Adrienne Bolland (1896-1975)

bolland_200.jpg Adrienne Bolland

1921, Argentina : Adrienne Bolland became the first woman to fly over the Andes. She took off from Mendoza, Argentina, and landed 10 hours later in Santiago de Chile.

Huge crowds greeted her arrival.

She had flown at an altitude of 14,750 feet, braving the bitter cold and having to avoid mountain peaks that were higher than the altitude her airplane could fly.

Female flier conquers the Andes

Adrienne Bolland was a test pilot for Caudron, the French aircraft maker, which thought that having a young woman fly its new G3 would be a good way of showing how easy it was to handle the plane, which looked like a rattletrap but was actually flexible and sturdy. It was April 1, 1921. Adrienne was hunched over the controls in the tiny, bathtub-like cockpit of the G3 as an icy wind tossed the frail-looking plane about as if it were a toy.


Adrienne Bolland and in the front seat, Louise Favier

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Read more about Caudron aircraft including the G3

She was flying too high above the Andes. Her nose and mouth were full of blood. Bitter cold burned her hands and feet. Her vision was burned. She felt dizzy and could hardly breathe in the rarefied atmosphere two-and-a-half miles above the earth.

Adrienne was lost in the high-altitude wilderness. At times the plane was sucked down, and she gripped the throttle with all her might. The wings flapped and trembled, and the Caudron soared into the sky. After ten hellish minutes, Adrienne spotted an oyster-shaped lake below. She had no idea where she was. Shortly before her departure, a Brazilian woman who had read about the pilot in the papers walked into her hotel room. She left Adrienne a few medals and a piece of advice: "When you-re lost up there, you'll fly over an oyster-shaped lake. There'll be a valley to your right, which will look like the right way. It's not. Make a left toward a wall of solid rock that looks insurmountable".

Spitting blood, Adrienne turned left and headed straight toward the wall. She quickly discovered that when wind hits a mountain it is deflected skyward in the same way that the water in a stream flies into the air when it hits rocks in the rapids. She flew headlong into the blade of the wind, coming close to the wall. The wind lifted the Caudron and carried it up, climbing the sheer rock face until a breach opened behind a peak.

Adrienne steered the plane into the pass and suddenly found herself flying above peaceful valleys, with the Pacific straight ahead. In Santiago, Adrienne was feted like no woman before her. But the French consul was not there. He though this business about a woman aviator who had conquered the Andes was an April Fool's joke.

Adrienne Bolland

Dans le but de survoler les Andes, Adrienne Bolland arrive par bateau en Argentine, avec un mécanicien et un vieux Caudron. Cet avion paraît dérisoire, face à l'impressionnante chaîne de Montagnes. Pourtant, la jeune Française décolle de Mendoza, le 1er avril 1921, seule à bord, pour ne pas surcharger l'appareil.

Elle se faufile dans les gorges profondes de la cordillère, cherchant à profiter des courants ascendants qui compensent la faible puissance de l'avion. Un froid terrible la transperce; pour éviter l'engourdissement, elle s'enveloppe de papier journal. La tentation est forte de rebrousser chemin, mais Adrienne n'y cède pas.

Voici, enfin, le dernier col et, au loin, l'aérodrome de Santiago du Chili sur lequel elle se pose, après 3 heures 15 de vol. Prévenu de l'exploit de sa jeune compatriote, le ministre de France au Chili ne se dérange pas pour accueillir celle-ci; il a cru à un poisson d'avril !

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