The fine art of flying - Part I

Air France was created with the merger of four or five different companies, Air Orient being one of them. The symbol of the sea horse carried then by Air Orient was passed to Air France, since then the company has always carried that emblem on its aircrafts. It was on October 7th 1933 that the new company was founded at Le Bourget airfield in Paris, the then main airport of the French capital.

Air France was one of the early airlines to operate the Douglas DC-3 on domestic routes within France and other destinations in Europe. It also flew a number of other types including French built models Potez, Latecoere and Couzinet "Arc en Ciel" flown previously by French aviator Jean Mermoz. Operations were discontinued at the dawn of the second world war but in the second half of the 1940's after the war ended, Air France resumed operations and was owned by the French government. The company was one of the earliest airlines to introduce transatlantic service to New York. It commenced service to New York Idlewild in 1946 with the Douglas DC-4 propliner. Since then Air France expanded in the long haul sector with the introduction of the famous Constellation, a four-engine commercial aircraft designed by Lockheed.

Air France was the launch customer of the French built Caravelle in the second half of the 1950's and it entered the jet age in 1959 with the introduction of the type, a short haul twinjet designed by Aerospatiale in Toulouse. The beautiful Caravelle became the backbone of the short and medium haul fleet and would be for the next two decades until the early 1980's, the type was flown to various destinations in Europe and North Africa during the 1960's and 1970's when the Boeing 727 began replacing it. When I was a child I had a beautiful book, Martine en avion, written in French. It is the story of a young girl traveling with her mother and her dog, she is taking a flight from Paris to somewhere in Italy, the book is all about the trip on the Caravelle of Air France. It's a lovely book for children.
Air France also introduced the Boeing 707 on long haul intercontinental flights in 1960. It was indeed in 1959 and 1960, with the introduction of the then two new jets, the Caravelle and the Boeing 707, that a new livery was adopted, a stylish blue cheatline with the seahorse on a white fuselage. It was in the late 1960's that the Boeing 727-200 was introduced on flights within Europe (Air France never flew the 100). In the middle of the 1970's, Air France was interested in the Boeing 737 twin jet to replace the remaining Caravelles, but the introduction of the type was postponed until 1983 because of labor union issues, being that flight engineers would loose their jobs. The last Caravelle was retired in 1981.
Air France entered the wide body era in 1970 with the introduction of the Boeing 747 on the ORY-JFK route which was previously flown with the Boeing 707. The aircraft could carry twice as many passengers on the route than its older sister the 707 could. In 1974, a new type also launched by Air France was also introduced on the Paris-London route: the Airbus A300. It was a new wide body twinjet designed by Airbus Industries capable of carrying up to three hundred passengers on short and medium haul routes, the A310 was introduced a decade later. 1974, the year Valery Giscard D'Estaing was elected president, was also the year the new Charles de Gaulle airport opened in Paris, it became then Air France main hub.
Perhaps you've seen the movie Rabbi Jacob, if you live in France. It is the story of a rabbi who comes to Paris, from New York. He flies on a Boeing 747 from JFK to ORY. Three ways you can tell that movie was made in the early 1970's: the Boeing 747 was already in service, the aircraft still has the old livery with the blue cheatline and it arrives in Orly as opposed to Charles de Gaulle. This was 1973.

I have particular memories about traveling with Air France. In 1980 I flew on an A300, it was brand new airplane at that time, from Paris to Nice. My aunt was getting married down in the French Riviera so I flew there with my family for her wedding. It was at that time that I began to travel to the French Riviera for holidays. Since then I took several flights on Air France between Brussels and Nice, mostly on the Boeing 727 then widely in service. It was in the summer of 1982 that I flew for the first time, with Air France, as an unaccompanied minor. Me and my brother were nicely taken care by a flight attendant who gave us good meals in flight and escorted us to passport control upon arrival in Nice.

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