Adrienne Bolland, first aviator to cross the Andes

The history of French aviation has retained the names of Hélène Boucher, Maryse Bastié and Jacqueline Auriol. A little less thanAdrienne Bolland. However, at the beginning of the 20th century, this adventurer paved the way for many other women on the tarmacs of France, but also those of much more distant lands. In a very masculine world, this little piece of woman succeeded where some of her colleagues had failed. Exploits, and not the least, at a time when getting on a plane was often done at the risk of one’s life.

The “Goddess of the Andes”

Born in 1895 in Arcueil, Adrienne grew up in a bourgeois family, supported by her father Henri, who wrote for the Joanne guides, predecessors of the current Routard or Michelin guides. But when the latter died, the Bollands were plagued by financial difficulties. Not wanting to be a burden on her mother, Adrienne quickly decided to chart her course.

“At the age of twenty, this young girl, who is very much of her time, both practical and adventurous, had to think of a way to earn her living. Which profession to choose, where there was not already clutter? Pilot ? Why not ? There, at least, she would not encounter feminine rivalries. So she presented herself at the Maison Caudron, with that mixture of audacity and shyness that characterizes her: six months later, she obtained her pilot’s license and, in February of last year, she crossed the Channel alone on her G.3, in bad foggy weather”, wrote on May 1, 1921 in The annalsthe journalist and aviator, Louise Faure-Favier.

An article published just one month after the great feat of Adrienne Bolland, the one that made her “the goddess of the Andes”. Hired in March 1920 by the manufacturer René Caudron to be an aircraft conveyor, she was, the same year, the first woman to cross the Channel from France. Intrepid, she began to dream of distant destinations and flew in December 1920 to South America for a series of exhibitions aboard her G.3. She quickly demonstrated her skills as an aerialist, chaining loops and regularly making headlines in the press in Argentina.

The inhabitants dreamed of seeing her take up the challenge of crossing the Andes mountain range, where many pilots had already lost their lives. A woman of her word, she took the plunge in the spring of 1921. After a first failed attempt. “On the 31st, in fact, I had carried too much weight and had to turn back from the Uspallata valley. I decided to reduce my flight range to six hours and resumed my flight the next day at 7 am. The Andes massif is a cluster of mountains 180 km wide whose altitude varies between 4,000 and 8,000 meters. That is to say, there are continual tornadoes. I admit that my flight was hard, very hard, and that I had to use all my energy”, she confided to the Small Diary May 26, 1921.

An epic which was far from being a walk in the park for the young woman. Before her, very few men had succeeded in this crossing, all by the south. She opted for the north, telling herself that she would follow the railroad. To guarantee him the best chance, his mechanic had added a tank.

“By adding 50 kg, he told her that she had to leave very light. No leather suit. However, it is – 30°C at an altitude of 2,000 m. She did what she could to stop the cold. She put on grease, newspaper and silk pajamas that her brother had brought her from China,” says Coline Berya great specialist in Adrienne Bolland who has dedicated a book to her, Adrienne Bolland or the wings of freedom, as well as a web series. This enthusiast went so far as to follow in the footsteps of the aviator in the mountain range, searching the archives on the spot.

She found there more than 500 press articles devoted to the young aviation rebel, baptized the “goddess of the Andes” and celebrated on her arrival in Santiago de Chile as the true heroine that she was.

Feminist, resistant and rebel

Consecrated on this side of the Atlantic, more than in France, she will not stay far from two years in Brazil where she will live one of her worst accidents, landing near a creek, victim of a breakdown of his seaplane, having his mechanic as his only companion. “The seaplane is overturning. Miss Bolland and her mechanic expend treasures of energy pulling him to the beach. They succeed. But disappointment! The country is wild. There is no dwelling there. A few meters away is the edge of the virgin forest. The two travelers do not lose heart. With empty stomachs, bleeding feet, they walk the 70 km they had covered in flight,” explains an article by Car of 1923.

Once refueled, the two survivors returned to the scene to repair the seaplane and resume their flight. A tenacity admired Katell Faria who has dedicated a book to Sky adventurers, featuring prominently Adrienne Bolland. “You think you’ve come across a caricature, and that’s not the case at all. She’s a more subtle woman than she looks. I was told several times that she was crazy… On the contrary, she was a woman who took risks in conscience. She lived in a pioneering era, when pilots were driven to take risks to advance aviation. We didn’t mind having daredevils. She said she liked to shake, but she was scared,” recalls the writer.

A fear she will face every time she gets on a plane. On his return to France, the builder Caudron terminated his contract. “Walking mail, it wouldn’t have fascinated him. She is a woman who will not be sponsored by a manufacturer and will survive thanks to aerobatics, every weekend, for twenty years, ”recalls Coline Béry.

In an article by The Petite Gironde, in April 1921, the journalist Henri Bouffard recalls this exchange he had with Adrienne Bolland: “’And do we earn money in aviation, miss?’ To which the young pilot answered me immediately very simply: “In general, it’s not brilliant. Me, it’s true, I earn money. Only, you understand, I work, and then, I risk” . »

A frankness and an independence that will earn him solid and lasting friendships with renowned airmen like Blériot or Bréguier, but also with the humorist Pierre Dac or the painter Moïse Kisling. And also, sometimes, inconveniences, as the article by Car who reported in 1923 that a company she had to fly for wanted to force her to wear a skirt to fly. “A skirt-suit. I asked why. I was told that if I don’t have a skirt, no one will believe that I am a woman! Well ! So, I said, you just have to present me naked, ”she told the journalist with humor.

“When she refuses to wear skirts, that’s what leads some to say that she had a bad temper. She shocked them. All her life, Adrienne Bolland fought against conventions, ”says Coline Béry. If she assumed her pilot’s suit when she broke looping records, she was no less a woman adorned with furs and jewels when she went out in town with Ernest Vinchon, her husband of more than 40 years.

At his side, she joined the Resistance during the Second World War, and took up many fights, in particular that of the vote for women in the interwar period. She died in 1975, at the age of 79, with to her credit a women’s looping record, still valid, of 212 loops completed in 72 minutes, achieved in 1924 at Orly.

Adrienne Bolland, first aviator to cross the Andes