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Roland Garros - FU Hero

Posted by aaron on August 23, 2008

Roland Garros

Roland GarrosHave you ever wondered who was the first fighter pilot? It’s generally acknowledged that a Frenchman, Roland Garros, holds that distinction. 

Roland Garros was born in 1888 and began flying in 1909. He was an accomplished aviator before the Great War, having become the first Frenchman to fly across the Mediterranean Sea in 1913. He joined the French army as a reconnaissance pilot in 1914. 
 
Prior to Garros, should enemy aviators encounter each other in the sky, they might take shots at each other using a pistol or rifle. On a few occasions, these pot shots Morane-Saulnier Type L Captured with German Insigniahad actually injured or killed a pilot and downed the aircraft.   However, effectively employing a machine gun on an airplane had not yet been developed. In these early years, it was felt that to shoot a machine gun from an airplane platform it would most accurately be done by placing the gun along the pilots line of sight. That would mean shooting through the propeller. That presented the obvious problem of possibly shooting away one’s own propeller. Garros visited the Morane-Saulnier Works who were reported to have developed metal deflector wedges that could be attached to propeller blades. Upon returning to his unit, Escadrille MS26, Garros had the deflectors installed on his aircraft, a Morane-Saulnier Type L.
 
On 1 April 1915, Roland Garros happened upon a German Albatros B II reconnaissance plane. Almost certainly the German pilot was stunned when the French aircraft attacked him head-on. Garros opened fired and became the first pilot to shoot-down an enemy aircraft with a forward firing gun. Garros would go on to bring down at least two more aircraft on 15 and 18 April 1915. Some records indicated that he shot down two more beyond the initial three but today it’s believed that is not the case and that his kill total ended at three.
 
Either shot down by ground fire or as a result of a mechanical failure, Garros was forced to land behind enemy lines on 18 April 1915. He attempted to burn his aircraft but in the process he was captured along with the intact gun and wedge protected propellers. German and Fokker engineers were able to use these captured devices to improve their own gun/propeller systems and greatly enhance their own aircraft’s lethality. 
 
Garros was able to escape from a POW camp in early 1918. He rejoined his French flying unit but was shot down and killed near the Ardennes in October just a month before the end of the war.
 
If the name Roland Garros sounds familiar it may be because the French Open tennis tournament is played in the Roland Garros Tennis Center out side of Paris each year. French car manufacturer Peugeot has also produced a Roland Garros limited edition version of a number of its automobile models. Fitting tributes to the world’s first fighter pilot and a true FU Hero.

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