On 19th January 1919, French aviation pioneer Jules Védrines landed with his Caudron G.3 aircraft on the roof of Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris.
Jules Charles Toussaint Védrines was born in December of 1881 in Saint-Denis, France. His aviation career started with apprenticeship in Société des Moteurs Gnome (the Gnome Motor Company) and then a position of aviation mechanic in England.
In December of 1910, after completing the flying course in Blériot´s school, Védrines received his own pilot´s licence, with number 312. Then, his aviation career started to develop really quickly.
In May of 1911, Védrines won Paris to Madrid air race, flying a Morane-Saulnier A aircraft. Then, he took part in the Pommery Cup on Paris to Angoulême route and finished the second. Later the same year, he participated in the Circuit of Britain and the Circuit of Europe air races, taking the second and third positions, respectively.
In addition, during the same year, Védrines took part in two other air competitions – Deutsche Grand Prix and Petit Journal Paris-Torino race. However, he did not complete any of them. Moreover, during the German race Védrines had to make an emergency landing due to engine failure and damaged his aeroplane.
Next year, Jules Védrines became the first person in aviation history to exceed the speed of 100 mph (159.303 kph). He achieved that milestone in February of 1912, flying a Deperdussin 1912 Racing Monoplane. In the same year, Védrines won the Gordon Bennet Trophy race held in Clearing, Illinois. During that race, the French aviator flown over a distance of 200 km in 1 hour, 10 minutes and 56 seconds.
In 1913, Védrines flew from Paris to Cairo in a Blériot-made monoplane. That flight was related to some political affairs and almost concluded with a duel. Nevertheless, it caused Jules Védrines to be the object of interest for the French press for several weeks.
During the Great War, Védrines served in the French Air Force. His aircraft was provocatively nicknamed ´the cow´ – an allusion to Védrines´ origin from Limousin region, familiar of its cattle – and were carrying a painting of a cow´s head on the fuselage.
Védrines started his career in the air force from a rank of corporal. Nevertheless, he was quite fast-tracking up through the military ranks and at the end of the war was appointed the second lieutenant. During the war, Védrines was cited in the Order of the Day several times, was appointed an adjutant to famous fighter ace Georges Guynemer and decorated with high French medals, including the Legion of Honour.
An interesting fact is that Védrines was known of his clandestine operations. Several times, he flew with spies and secret agents, delivering and picking them up from improvised landing fields behind the enemy lines. He also successfully clocked more than 1,000 flying hours on reconnaissance missions.
Shortly after the end of the Great War, the French department store Galeries Lafayette set an interesting, but dangerous, aviation challenge. The goal was to land an aircraft on the roof of Galeries Lafayette main building on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris, representing a terrace with twenty-eight by twelve metres area. Almost immediately, the challenge was banned by Paris authorities due to significant safety risk.
However, there was a pilot who took on the challenge, despite the risk and the official ban. That pilot was, obviously, Jules Védrines who, on 19th January 1919 successfully performed that feat, landing a Caudron G.3 on the Galeries Lafayette roof. It stands to reason that his military practice with more than fifty improvised landings behind the enemy lines really helped Védrines to achieve that objective.
After the successful landing on the roof, Védrines ordered to turn his aircraft back and, to everyone´s astonishment, took-off from the building and returned to Issy-les-Moulineaux airfield.
For that incredible stunt, Védrines was fined sixteen French francs, however the Galeries Lafayette paid him a prize of 25,000 French francs (an equivalent of approximately 200,000 EUR today). Therefore, it was a very profitable feat.
In April of the same year, Jules Védrines took part in opening of the Paris-Rome aviation service. On 21st April, he took-off from Villacoublay airfield near Paris, flying a twin-engine Caudron C.23. Regrettably, the inaugural flight had to be abandoned near Lyon, due to engine failure.
Jules Védrines attempted to perform emergency landing but his aircraft crashed near St Rambert d’Albon. Védrines and his mechanic, Marcel Guillain, were killed on the spot.
The tragic and untimely death of the great French aviator prevented Védrines from pursuing his next aviation dream – an air voyage of circumnavigation of the world.
Cover photo: Védrines´ Caudron G.3 on the roof of Galeries Lafayette building (source: Source gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France, ark:/12148/btv1b53238494g, cropped)