As evoked a few years ago by Pierre Sparaco, in one of his chronicles for AeroMorning, there was an urgent need for action to preserve the aeronautic heritage of the Toulouse Montaudran site since the history of this legendary site was unfortunately disappearing due to lack of appropriate policy.
The only efforts in this direction were being made by a handful of associations of enthusiasts or firms with a desire to conserve this past, such as Flight Heritage (Airbus), Mémoire de l’Aviation civile (DGAC), Ailes anciennes, Toulouse Aerothèque, Air and Space Academy or Air France museum.
In the end though things worked out quite well, because Air France Industries partially closed its maintenance centre on this site, leaving room for the creation of this cultural heritage centre. In August 1997, a passengers’ waiting room, part of the runway and the Latécoère assembly halls were designated historical monuments by the state, as was the Château du Petit Espinet Raynal, formerly housing the offices of Didier Daurat among others.
Toulouse Mayor Jean-Luc Moudenc has long been attached to the idea of preserving this historic site, and looked on powerlessly in 2009 as a building permit was granted for a low-cost high-rise housing project that hardly brought out the best of this mythical place. The many appeals made to the Mayor at the time must have had an effect because a growing awareness has now led to the Montaudron site being preserved.
On 29 November last, the Mayor of Toulouse confirmed his intention to launch the “Piste des Géants” (Giant’s runway), a superb project in the Montaudran sector, to the great relief of those who have been working away for years to preserve the site.
The ambition of the Montaudran site is to concentrate scientific research, cultural and economic activities, housing and aeronautic history around the Montaudran runway, which symbolises the pioneering years of Aeropostale, but has also been a major industrial site of Toulouse due to the presence of Air France, then Air France Industries for over 70 years.
Aeronautics, a major economic driver in Toulouse, will be represented in specific areas, complementing the Cité de l’Espace and the Aéroscopia museum. Toulouse has finally opted for the combination of two projects, the “Machine”, and “Mémoire de l’Aéropostale”, which will be created together so as to complement and enhance each other.
In order to gain a better understanding of the project, here are some key dates: the “Machine” is a street theatre troupe, set up in 1999 and directed by François Delarozière, comprising actors, technicians and stage designers, brought together to build original objects for exhibition: fanciful, spectacular machines inspired by aeronautics will be presented in and outside the Halle de Montaudran and on the runway. The company will create and manufacture a monumental machine called the “Minotaur” for instance, a moving architecture which will be a centrepiece in an original stage show. After the show this machine will transport members of the public. This first project is aimed at breathing new life into this area of Toulouse and reinforcing the city’s image as a cultural and tourist attraction. It is vital to dream for the cities we wish for tomorrow and transform our attitudes towards them.
The “Piste des géants” project is still very much on the drawing board for the moment but the project will be aimed at enhancing the cultural, technical and scientific contribution of the Cité de l’Espace and the Aeroscopia museum rather than being a mere exhibition centre.
Neither museum, nor theme park, the “Piste des géants” will bring together the “Machine” and “Mémoires de l’Aéropostale” in an interactive aeronautics discovery project based around the 1914-1940 period.
The “Piste de Géants” combined with the “Machine” will comprise three main areas of interest:
1st area: the historical aspect. An animated area together with historical monuments oriented, like the “Machine”, on human aspects, in this case the aeronautics pioneers. A tribute to the early pioneering days and the advent and development of commercial aviation, prefiguring the aeronautics sector of today and tomorrow. Montaudran will evoke the first postal and commercial flights, retracing the eras of Latécoère, Aéropostale and Air France.
Some examples might give a clearer idea:
Instead of a museum with static exhibitions, the atmosphere of these early years will be created by means of workshops, radio broadcasts and interactive exhibitions aimed at allowing the public to relive the experiences of the pioneers. Visitors would experience being at the controls of one of these legendary aircraft, the Breguet XIV for instance, or recreating the improvised runway lights for a night landing by using vintage car headlights, or reconstitute radio transmissions from that period… Highly realistic simulators of aircraft from the period could immerse visitors in this pioneering era along with demonstrations of precise techniques such as aircraft fabric covering, in reconstitutions of former workshops. And why not workshops to create model aircraft of the period, for adults and children alike…? The emphasis would be placed on interactivity, but there would also be a place for static objects steeped in history.
