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Famous French test pilot Jean Boulet fades away »

By Jean-Michel Guhl
17 February 2011

Test pilot Jean Boulet
Test pilot Jean Boulet pictured in the late seventies when he was Directeur des Essais en Vol of the Helicopter Division of Aérospatiale. © Eurocopter  

Marseille-Marignane, France, 17 February 2011 — Eurocopter announced today the death, on 15 February at the age of 90, of its most famous test pilot : Jean Boulet.

A long-time test pilot for Sud Aviation, and later SNI Aérospatiale, before his retirement more than two decades ago after having been the director of test flying at SNIAS, Jean Boulet remains a legendary personality in the world of European aviation, both for his exceptional piloting skills and personal passion for flying, and above all for having established the place of his company — now Eurocopter — in the history of rotorcraft.

Born on 16 November 1920 in Brunoy, near Paris, Jean Boulet was first hired in 1947 by the SNCASE, which would become Sud Aviation and then later the Division Hélicoptères of the Société Nationale Industrielle Aérospatiale. Having been trained in the USA earlier in his life to become a military pilot with the French Air Force, he was one of the first foreign pilots to fly a helicopter in the U.S. Air Force. Over the years he would fast become one of the greatest pioneers in the history of rotorcraft flight testing.

Just a few highlights from his illustrious career include : the first flights of the SE 3000 — the first French designed helicopter largely based on the war time Focke-Achgelis FA 223 Drache —, the SE 3101, the Alouette II and III family, the large SE 3200 Frelon, the SA 330 Puma, the SA 341/342 Gazelle and the SA 315 Lama.

 
  The prototype of the SE 3000, the first French-made helicopter inspired by an earlier wartime German design, which Jean Boulet test flew in October 1948. © CEV  

The records he established are no less impressive. Jean Boulet would set 17 world records during his career, including the record for the highest altitude reached on a rotorcraft. At the controls of a Lama, Jean Boulet reached an altitude of 12,442 meters on June 21, 1972. A record which still stands today.

Jean Boulet received the Prix Icare in 1961 and, in 1976, the prestigious « Pilot of the year award » from the Helicopter Association of America. He chalked up more than 9,000 flight hours during the course of his long career — including over 8,000 in helicopters. The man was well known for his love of flying and readiness for daring trial actions, but he was above all widely respected for his human nature, modesty and unassuming character.

A little known fact about Jean Boulet is that he was, on 23 January 1953, the first Frenchman to eject from a jet airplane. It was during the early testing phase of the SE 530 Mistral, when the prototype went into an uncontrolled spin close to the ground. The Mistral was a RR Nene powered French derivative of the famous De Havilland Vampire subsequently produced in some 250 units for the sole use of the French Air Force.

Jean Boulet pictured flying the SE 3101 prototype during 1948 at Orly. © Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace  

 

Old pilots never die, they just fade away…

 

Source: Eurocopter

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