A short history of Air France

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Air France, one of the two airlines to have operated passenger aircraft from the earliest to the supersonic, was founded in 1933 by merging five state airlines. It established a long-haul network after World War II, adding destinations in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. In the 1950s, the airline used Douglas DC3 and Lockheed Constellation aircraft for its services. Air France entered the jet age in 1959 with Sud Aviation Caravelle and Boeing 707 jets. By 1969, it had a fleet of 43 Caravelles and 33 707s, converting the remaining propeller-driven planes into freighters.

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Air France, one of the two airlines that have operated a wide range of aircraft throughout history, including the only successful supersonic passenger jet, is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Let’s dive into the history and development of this French flag carrier.

The Birth of Air France

In August 1933, Air France was established through the merger of five state airlines: Air Orient, Air Union, Lignes Farman, CIDNA, and Aéropostale. Interestingly, the new national carrier remained nameless until a journalist named George Raffalovitch accidentally coined the name “Air France” during a press conference.

During its early years, Air France focused on building an extensive long-haul network to cater to the increasing postwar demand for air travel. In July 1946, the airline introduced its flagship Paris to New York route and expanded its destinations to Africa, Asia, and the Americas in the subsequent years. The Douglas DC3 and Lockheed Constellation played a crucial role in the carrier’s services during the 1950s, with the latter remaining operational until the late 1960s.

Air France Embraces the Jet Age

While Air France initially entered the jet age with the British-built De Havilland Comet, a series of fatal accidents involving this aircraft led the airline to switch to 9 Sud Aviation Caravelle and 3 Boeing 707 jets in 1959. By 1969, Air France had expanded its fleet to include 43 Caravelles and 33 Boeing 707s, with the remaining propeller-driven aircraft being converted into freighters.

Fun Fact: Air France operated the world’s only successful supersonic passenger jet, the Concorde, from 1976 until its retirement in 2003. The Concorde could reach speeds of up to Mach 2.04 (1,354 mph) and complete a transatlantic flight in just under 3.5 hours, less than half the time of a subsonic aircraft.

Fun Fact: Air France is known for its iconic livery featuring a white fuselage with a blue cheatline, representing the colors of the French flag. The airline’s logo, a winged seahorse called “Hippocampe,” has been a symbol of Air France since its inception in 1933.

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