The teams in charge of the “Piste des Géants” are therefore on the lookout for any objects, documents, files or photos that bear witness to the human and industrial adventure of the beginnings of aviation in France and Europe. The aim is to draft the overall project in 2015, to carry out feasibility and financial studies in 2016 and begin work in 2017-18.
2nd area: an environmental aspect, represented by the pioneer gardens. This work has necessarily started ahead of the rest so as to leave the plants 5 years to grow. These gardens, based around symbols of the pioneers and the lands overflown between Toulouse and Santiago, will be situated between the classified runway and the ring road and will open in 2015.
3rd area: The “Machine Hall” will contain the gigantic, innovative “exhibition of machines” project. Visits and activities will be organised around this fantastical, creative, inventive, innovative universe.
This development project will enrich the character of the Montaudran area, providing a mix of living areas and office space and housing the IRT (technological research centre for aeronautics, space and onboard systems) as well as the Aerospace Valley competitiveness cluster, all centred around the history of the pioneers. A neighbourhood grounded in the past, but turned towards the future. A new area, in this relatively undeveloped zone, which should benefit from coherency, visibility and attractiveness.
The third metro line will optimise this process by linking vital working areas such as the research centres of Palays and Montaudran, the Matabiau train station and the aerospace pole of Aeroconstellation.
The Machine and Mémoires d’Aeropostale making up the “Piste des Géants” could be said to share a common denominator: “from fiction to reality”, or “future projects and innovation anchored in the past”, complementing the design and manufacture of aircraft presented at Blagnac at the Aeroscopia museum.
A few examples serve to show how well-founded the project is:
– Many equivalent centres are very successful, attracting many visitors – the automobile city Autostadt in Germany, Escal’Atlantic in Saint Nazaire which plunges visitors into the world of ocean liners, La Maison des Hommes et des Techniques in Nantes which initiates the public into shipbuilding, to name but a few.
– The Cité de l’espace beat all its previous records this year, drawing 260,000 visitors and becoming one of the most visited scientific theme parks in France, attracting more and more people to Toulouse.
– François Delarozière is forecasting 150,000 visitors per year for the Machine alone.
– The centre will not only be a heritage centre but will also bring together several different themes and poles which, on the basis of the previous figures, would indicate some 550,000 visitors per year.
– Many enthusiasts are already strongly involved in the project, and there is a growing participation from associations, pioneers’ families and we hope sponsors.
– François Delarozière, in charge of the “Machine”, is interested in the links between the Machine and the history of aviation and its pioneers, and the importance of imagination and innovation to both. He will be a partner and an actor in the Montaudran Aerospace operation.
– The bulk of the funding has already been found: La Halle, which cost 14 million euros, is nearly finished. Idem for the Minotaur, which has already received 2.6 million euros. 16 million euros have therefore already been spent with only one million euros remaining to make the finishing touches. The question of running costs is still under study.
Studies to be carried on into 2015 by a steering committee made up of well-known players from the worlds of aeronautics and urban development will detail the content and the remaining investment, within the framework of a budget that the Mayor of Toulouse is determined not to see escalating. It has been decided that the project will be carried out by Toulouse Metropole and not privately, and funded by a combination of private sponsorship and ticket sales for the “Machine” and the “Piste des géants”.
This dynamic cultural centre will serve the history of aeronautics in Toulouse, bringing environmental advantages to the area and highlighting past and present research and innovations in aeronautics. It will be different to and complementary with existing aeronautics and space initiatives. The Piste des Géants will enhance Tououse’s cultural landscape, reinforcing rather than competing with services already offered by the Cité de l’Espace, the Aeroscopia museum, and Airbus Visit.
Toulouse and Blagnac will thus be in a position to offer visitors a very comprehensive pack of cultural, technical, commercial and industrial visits around aeronautics and space, benefiting all those involved in aeronautics in one way or another. It will help attract visitors and one can only hope that a joint pass will be set up, for entry and transport, making it possible to share communication and expenses and thus reduce operational costs.
The public sector is revitalising culture and Toulouse has once again proved itself capable of paying tribute to its rich aeronautics heritage with this regional and European project which should generate revenue for Toulouse and its agglomeration.
As Pierre Goerges Latécoère is quoted as saying, in the early days of this great adventure: “we have done all the calculations, they confirm the opinion of specialists, our idea is completely unachievable, it just remains for us to achieve it”.
Nadia Didelot – Aeromorning