Paris Air Show

Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace is a treasure chest of aerial jewels

 - June 17, 2007, 8:22 AM

For many, the name Le Bourget is forever linked to one event, celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. Back in 1927, a young airmail pilot named Charles Lindbergh captivated the world when he flew his Spirit of St. Louis nonstop from New York and landed at Le Bourget.

The airport is home to one of the world’s most extensive collection of historic aircraft. More than 350 types are on display at Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace.

At Le Bourget since 1974, the French air and space museum is dedicated to preserving aviation’s heritage. France has a rich aerospace history and the museum displays artifacts and aircraft from the earliest days of manned flight all the way through to the present. Aircraft from many nations are featured in the museum’s vast collection, which reflects the international spirit of the Paris Air Show.

Aviation history enthusiasts, in this 100th anniversary year of the first helicopter takeoffs, can find surprising rotorcraft here. In the “early ages” gallery there is a spring-powered pair of contrarotating rotors, made in 1796 by UK citizen George Cayley, who was inspired by French researchers Launay and Bienvenu. In 1784 they designed what looks like a bow with an attached arrow. One four-blade rotor is attached to the bow. The other one is attached to the far end of the arrow. Rotors are actuated when the arrow and the bow spin in opposite directions. The small aircraft is powered by a spring that can be manually wound up by turning the arrow.

If you look at the ceiling in the Saint Exupéry hall, you will see a C8-II autogiro designed by Juan de La Cierva in 1928. The Spanish pioneer took an Avro 504N and replaced the upper wing with a 39-foot free rotor. Fitted with a 200-hp engine, it flew at speeds up to 90 knots. La Cierva was the first to cross the Channel on a rotorcraft.

Another unusual bird is a Sud-Est 3.101 helicopter with two tail rotors. It was built from German components and took off for the first time 59 years ago, in June 1948. At the time, it could only lift off thanks to a very light pilot–Jean Boulet. After numerous technical issues, it was determined that the twin tail rotor design was inadequate and the experimental program was halted.

The museum can be easily spotted thanks to the soaring display of three Fouga Magisters at the front and the Ariane rocket and the Boeing 747 landmarks on the static display behind. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Showgoers can enter the museum for an additional €4.