Roland Garros (aviator)
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6 October 1888|
Saint-Denis, Réunion, France
|Died||5 October 1918
Vouziers, Ardennes, France
Cause of death
|Vouziers, Ardennes, France|
|Awards||Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (1913)
Officier de la Légion d'honneur (1918)
Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros was born in Saint-Denis, Réunion, and studied at the Lycée Janson de Sailly and HEC Paris. He started his aviation career in 1909 flying an Alberto Santos-Dumont's Demoiselle (Dragonfly) monoplane, an aircraft that only flew well with a small lightweight pilot. He gained Ae.C.F. licence no. 147 in July 1910. In 1911 Garros graduated to flying Blériot monoplanes and entered a number of European air races with this type of machine, including the 1911 Paris to Madrid air race and the Circuit of Europe (Paris-London-Paris), in which he came second. In September he established a new world altitude record of 5,610 m (18,410 ft) By 1913 he had switched to flying the faster Morane-Saulnier monoplanes, and gained fame for making the first non-stop flight across the Mediterranean Sea from Fréjus in the south of France to Bizerte in Tunisia. The following year, Garros joined the French army at the outbreak of World War I.
Development of interrupter gear
In the early stages of the air war in World War I the problem of mounting a forward-firing machine gun on combat aircraft was considered by a number of individuals. The so-called "interrupter gear" did not come into use until Anthony Fokker developed a synchronization device which had a large impact on air combat; however, Garros also had a significant role in the process of achieving this goal.
As a reconnaissance pilot with the Escadrille MS26, Garros visited the Morane-Saulnier Works in December 1914. Saulnier's work on metal deflector wedges attached to propeller blades was taken forward by Garros; he eventually had a workable installation fitted to his Morane-Saulnier Type L aircraft. Garros achieved the first ever shooting-down of an aircraft by a fighter firing through a tractor propeller, on 1 April 1915; two more victories over German aircraft were achieved on 15 and 18 April 1915.
On 18 April 1915, either Garros' fuel line clogged or, by other accounts, his aircraft was downed by ground fire, and he glided to a landing on the German side of the lines. Garros failed to destroy his aircraft completely before being taken prisoner: most significantly, the gun and armoured propeller remained intact. Legend has it that after examining the plane, German aircraft engineers, led by Fokker, designed the improved interrupter gear system. In fact the work on Fokker's system had been going for at least six months before Garros' aircraft fell into their hands. With the advent of the interrupter gear the tables were turned on the Allies, with Fokker's planes shooting down many Allied aircraft, leading to what became known as the Fokker Scourge.
After internment in a POW camp
Garros finally managed to escape from a POW camp in Germany on 14 February 1918, after several attempts, and rejoined the French army. He settled into Escadrille 26 to pilot a Spad, and claimed two victories on 2 October 1918, one of which was confirmed. On 5 October 1918, he was shot down and killed near Vouziers, Ardennes, a month before the end of the war and one day before his 30th birthday. His adversary was probably German ace Hermann Habich from Jasta 49.
Garros is erroneously called the world's first fighter ace. In fact, he shot down only four aircraft; the definition of "ace" is five or more victories. The honour of becoming the first ace went to another French airman, Adolphe Pégoud.
Places named after Roland Garros
A tennis centre, which he attended religiously when he was studying in Paris, was named after him in the 1920s, the Stade de Roland Garros. The stadium accommodates the French Open, one of tennis' Grand Slam tournaments. Consequently, the tournament is officially called Les internationaux de France de Roland-Garros (the "French Internationals of Roland Garros").
The French car manufacturer Peugeot commissioned a 'Roland Garros' limited edition version of its 205 model in celebration of the tennis tournament that bears his name. The model included special paint and leather interior. Because of the success of this special edition, Peugeot later created Roland Garros editions of its 106, 206, 207, 306, 406, and 806 models.
- culture.gouv.fr : certificate of the legion of honour
- culture.gouv.fr : Extract of state registers
- Judges' Report in European CircuitFlight 22 July 1911
-  "FIA Record ID#15888". FIA. Retrieved 20 September 2013.</
- "Flying the Mediterranean". Flight V (39): 1078. September 27, 1913. Retrieved September 24, 2014.
- G. van Wyngarden. Early German Aces of World War 1. Osprey Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-84176-997-5
- Jon Guttman. SPAD XII/XIII aces of World War I. Osprey Publishing, 2002. ISBN 1-84176-316-0
- Norman Franks, Frank W. Bailey,mOver the Front: A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the United States and French Air Services, 1914-1918. Grub Street, 1992. ISBN 0-948817-54-2, ISBN 978-0-948817-54-0.