Caudron G3 musal
“THE GODDESS OF THE ANDES”
By, Captain Nancy Aldrich
Adrienne Boland was born in a Paris suburb on November 25, 1895, the youngest of seven children. To say she was a feisty youngster would be an understatement. To put it politely, she was independent and assertive. Actually, in the family she was know as the “little terror!” “I won’t give up,” seemed to be her motto, and it served her well later in life.
As she grew up her “little terror” personality also grew. She loved to party and gamble. On one excursion to the race track, she lost all her money, then, while partying with friends she got drunk. At some point while drunk she mentioned that she wanted to become a pilot. One of the friends suggested that she might try to get a job working for The Caudron Airplane Company, which was the first airplane manufacturer in France. The Caudron brothers, Gaston and Rene, had started the first aviation school in Crotoy, France, and were also building airplanes. Working for them, she might have the opportunity to learn to fly. Once she sobered up, that idea seem to be a good one. She could get a job, pay off her gambling debts, and hopefully learn to fly.
She moved to Le Crotoy, and there she signed up for flying lessons. Her instructors quickly recognized that she would make a good pilot, if they could get her to be reasonable on the ground. She continued to be a “little terror,” and very difficult to get along with. If she disagreed with, or took offense at, something you said, she just might actually attack you physically. She was able to get her pilot’s license in two months, but it might have been sooner if she hadn’t frequently been grounded for disciplinary reasons. Later, she is quoted as having said, “I became a different person in an airplane. I felt small and humble. Because, the truth is, on the ground I was totally insufferable!”
When she was given her pilot’s license, they had misspelled her name, adding an extra ‘l.’ She never corrected that mistake and became known as Adrienne Bolland.
After earning her license, she was able to get a job with Caudron delivering airplanes. She told Rene that she wanted her own airplane to fly. He pointed to a G3 model and told her that if she could perform a loop in it, it would be hers to fly. She accepted that challenge, and soon demonstrated a loop for him. When he saw that, he thought having a young woman demonstrating airplanes was a great idea. In addition to showing the capabilities of the machine, she would also be showing how easy it was to fly (since even a woman could do it). He asked her to fly across the English Channel. Again, she accepted the challenge. However, on the way, she decided to fly into Belgium and spend a night drinking and celebrating with friends in Brussels. When she didn’t arrive on time, it was reported in newspapers that she had been lost at sea. She commented, “I may have drowned last night, but not in water!” Then on August 25, 1920, she repeated Harriet Quimby’s 1912 flight across the channel.
Being fairly impressed with Adrienne’s capabilities, Caudron asked her to travel to Argentina to demonstrate his airplanes. He sent several G3s along with her. These had been designed as military observation airplanes for use in WWI . They were very small, fragile airplanes with 80 hp engines.
Once in Argentina, Adrienne conceived the idea of flying across the Andes to Chile. The airplanes could only fly to a little over 14,000 ft, and the Andes climbed to over 22,000 ft. She knew that the G3 was underpowered for the flight she planned and ask for a better airplane. Caudron told her that was not possible, so she determined to make the trip anyway!
This was an amazing undertaking. She had no accurate weather reporting, no navigation aids, no maps of the terrain to study, and no oxygen equipment, but she was determined, and her “I won’t give up” attitude drove her on.
As she was planning her flight a young woman came to her hotel room. She did not know who this woman was, and thought she had come to discourage her. Adrienne determined she would give this young woman the time it takes to smoke a cigarette, then “get rid of this weirdo as fast as possible.” However, as she finished her cigarette,the young woman had her full attention. Even though she had said she had never even seen an airplane, she was describing the flight as if she had already been over the route, and she knew the altitude capability of the airplane. As she continued, she raised her finger as if in warning and said “you will fly over a lake that looks like an oyster, above all, you mustn’t turn right. You must turn left. You will see a mountain which has the form of a fallen chair, you must turn toward that mountain. If you turn right, you are lost!” After finishing her little speech, she just stood there for a minute staring at Adrienne, then she turned and left without another word.
