffs of Étretat, the location from which their plane was last sighted in France.
Post WWI activities and disappearance
Work in the film industry
After the conclusion of World War I in November 1918, he tried to organize a private flying school but failed to attract enough students. As the post-World War I economic recession had left many World War I aces without a job, he decided to take his chances with cinema in the United States, where the days of heroic flying was a very popular theme. It was when Nungesser was in the U.S. doing the film The Dawn Patrol that he became interested in the idea of making a transatlantic flight and told his friends his next trip to America would be by air.
In 1923 Nungesser became engaged to Consuelo Hatmaker.
Attempt at aircraft sales
In late 1923, Nungesser headed up an ill-starred voyage to Havana. Having been invited by the secretary to the President, José Manuel Cortina, when the latter was vacationing in Paris, Nungesser seemed to have assumed he had received an official tender from the Cuban government. At any rate, Nungesser brought four World War I Spads with him, as well as two fellow veterans. Nungesser based the Spads with the Cuban Air Corps at Campo Colombia. He then proposed that the Cubans buy forty or more airplanes from him. When the Cuban Army pleaded lack of budget, Nungesser so aggressively importuned the Cuban Congress that the Cuban army Chief of Staff, General Alberto Herrera y Franchi, threatened to throw Nungesser's party out of the country. On 10 February 1924, the French ace ended his Cuban sojourn with a fundraising flying exhibition, proceeds going to charity.
Francois Coli, a navigator already known for making historic flights across the Mediterranean, had been planning a transatlantic flight since 1923, with his wartime comrade Paul Tarascon, another World War I ace. When Tarascon had to drop out because of an injury from a crash, Nungesser came in as a replacement. Nungesser and Coli took off from Le Bourget airport near Paris on 8 May 1927, heading for New York in their L'Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird) aircraft, a Levasseur PL.8 biplane painted with Nungesser's old World War I insignia. Their plane was last sighted heading past Ireland, and, when they never arrived, the assumption was that their plane had crashed in the Atlantic. Two weeks later, American aviator Charles Lindbergh successfully crossed from New York to Paris and was given an immense hero's welcome by the French, even as they mourned for the losses of Nungesser and Coli.
Over the years, there have been various investigations to try to determine what happened to Nungesser and Coli. Most believe that the plane crashed over the Atlantic due to a rain squall, but the aircraft has never been recovered. The leading alternate theory is that the aircraft may have crashed in Maine.
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