A bit of history
One day... Biscarrosse, a village of pine resin-tappers with nothing about it to suggest an aeronautical vocation, was chosen by Pierre-Georges Latécoère to become the site for the assembly and testing of France’s biggest seaplanes. It was 1930, and the lake of Biscarrosse saw over 120 giant seaplanes take off from its waters.
Nicknamed “flying boats”, their destination was New York or Fort de France (Martinique). At the controls of these prestigious aircraft, pilots like Mermoz, Guillaumet and Saint-Exupéry made their mark on the history of aviation. Their achievements went beyond simply flying; they were the stuff of legend.
The museum reminds us how seaplanes have not entirely disappeared today, although “flying boats” no longer play a role on modern air routes. Seaplanes are still used in large numbers to carry out specific tasks, such as firefighting, coastal surveillance and sea rescue, carrying personnel and exploring inaccessible areas. And in view of the increase in air traffic today, some manufacturers are considering returning to seaplanes as freight carriers and even as leisure vehicles.
The adventure continues
With the siting of the Latécoère aircraft assembly and flight-test centre in 1930, followed by the Hourtiquets seaplane base at the end of that decade, Biscarrosse, a genuine gateway to the Atlantic, became the obvious place to build a seaplane museum - and the Musée de l’Hydraviation is the only one of its kind in Europe. The museum assigned itself the task of charting the history of seaplanes, from the pioneers in their quirky machines right up to the latest models found around the world.
To achieve this, it has assembled archives, photographs, old maps, autographs, original publications, flying suits, medals, uniforms, logbooks, flight logs, personal belongings of famous pilots, aircraft parts, engines, propellers, seaplane models (some of which are extremely old), aircraft interiors, original paintings and reproductions, posters, period advertising materials, and more.
This historical display occupies 850 sqm of floor space, partly in period buildings, since some served as lodgings for workers at the Hourtiquets seaplane base. Full-size seaplanes are today extremely rare. The weather and marine corrosion have taken their toll. Aside from a handful that have been restored by enthusiasts, today all the seaplanes that have been saved are in museums.
So why not in ours? Seaplanes dating from 1912 to the 1980s, restored or under restoration, are displayed in the main exhibition hall, in an area of 480 sqm.
The museum is eager to preserve this heritage and the manufacturing techniques specific to this sphere.
One rare piece was donated to the museum’s collection by Biscarrosse town council: an American Grumman Albatross, a real icon of maritime airborne search and rescue, whose first flight was in 1947 (a small number of aircraft of this type still fly today outside Europe).
In the context of the planned creation of the museum and redevelopment of the Latécoère site around its seaplane heritage, to be given a seaplane of such size, currently the only one of its kind in Europe, represented a unique opportunity.
Once restoration is complete, it should be possible for the aircraft to be used in a static capacity, with optimum safety conditions to allow the public to climb on board. The purpose of restoring the aircraft is so that it can be displayed to the public and serve as a “showcase” for the museum.