Antoine de Saint-Exupery was perhaps the most famous aviator / writer to live. He’s most recognized as a French writer and poet, but not many may know he was also an aviation pioneer. During his life, he became a laureate of several of France’s highest literary awards and even won the United States National Book Award. He’s most famously known for authoring the children’s classic The Little Prince.
The Early Years
Saint-Exupery was born in Lyon to an aristocratic Catholic family. When his father died when Antoine was only four years old the family status changed to that of “impoverished aristocrats.” At age 21 Antoine began his military career as a basic-rank soldier. While in the military he started taking his first flying lessons and one year later was transferred from the French Army to the French Air Force where he eventually earned his pilot’s wings.
In 1926 Saint-Exupery became one of the pioneers of international postal flight. This was in the days when aircraft had few instruments. Later in life, he complained that those who flew the more advanced aircraft had become more like accountants than pilots. He worked for Aeropostale between Toulouse and Dakar, and became the airline stopover manager for the Cape Juby airfield in the Spanish zone of South Morocco, in the Sahara desert. His duties included negotiating the release of downed pilots taken hostage by Saharan tribes.
The Desert Crash
On December 30th in the early morning hours Saint-Exupery and his mechanic-navigator Andre Prevot, crashed in the Libyan desert while attempting to break the speed record in a Paris-to-Saigon race. They both miraculously survived the crash but were soon faced with the harsh desert environment. They had no idea where they were due to the primitive maps they had at the time. With only one day’s worth of fluids, they soon began to experience mirages and auditory hallucinations. On the fourth day, a Bedouin on a camel discovered them and saved their lives.
Saint-Exupery’s last assigned mission was to collect intelligence on German troop movements in and around the Rhone Valley preceding the Allied invasion of Southern France during WWII. He had been reinstated to his old squadron and was only to fly five missions. On July 31 1944 he took flight in an unarmed P-38 on his ninth reconnaissance mission. He did not return. It wasn’t until 54 years later when a French fisherman found a silver identity bracelet bearing his name did the people of France know what happened to one of their heroes.
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