The interwar period must have been very exciting for an aviation enthusiast. The aircraft industry developed so rapidly that only twenty years passed from the first Atlantic crossing, (the 1919 non-stop flight by Alcock and Brown from Newfoundland to Ireland), through the first solo crossing (1927) between the American continental land mass and the European continental land mass by Charles Lindbergh on his Spirit of St.Louis, to the first scheduled passenger service with Pan American Boeings 314, in summer 1939.
Of course, a parallel story should be mentioned: that of the big airships that between 1919 and 1937 assured regular services of translatlantic crossing, until the infamous Hindenburg disaster happened.
The sudden decline of lighter-than-air aircrafts was paralleled by the rise of the so-called “Flying Boats”, huge fixed-winged seaplane with a hull, allowing them to land on water, instead that on expensive land-based runways. Here on Socks, we already dedicated a post to the Boeing 314, maybe the most celebrated of them all. Now it’s the time for the Latécoère 521, the one we may call the first European Jumbo.
The Model 521, also known as “Lieutenant de Vaisseau Paris”, was a six engined flight boat, with four inboard engines mounted as tandem push-pull pairs. Its inaugural flight took place in 1935. Despite some difficulties due to an hurricane in a celebratory flight during the december of the same year, the airplane set a new record for altitudes with an heavy payload (2000 meters – 6,562 ft). The only aircraft of the 521 series made four further flights to New York between May and July 1939, before the war started. The cruising speed was 210 km/h (130mph).
The various sub-assemblies of the Latécoère 521 were constructed at Montaudran, Toulouse, and then taken by road to Biscarosse on France’s Atlantic coast where they were assembled. Biscarosse was soon designated France’s ‘hydro-base transatlantique‘ and became a hub for transatlantic flights with Pan Am Boeings and BOAC Short seaplanes regularly touching down on the lake. (informations from FalkeEins Great Airplanes)
The aircraft guaranteed great comfort for up to 72 passengers. The lower level was provided with seatings for 22, a salon with 20 armcharis and tables, six deluxe double cabins, each with its own bathroom, a kitchen, a bar and a baggage hold. The upper deck had further seating for 18 persons, a storage compartement and an office for the three flight engineers. Click the section below to enlarge.
The transatlantic service was interrupted by the outbreak of WWII, when the aircraft was used by French Navy to patrol the Atlantic. After the 1940 armistice, it flew to Marseilles where it was wrecked by the retreating German in August 1944.
The airplane provided the basis for the successive models, the Laté 522 “Ville de Saint Pierre” civil airliner, and the three Laté 523 navalized variants.
Latécoère 521 on Flight Global archive
Latécoère 521 on Aviastar
Flying Boats (Boeing 314) on Socks
Drawings by Géo Ham