Aviation Pioneers

Roland Garros – First Flight across the Mediterranean

As surprising as it may seem, many people don’t know the whole story of Roland Garros, the man whose name was adopted by one of the world’s most legendary tennis venues. Admittedly, it is unusual for an aviator’s name to be adopted for a tennis stadium. Only after you learn the story of aviator Roland Garros, you will understand how appropriate a moment of respect this is.

Although Roland Garros was a keen athlete, he was not an avid tennis player. He was talented in football, rugby, and cycling when he was young, a sport that regained the full strength of his respiratory system after suffering about of pneumonia at the age of 12.

Rolland Garros was born on October 6, 1888, in Saint-Denis de la Réunion, graduated from HEC Business School and started his own company at age 21 – a car dealership not far from the Arc de Triomphe – in August 1909. He was invited to the Champagne region by a friend, attended his first air show, and fell completely in love with these crazy machines. Since Garros did not do anything in half, he immediately bought a plane and learned how to fly by himself before obtaining his pilot’s license.

Roland Garros Aviator
Roland Garros Aviator

The World’s First Flight over the Mediterranean

On September 6th, 1911, two years after the birth of his passion for airplanes and aviation, Roland Garros the aviator broke his first altitude record, reaching 3,910 meters (just under 13,000 feet) after taking off from Houlgate beach. He competed in a series of air shows and races that amazed the audience with his courage and creativity. His name began to spread around the world with his actions in aviation, and he became a popular figure. He quickly became a star in the discipline, with hundreds of thousands of people flocking to watch him in action both in Europe and South America.

Roland Garros had great passion and wanted to fly over the seas. He set himself a new challenge: crossing the Mediterranean, something that was never doneat the time. On September 23, 1913, Morane-Saulnier flew in his monoplane from Saint-Raphaël (French Riviera) to Bizerte (Tunisia). This flight made history as the first flight in the world over the Mediterranean.

This epic journey takes about eight hours.

He set out at 5.47 am – his plane had 200 liters of fuel and 60 liters of castor oil. During the flight, Garros suffered two engine failures, which he managed to fix quickly. Garros landed in Tunisia at 1.40 pm after flying 780 kilometers (485 miles). He only had five liters of fuel left in his tank!

Roland Garros Aviator
Roland Garros Aviator

The inventor of the First Onboard Machine Gun

When World War I broke out, Roland Garros the aviator signed up to fight. Airplanes at that time were equipped with very few weapons. Roland Garros’ curiosity and desire for development came into play here too, and developed the first single-seat warplane equipped with a propeller-fired machine gun. It was revolutionary.

In early April 1915, sub-lieutenant Garros notched up three consecutive victories in a fortnight. But was then hit by the German anti-aircraft defense over Belgium. 

Forced to land, he was taken prisoner before he had a chance to destroy his plane. His invention, therefore, fell into the hands of the enemy, who used his ideas to adapt their aircraft.

He managed to escape from the camp where he was captured on February 14, 1918. Then he rejoined the French army.

On October 5, 1918, Garros died in northern France as a result of his plane crash near the settlement of Vouziers in the French province.

The stadium, where the French Open tennis tournament was held, was named the stadium Roland Garros in 1928.

Roland Garros Stadium

There is also Roland Garros Airport in the Sainte-Marie settlement of the island of Réunion, where he was born.

Réunion Roland Garros Airport

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