Bundaberg’s connection with French pioneer aviator

Henri Martinet and Paul Klein
Pioneer French aviators Henri Martinet and Paul Klein.

Bundaberg gave a warm unplanned welcome to pioneer French aviator Henri Martinet 80 years ago when he made a forced landing on the world-first flight from New Caledonia to France.

Martinet flew alone from New Caledonia to Sydney via Bundaberg and Brisbane, beginning 23 March 1939.

Bundaberg landing
The Melbourne Argus reports the Bundaberg landing of French pioneer aviator Henri Martinet after a difficult crossing from New Caledonia.

He was joined in Sydney by friend Paul Klein and they completed the 22,500km journey to Europe together.

A pharmacist by profession, Martinet learnt to fly just a few years before his epic adventure.

He was considered a hero for completing the journey in an Aiglon-Anzo two-seater aircraft with a 100-horsepower engine and top speed of 125 miles per hour.

The 1400km from Noumea to Bundaberg was the longest stage and he had to carry 360 litres of fuel in the passenger seat.

The weather started fine but quickly deteriorated. Martinet was blown off course and crossed over Lady Elliot Island. He attempted to steer towards Brisbane but made little progress in squalls of rain and strong headwinds, deciding instead to land at Bundaberg.

He handed over his cargo of mail for it to continue onward with Imperial Airways.

The stage from Noumea to Bundaberg took seven and a half hours and Martinet was treated for exhaustion after landing.

The flight from Sydney to Paris went via Singapore, Saigon, India and Karachi, where they were delayed following a diplomatic incident between France and Iran. Then it was Iraq, Syria, over over the Mediterranean, Cyprus, Rhodes and Athens for engine repairs.

The final stage was Italy, Cannes, Lyon and on May 23, 1939 arrival at Le Bourget, two months after departure.

Henri Martinet memorial
A memorial at Noumea commemorating the first flight to France by Henri Martinet in 1939.

Henri Martinet founded New Caledonia airline

Martinet's return to New Caledonia was interrupted by the German invasion of France and he served with Free French forces throughout the war.

Arriving back in New Caledonia afterwards, he founded the territory's first airline, Transpac, which became Air Caledonia. He also founded Hebrides Air in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu).

Henri Martinet reenacted the 1939 flight in the reverse direction 30 years later.

Given that Bundaberg is the home of pioneer aviator Bert Hinkler, it's fitting there's a connection with one of France's greatest airmen, Henri Martinet.