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Experiences

100TH ANNIVERSARY OF ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY’S FIRST FLIGHT

IWC PAYS TRIBUTE TO A LEGEND’S FIRST TAKE-OFF

Date — 17 April, 2012

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Antoine de Saint‐Exupéry, aviator and author, discovered the intoxication of flying when he was 12 years old, at the aerodrome of Ambérieu – not far from his childhood home in Saint‐Maurice‐de‐Rémens. In 1912, the young Antoine boarded a Berthaud‐Wroblewski, piloted by a man named Gabriel Wroblewski‐Salvez (1881‐1952), taking care not to warn his mother as she would probably have forbidden him to take such a risk.

In those days, many children flocked to the airfields, filled with wonder. Antoine was one of them, arriving on his bicycle to see the pilots and watch them take off on their flying machines. The mechanic Maurice Thénoz recalls the young boy going up to the pilot Gabriel Salvez and telling him :
—Monsieur, my mother has given me permission to take my first flight
—Is that really true?
—Yes, I assure you!

It was a little white lie in the quest for thrilling experiences. Gabriel Salvez allowed him to climb into the W2, and flew twice round the field. It was a sunny day in July 1912, during the holidays, and with this trip, a lifelong passion was born.

“As I did not learn how to draw, I learned to pilot airplanes. I set up airline routes. I have flown almost everywhere. I know how to recognize China from America at first glimpse. If one is lost in a plane, it is very useful.”

—An unpublished extract from The Little Prince taken from the manuscript now preserved

Saint‐Exupéry’s first flight wasn’t just any plane. It was a plane with a special, agile new engine- designed by Salvez, and by his brother and partner, Pierre Salvez. Pierre Salvez had already designed a new metal prototype and on 10 April 1910 he requested a patent for an airplane with two symmetrical propellers and two rudders. The elevator was combined, with one in the front and the other at the back embedded in the empennage. The rudder was vertical and is placed at the end. The two‐wheeled landing gear was mounted on spring‐loaded dampers, and completed at the back by a simple wheel. This engine became a patent in February 1910, when a Shareholder company called Prini & Berthaud filed it as a “two‐stroke external‐compression engine”.

Partnership between IWC and Saint-Exuperéy’s heirs
—In July 1912, pilot Gabriel Salvez (pictured top left) took Saint-Exupéry, aged just 12 at the time, up for his first flight aboard a Berthaud-Wroblewski. An experience that was to leave its mark on the future world-renowned poet and pilot for the rest of his life.

Like the locomotive had done a few years earlier, the airplane continued to evolve, and opened a new path towards modernity, which would inspire writers – among whom was Saint-Exupery. While still a child, Saint‐Exupéry discovered the poetry in flying. He would fly over vast seas and cross mountains. He would experience the solitude of deserts and taste the “bitter flesh of night flights.” All this went into his writing, which was all the richer for it.

About Saint-Exupéry:
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a true renaissance man: a writer, pilot, adventurer, film-maker, explorer, journalist, ambassador, artist, inventor and moralist. A man of action as well as reflection and meditation, Saint-Exupéry was at once a scientist, a literary artist, a humanist and a sage. As a commercial pilot, Saint-Exupéry was a part of the most fascinating, spectacular and dangerous activity of his age: the conquest of the skies.

—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1935, shortly before his attempt to set a new long-distance record from Paris to Saigon. He had to crash-land in the Egyptian desert and after 5 days was saved by Bedouin.

From this experience, he produced a body of literary work which drew not from his flying career, but also from man’s continual battle with all that holds him back and ties him down to earth – such as inertia and fear. Armed with a thirst for knowledge, courage, intelligence, responsibility and the spirit of sacrifice, Saint-Exupéry managed to rise above, propelling himself ever further to the skies. When these noble values needed defending against the monstrous principles of Nazism laying waste to Europe, Saint-Exupéry did not merely express himself with his pen: at an age when he could have been excused from fighting, he took up arms and died in active duty, barely two years after having written, as an adjunct to his great works, a Christmas tale: The Little Prince, the best known French story in the world. The book still stands as a simple tale that would have us understand that what is most marvelous about man is the inner child that is his soul.

During my childhood, my first contact with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was through his book Le Petit Prince. I was particularly impressed by the riveting stories he wrote, all based on his experiences, relating to the early days of airmail and his time as a pilot, driven by sheer passion. He flew air routes in three parts of the globe, set a record for transatlantic flight and was the author of several aviation-related inventions. As a manufacturer of Pilot’s Watches, IWC has a very special affinity for these exciting moments in his life.

—Georges Kern, CEO, IWC Schaffhausen

IWC is honored to pay tribute to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his remarkable achievements upon the 100th year of his first flight. In 2012, the year of the Pilot’s Watches, IWC Schaffhausen dedicates to this passionate humanist a chronograph which unites the aspirations of those pioneering days of aviation with modern watch technology. Read more about the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 18-carat red gold (Ref. IW387805) in a limited edition of 500 watches.

—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was already a legend in his own lifetime. People are fascinated as much by his books, which have been translated into more than 50 languages, as by his adventurous life as a pilot.

The start of a lifelong passion

Read more

Explore More Articles
Kurt Klaus
The Art of Creating Stories and Dreams

Every watch tells a story – about its origin and age, personality and character, tradition and culture, and not least about its owner.

Aquatimer video Screenshot
IT'S AQUA TIME - The new aquatimer video

The evolution of the diver’s watches from IWC continues.

The Next Generation of IWC Engineers

For over 60 years, IWC has been training generations of watchmakers in its own workshops. Candidates need to be deft with their hands and have a flair for technology. After completing their training, most of them remain loyal to the company in northeastern Switzerland for many years.

Swiss National Day
Swiss National Day

Experience the secret talents of the IWC watchmakers.

The Time is Right

The parallels are endless: technology, innovation and cutting-edge design dominate both businesses, and they’re both defined by time. The MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team tries to beat the clock in FORMULA 1 motor racing; at IWC Schaffhausen, we are the clock.

Ingenieur Automatic
The Sculptor-Designer

The sculptor-designer is a phenomenon. Even if you are not at all design literate you will know him by reputation. His name has become a synonym for severity.

The Art of Being an Engineer

The engine faltered and cut out. Hunched over his metal baby, Benz wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.

INGENIEUR - TAKING POLE POSITION

We are pleased to welcome you on IWC’s qualifying lap. View the video, and join us as we are about to start the race.