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Jean-Claude Brouillet
African Skies

Jean-Claude Brouillet, pilote de l'air, USA 1944
Ce jour-là, j'étais pilote. U.S.A., 1944.

Jean-Claude Brouillet was born in the 20's in the tiny French village of Villeneuve-sur-Lot, right in the heart of Gascogne, D'Artagnan's homeland. From an early age on, his parents who were avid travelers fed him with exotic stories from faraway lands.

He is 14 when WWII swipes over France and he joins the "Resistance" before moving to Africa to join the Free French Forces where he wants to become a pilot. When, after numerous adventures, he finally gets his pilot's license in Alabama, the war is over.

When asked why he walks away from a promising career in the air force, he, without a second thought, tells everyone that he's going to Gabon to build the country's first airline.

Jean-Claude Brouillet et son Tiger Moth
Devant le Tigre, avec mon ami Armand. J'aime la vie au grand air, mais quand même, c'est un drôle d'avion pour faire le transport des passagers.

It is without a dime that he lands in Africa where he will rapidly make friends, black and white alike. He is adopted by Gabon as fast as he's adopted Gabon: his country! People listen kindly to this young man's aviation dreams without really believing in them. After all, this is a country where no roads had yet been cut in under the heavy jungles' giant trees.

After three hard working years as a trucker, Jean-Claude finally has enough money to buy a plane. It is in England that he will find it. A vintage Tiger Moth biplane that had survived the First World War

With this antique wooden plane, he flew all the way from England to Gabon. Along, he will embark Monsieur Louis, an old plane mechanic a few months short of his retirement and who wanted to see for himself, at last, a part of the legendary aerial road, the fabled Route de L'Aéropostale that his friends, French aviation pioneers like Mermoz and St-Exupéry had previously opened all the way to the Sahara and then to South America.

On the very night of his landing in Gabon, his plane was destroyed in a storm. Jean-Claude has nothing left, but there is no time to despair. His courage has earned him the respect of his potential customers: the rugged wood loggers. He his handed an envelope with enough money to buy a new plane so he can work for them and repay his debt. And so it all started…

Les Dragons de l'aviation gabonnaise
Ça commençait à prendre tournure.

The Gabonese government then encouraged the young aviator with his first contract as an aerial courier for the country's administration. Over the years, landing strips will appear in the jungle and new planes will be bought. A second Tiger Moth is built from the first plane's wreckage and is soon joined by larger De Havilland Dragon biplanes.

Léon Mba
Le président Léon Mba. Pour les amis : « le Vieux ».

The country is opening up to aviation. What took three days by boat now takes a few hours. When economic conditions hit the loggers hard, Jean-Claude never forgot his friends from the early days. He will continue to help them for free now that they have become dependant on his planes.

Vente de Transgabon à France Air
Quand j'ai vendu… La flotte des DC 3 et des DC 4 achetés à Air France.

Jean-Claude and his pilots will also contribute to more than four hundred medical transportations, often in bad weather, to help local populations. Most Gabonese can't afford the plane ride and are flown for free. They, in return, make it a point to offer symbolic gifts: fresh fruits, a chicken or a talisman. People help each other, like brothers.

When Gabon gains its independence, Jean-Claude is celebrating with his old time friend Léon M'Ba who will become the country's first president.

Years went by. They worked hard, contributed to something, had fun and met fantastic people. Even the Rockefellers flew with Jean-Claude to meet the famous Dr Schweitzer in his jungle hospital. The heroic biplanes have now been replaced with those brand new glittering DC-3 he had been dreaming about.

He fought well, he won and now what? Truth is, everything is working well and our man is bored.

And then, one day, Jean-Claude sells Transgabon, his company, and walks away from it all. He is 35 and already a millionaire. With his yacht, the magnificent African Queen, he will sail all over the world. He buys a home in the French Riviera and parties with Brigitte Bardot and the rest of the Mediterranean Jet Set. He will even find a sunken treasure in the Caribbean.

These fantastic adventures, he wrote them in his amazing book: L'avion du blanc (available only in French for the moment).

The black pearl >>

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Last updated: 2004-01-06