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FRENCH AIRCRAFT designer René Couzinet was only 23 when, in 1928, he devised a three-engine low-wing monoplane specifically for transatlantic mail service. The effort was an early example of crowd-funding, with public solicitations throughout France amassing 2 million francs.
Couzinet’s first aircraft crashed, a second was destroyed by fire. But the Couzinet 70, named the Arc-en-Ciel (Rainbow), proved successful.
As described in www.wp.me/p2ETap-1C0, on January 16, 1933, Jean Mermoz piloted the Arc-en-Ciel (with René Couzinet aboard) across the South Atlantic from St. Louis, Senegal, to Natal, Brazil. It wasn’t the first South Atlantic crossing by air, but reliability of the Couzinet indicated that regularly scheduled airmail service was feasible.
The Arc-en-Ciel was a low-wing tri-motor monoplane, with its aft fuselage tapering into a smooth integration with the vertical stabilizer. Apart from looking sleek, this also imparted a drift-board stability in yaw. With the exception of its engine mounts, the structure of the Arc-en-Ciel was primarily wood. Both its fuselage and wing carried the rainbow motif.
The wing spanning 98 ft. 5 in. had a section thick enough to permit tunnel-access to the wing-mounted engines by one of the four crew members.
The engines were Hispano-Suiza 12 Nb V-12s, water-cooled and producing 650 hp. They gave the Couzinet 70 a top speed of 174 mph, a cruising speed of 147 mph with a range of 4225 miles.
To put this in perspective, Saint Louis, Senegal, and Natal, Brazil, are approximately 1980 air miles apart. The 1933 flying time of 14 hours 27 minutes calculates out to an average speed of 137 mph, comfortably within capabilities of the Arc-en-Ciel.
Based on this flight and its return trip to le Bourget Airport in Paris (met by 15,000 people), the Arc-en-Ciel was updated and renamed the Couzinet 71. In May 1934, the aircraft was put into regularly scheduled Air France service between France and South America. The Arc-en-Ciel remained in service until 1937.
There’s a brief video of the Arc-en-Ciel. See http://goo.gl/pZny1m.
René Couzinet’s career—and life—continued with more than a little turbulence. Other variants of the Couzinet 70 were generally unsuccessful. In 1939, he married Madame Gilberte Mermoz (née Chazottes), widow of Jean Mermoz.
They spent World War II in Brazil, where Couzinet was active with the country’s aviation industry. Upon returning to France after the war, Couzinet found little interest in his unorthodox aeronautical ideas. In time, he grew despondent with a down-turned career.
Couzinet and his wife committed suicide in 1956.
Such sadness is only partly mitigated by the Couzinet Arc-en-Ciel and its place in aviation history. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013