100 years since French daredevil pilot completed Arc de Triomphe stunt

100 years since French daredevil pilot completed Arc de Triomphe stunt
Charles Godefroy completes his Arc de Triomphe stunt in 1919. Photo: AFP
One French daredevil flier has been dominating the news in recent days - but it's 100 years since another pilot committed an even more daring stunt.

Early on a Thursday morning 100 years ago, a French WWI veteran took off on a secret mission that would propel him into the record books – a daredevil flight under the monumental Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Charles Godefroy pulled off the stunt on August 7, 1919, to the astonishment of crowds gathered below on the Champs-Elysees.

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Zapata above the Champs-Elysées on July 14th. Photo: AFP

Dozens fled or threw themselves on the ground as the biplane whizzed just a few metres over their heads.

It was the same site where 100 years later French inventor Franky Zapata would wow Bastille Day crowds with his flying hoverboard.

Like other airmen who fought during World War 1, Godefroy took offence when pilots were ordered to march alongside other soldiers during the national Bastille Day military parade just a few weeks earlier on July 14.

He was determined to remind the country of pilots' exploits and sacrifices during the war, and began preparing his flight with the help of a journalist friend, Jacques Mortane.

Other aviation pioneers had already renounced the attempt, including Roland Garros who claimed that trying to fit through the narrow 14.5-metre (48-foot) opening would lead to an untimely death, according to French historian Philippe Gras.

But Godefroy had practised by flying under a bridge at Miramas on the Mediterranean coast and chose a Nieuport fighter plane with a wingspan of just nine metres.

Mortane was waiting when Godefroy zoomed under the monument at around 8:00 am and captured the feat on film.

Despite having flouted any number of military rules, Godefroy got off with a mere warning from his superiors and became a hero in his hometown of La Fleche in western France, which erected a plaque in his honour.

Since then, several illicit flights under the arch have been made over the years while other daredevils have buzzed under the much wider arches of the Eiffel Tower.

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