Destruction of an ancient memorial

I became aware of the threat which pressed on this airfield on the occasion of a tragic event: the forced landing of one of our planes. I do not remember any more the exact reason for which this "rally" went to crash in the garden of a house close to the airfield. Breakdown engine ? Move into IMC conditions ? What do I know ? If no physical injury was to regret at the local resident's, for the crew of this plane, as very often in these cases, it was the end of the road. The belittlement campaign that followed was unprecedented. Every time when I surrendered to the Club, I discovered, with bitterness, new graffitis on walls bordering the airfield: " LEARNING PILOTS: DANGER ! PLANES: FED UP WITH NOISE ", and so on. Relieved by the local press and by local residents' associations finding abruptly a renewal of activities, these detractors showed there a doggedness which I was able rarely to observe for the other causes. Nevertheless, the aéro-cluc leaders did not stay without fighting: they organized meetings and open days. During these demonstrations, the visitors could see an exhibition of old photos accompanied with a text redrawing the glorious past of the aerodrome.

Indeed, in 1908, less than five years after their first flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright, having undergone some setbacks with the U.S.Army, began a tour in Europe and more particularly in France. The airfields of the first French airmen flights were situated, for the main part , in Paris region (Bagatelle, Issy les Moulineaux, Enghien), but they frail machines could only fly by exceptional weather conditions. It was the same for brothers Wright's " Flyer ". These ones preferred to settle down in Pau which enjoyed a microclimate authorizing much more flight attempts than in the northen France. The chosen airfield was Idron . At this time, the presence of these American guests and of their machine raised the enthusiasm of crowds and the rare inhabitants living near the new aerodrome did not complain about noise caused by the twelve horses of the " Flyer " engine. On the contrary, the local elect hurried to reserve this airfield for the exclusive aviation usage. Personalities of time, such as Paul Tissandier, were introduced to the art of piloting by Wilbur Wright himself. The exhibition of the club even showed a letter of encouragement sent to Paul Tissandier by the famous Louis Blériot. With its brand new hangar specialy built to shelter there " Flyer ", its Club House raised to welcome there the visitors and the creation of the first aeroplane piloting school, Idron airfield was in 1908 the first aerodome of the world.

Ten years later, the end of "WWI" was signed. During this war Aviation had been becoming a redoubtable weapon conditioning for ever military strategy, so much so that the Versailles treaty stipulated that the losers would be struck by suspension to build planes. November 11th is still a holiday and lots of people commemorates still, in every village of France, in front of a monument engraved in the names of those that had no chance to survive it, this turn of History, this treaty of which terms were only a springboard towards the following world slaughter. During this time, in places as Idron, pioneers paid of their life, but freely this time, their faith in the sky conquest, dreaming that one day planes would cross oceans, allowing so to become people closer. When one observes nowadoays world, where any point of the globe is only some hours far from any other point and where, due to satellites, all human beings can communicate or be situated on a map with a precision of some feet, it is justifiable to wonder, with naivety, which is the real turn of History:

November 11, 1918 ? Or December 17, 1903, day of the first flight of a plane, that opened doors to sky and space conquest ?

Idron's aerodrome had remained almost unchanged since its creation and, within it, a few men and women immortalized the tradition of the flight learning , as Jean did for me, with the same gestures as Wilbur Wright did for Paul Tissandier, as one could see on the photos of the club exhibition. If we consider the consequences that these simple gestures had on the historic weft of twentieth century, did not this place deserve the status of ancient memorial? What do we have to commemorate exactly? The distress of poor chaps who had no other choice than the minefield or the firing squad, or the courage of free men believing in their dreams, no matter if they'd die for? But History retains only military events, to believe that the human memory is only made of battles, revolutions and genocides, certainly to legitimize those that occure still under our eyes.

A series of events precipitated the lock of the airfield: planes brand-new were destroyed, my instructor not seeing any future for the aéro-club, was engaged by a piloting school. After the last flight we made together, he introduced me his son. This one was as old as me and intended, as its father, in pilot's career. After his failure at the "Ecole de l'Air" (French military flying school), he tried to accumulate enough flight hours to go up for the practical tests of professional pilot. He died some days after our meeting. His " Dornier " crashed at sunset while it had just droped his last parachutists, he was flying since morning, practically continuously. This accident accelerated more the airfield lock shutdown. The gliding section exiled itself in "Aires sur l'Adour", rather far from the mountains and from their dynamic lifts. Due to distance, many young people had to give up. The plane section was transferred to Uzein, an airport situated in the North of Pau. With its control tower and its hard runways, this one was used by commercial flights,  " Transal "  of military transport and parachutists training, as well as a professional piloting school, the one that had had engaged my former instructor. The sight of our new installations inspired only depression : the club - house was then a mobil home and the planes slept henceforth outdoor, fixed to the ground by ropes which seemed obstacles to their freedom. For students, laps were twice longer, twice expensive and twice dangerous because of trails turbulences of the " Transal " which loaded and then droped non-stop their parachutists' load.

My bitterness was however eased by the presence of one of the air-traffic controllers who was also my partner in the university for the practical works of data processing. I often visited him in the control tower and, due to him, I discovered that there was another aviation than that of the pioneers, aviation which did not more have anything to see with that of aéro-clubs, professionals' aviation which carried the art of the piloting at a level close to the perfection.

The hazards of my studies went lead me to leave definitively the city of Pau. I had even so oportunities to make some cross country flights with the other instructor of the club who, before all these events, took charge mainly of aerobatics. I made with him my last flight at the aéro-club of Bearn during which, in my demand, we glanced through the airfield henceforth disused of Idron. If installations had stayed in the state, an enormous trench had been practised on the track, forbidding irreparably any plane to land there, even in case of emergency.

I could not retain a tear by looking to this lifeless aerodrome which had brought me so many enjoyments, so many feelings, so many fears, so many victories on myself, then so much bitterness and resentment. I could not be resolved in the idea that this place of legend had already sunk into the limbs of oblivion.

But my memory will always keep a major place for this cradle of aviation, for this airfield of my first wings, and for those that will have made everything, but in vain, so that survives this monument of History..

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