Later that same day, Adrienne took a train to Buenos Aires to begin her flight. As she was taking off from Las Tamarindos Airfield two days later, on April 1, 1921 as a very low time pilot, she was thinking to herself, “I will never make it.”
In preparation for the trip she had dressed herself as well as she could against the cold of the high altitude flight in an open cockpit airplane. She wore her pajamas and wrapped herself in newspaper under her cotton jumpsuit and leather jacket.
As she climbed higher and higher into the mountains, the cold was much worse than she anticipated and her pajamas and newspaper barely keep her from freezing to death. Since her airplane did not have the ability to climb over the mountains, without a map she was trying to make her way through valleys and passes. After several hours, she flew over a lake, and looking down she thought, “it is magnificent. It glitters in the sun just like an oyster . . .” Then she remembered the young woman and her warning! As she looked around at the terrain she saw ahead of her an enormous pyramid that climbed into the clouds, to the right a valley split in two and seemed like an open route. To the left the mountain rose, layer upon layer with steep peaks. At the bottom there was a high rocky wall which looked a little like a fallen chair! She decided to take the advice of the “weirdo” and said to herself, “all because of a sorcerer’s apprentice, I am very certainly going to die in Argentina, or perhaps if I’m lucky, in Chile!”
She was very frightened, and cold. Her hands were all but frozen and without oxygen she was probably beginning to experience hypoxia, which makes it difficult to think properly. She was barely clearing the tops of the mountains and flying in the turbulence of mountain winds when she saw a river flowing in the direction she was going. As she followed the river, with blood coming out of her nose and ears because of the altitude and the cold, suddenly she saw an immense plain and can begin to descend into warmer air. With her hands almost useless because of the cold, she was not too sure how she could land the airplane, but she saw the Santiago and flew toward it. As she turned, she saw little points of light almost blinding her. Once she turned to line up with the runway for landing she realized that the sun was glittering off the instruments of a brass band awaiting her arrival. There were also people waving flags to greet her. She landed in the midst of a frenzy of flags, music, and people swarming over her airplane and pulling her out. Her 4 hour flight had ended and she is the first woman to fly over the Andes!
The first thing she asked for was a mirror, then a cup of hot coffee! She said, “I immediately went to sleep over it, or rather in the arms of General Contreras who commands the Santiago Flying School. He also undresses me and puts me to bed. But, take note, as a gentleman, he has himself assisted by a captain. I only learn all of this when I wake up!” It is interesting to note that the French Consul was not present at her landing. Her flight took place on April 1, and he thought the whole thing was an April Fool’s joke. Not wanting to be the brunt of such a joke, he did not go out to the airport!
When Adrienne arrived back in Buenos Aires, she wanted to speak with the woman who had visited her hotel room. Because the woman had closely followed the news, she contacted Adrienne. She wanted to know if she had spoken the truth. She explained, “I belong to a spiritist group, Madame. We absolutely wanted you to come back safely, and we wanted you to succeed. Therefore, we tried to help you. The medium was able to make your trip in thought, but as I was the only one able to speak your language, I was the one designated to pass on the information.”
Let me say here that I do not believe in “spiritualists and mediums.” However, this is an interesting story. Adrienne Bolland never changed her story through the years, and I have no explanation for what actually happened. She said, “make whatever of it you will. I still don’t believe in the occult sciences. But you have to admit that it takes some effort not to believe.”
The Chileans called her the “Goddess of the Andes,” but the French didn’t seem interested at the time. It was in 1924, that she was created a Knight of the Legion of Honor in recognition of the flight.
She remained humble about crossing the Andes and was not after ‘glory.’ She said, “glory isn’t worth anything compared to the inner joy of accomplishing something.” On the 50th anniversary of her flight, speaking to a journalist she said, “it doesn’t interest me. I’m much more interested in what’s happening now than 50 years ago.”
She died in Paris in 1975, another brave, daring, adventurous heroine that should be remembered, but for the most part is lost to history!
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. Proverbs 3:5
Captain Nancy W. Aldrich