100 years ago, French daredevil flies under Arc de Triomphe

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Early on a Thursday morning 100 years ago, a French WWI veteran took off on a secret mission that would propel him into the record books: a daredevil flight under the monumental Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Charles Godefroy pulled off the stunt on August 7, 1919, to the astonishment of crowds gathered below on the Champs-Elysees.

Dozens fled or threw themselves on the ground as the biplane whizzed just a few metres over their heads.

Like other airmen who fought during World War 1, Godefroy took offence when pilots were ordered to march alongside other soldiers during the national Bastille Day military parade just a few weeks earlier on July 14.

He was determined to remind the country of pilots’ exploits and sacrifices during the war, and began preparing his flight with the help of a journalist friend, Jacques Mortane.

Other aviation pioneers had already renounced the attempt, including Roland Garros who claimed that trying to fit through the narrow 14.5-metre (48-foot) opening would lead to an untimely death, according to French historian Philippe Gras.

But Godefroy had practised by flying under a bridge at Miramas on the Mediterranean coast and chose a Nieuport fighter plane with a wingspan of just nine metres.

Mortane was waiting when Godefroy zoomed under the monument at around 8:00 am and captured the feat on film.

Despite having flouted any number of military rules, Godefroy got off with a mere warning from his superiors and became a hero in his hometown of La Fleche in western France, which erected a plaque in his honour.

Since then, several illicit flights under the arch have been made over the years while other daredevils have buzzed under the much wider arches of the Eiffel Tower.