Musee de L’Air et Espace, Le Bourget

Photos and Narrative by John Martin

This is a truly wonderful museum of the history of flight. Not surprisingly, it focuses on French aviation and consequently contains many unique exhibits. It is primarily an aircraft museum but, as usual, there is a selection of engines in a dedicated display, as well as some beautiful examples on show in early aircraft. These include the ultra simple 2 cylinder of the Demoiselle and the Antoinette V-8 in the elegant monoplane of the same name. These two types will always remind me of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines where they starred, albeit without their proper engines.

Among more unusual configurations are the 5-cylinder "half radial" REP in the aircraft of the same name, built by Robert Esnault-Petiere who is claimed to have invented the joystick. The Paumier Biplan was fitted with an Anzani 10-cylinder two-row rotary and the Voisin LAS used a 9-cylinder Salmson water-cooled radial, similar to that seen at the SNECMA Museum.

The main engine display is a small area in one of the aircraft halls, with the engines behind glass screens. I failed to identify the V-8 which is displayed with its associated cannon.

Several other engines are displayed within the aircraft halls. Unlabelled in one corner, we found a truly monumental piston engine, identified only by the letters LB on the propeller shaft. One of the photos includes Jean-Louis to give it scale. A little investigation on the Internet revealed it to be a Breguet Quadrimoteur Type B, of H-32 configuration. Built in 1924 it was developed from the Bugatti U16 and displaced 48 litres to produce around 1,000 hp. More information on this extraordinary machine can be found at:

The Prototypes Hall includes a Jumo 004 and Rolls-Royce Nene engine, both of which were used to power the first French jet aircraft, the Sud-Ouest SO-6000 Triton. Two of Rene Leduc’s ramjet powered experimental aircraft are on show, the 010 which was ramjet only powered and was air launched from a Languedoc airliner, and the 022 which used a SNECMA Atar engine combined with a ramjet, a "turbo-reacteur", which enabled it to take-off under its own power. The Nord Griffon II powered by a similar powerplant is also on show.

Rolls-Royce used the "Flying Bedstead" to explore jet powered vertical lift, using two Nene engines, mounted horizontally. SNECMA carried out similar experiments with the "Atar Volant" which looked decidedly more hair-raising. The engine was mounted vertically, with the pilot above the air intake. It looks horribly unstable and the environment for the pilot can have only been terrifying. It was used to develop technology for the Coleoptere annular wing, tail sitting VTOL aircraft.