The beginnings of aviation: Charles Godefroy

The beginnings of aviation: Charles Godefroy

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Title: Charles Godefroy passes under the Arc de Triomphe.

Author : MORTANE Jacques (-)

Creation date : 1919

Date shown: August 7, 1919

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Photography

Storage place: Air and Space Museum - Le Bourget website

Contact copyright: © Air and Space Museum - Le Bourget / Agence Prieur-Branger

Picture reference: PR 107888

Charles Godefroy passes under the Arc de Triomphe.

© Air and Space Museum - Le Bourget / Agence Prieur-Branger

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Charles Godefroy’s achievement should be viewed in an ultimately contradictory dual perspective, that of the military victory of 1918 and that, more gloomy, of the situation of airmen at the end of the Great War. The victory of 1918 and more precisely the grand parade on the Champs-Elysées in 1919 precipitated the achievement of the feat.

Image Analysis

On July 14, 1919, the military authorities decided to parade the airmen "on foot" as well as the infantry and artillerymen of the Great War. For those who consider themselves the heroes of heaven, this day which was to be the day of glory has turned out to be an affront. Defying the authorities, the ace with twelve victories, Jean Navarre, decides to take the plunge and accomplish the feat of passing under the Arc. But on July 10 he was killed during an air exercise. Charles Godefroy then decides to take up the challenge. Born in 1888 in La Flèche, mobilized in 1914 and assigned to the air force in September 1917, he has long cherished the plan to pass under the monument and trained under the Petit Rhône bridge in Miramas. Accompanied by his friend the journalist Jacques Mortane, Godefroy went several times under the Arc to study the axes of passage and the air currents. On August 7, 1919, at 7.20 a.m., he took off in great secrecy aboard a Nieuport said Baby due to its small size, prepared for the occasion.

At 8 o'clock, arriving through Porte Maillot, Godefroy swooped down to gain speed and succeeded with this apparatus, with a wingspan of almost 9 meters, in passing under the Arc de Triomphe, which was only 14.50 meters wide. Jacques Mortane's photo, although of mediocre quality, was however taken taking into account the speed of the plane. Godefroy avoided the tram, all of whose passengers fled or flattened to the ground.


The event has an immense scope, especially since it will be the only time that a pilot will thus pass under a Parisian monument: in February 1926 the plane which tried to pass under the Eiffel Tower crashed on the ground after hitting a pillar. Charles Godefroy’s achievement arouses enthusiasm among pilots. It also allows them to reaffirm the specificity and dangerousness of their profession. For the inhabitants of La Flèche, in Mayenne, Godefroy becomes a local hero entitled to a plaque on his birthplace. And although in total violation of all air traffic regulations, it is only softly frowned upon by military authorities.

By this gesture, Godefroy wanted to continue the tradition of courage carried by the aviators during the war, while crossing a strong taboo of the Republic, that of the Arc de triomphe (which one year later became the burial place of the Unknown Soldier) . It fits well in the tradition of rebel aviators, of those who will soon trace the air mail lines around the world, but also in the vicious circle of the discontent of the army after the victory. More broadly, Godefroy also denounces the strategy of the general staff which sees aviation only as an auxiliary weapon for the infantry, a conception which, in 1940, will be dear to the French army.

  • Triumphal arch
  • aviation
  • feat
  • Paris
  • Champs Elysees


Bernard MARK Aviation history Paris, Flammarion, 2001. Michel BENICHOU A century of aviation in France Paris, Larivière, 2000. Jean-Paul PHILIPPE The heyday of fighter pilots Paris, Perrin, 1991.

To cite this article

Philippe GRAS, "The beginnings of aviation: Charles Godefroy"

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