The first person to make Toulouse take to the skies was Clément Ader, born in 1841 in Muret, 20 km south of Toulouse. He built a series of prototypes culminating in Éole, a curious contraption in which he completed a 50-metre hop. Clément Ader coined the word 'avion', and consequently history will always regard him as the father of aviation.
The air show, a regional speciality
By the 1900s, aviation had become a popular pastime in Toulouse. The first air shows were held on the pleasant Prairie des Filtres parkland in the city centre by the banks of the Garonne. The public loved the thrills and scares that the flying machines gave them and the region fell for the skilful mechanics playing at being pilots.
The years past and the local passion for flying continued unabated. Then Pierre-Georges Latécoère came along. Born in the Pyrenees in 1883, he was to become the father of the Aéropostale company. He first made his mark with his business building Salmson biplanes on a production line at Montaudran aerodrome not far from central Toulouse during the Great War.
A bunch of hotheads
After the war, Latécoère began to envisage some grandiose projects. His ambition was to connect Toulouse with Casablanca, Dakar and Buenos Aires by air. His aeroplanes would transport first mail and later passengers. Latécoère assembled a bunch of hotheads to help him. The uncompromising Didier Daurat was his chief pilot, in charge of a line-up that included Jean Mermoz (nicknamed 'the Archangel') and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the world-famous author of Southern Mail and The Little Prince. The Aéropostale adventure was to last from 1927 to 1933.
By that time, Latécoère's discreet but gifted associate Emile Dewoitine had decided to spread his wings alone. He laid the foundations of modern aviation, and before long was running a company with 100 employees. This was the first step in what was to become Aérospatiale, the pride of Toulouse and the direct ancestor of today's Airbus.
The other men that left their mark on the worldwide aviation history that was being made in Toulouse were the test pilots. These included André Turcat, who flew over Toulouse at the controls of the first Concorde on 2 March 1969, and of course Jacques Rosay, who piloted the A380 on its maiden test flight from Toulouse on 27 April 2005.