Historical Snapshot: The First Christmas Flight to Beirut
Have you ever wondered about the first plane to come to Lebanon? Does the name Jules Védrines ring any bells? The history of the first jet to fly into this country is quite a captivating one, combining a mixture of imperial intrigue, an ambitious pilot, and Christmas to bring a mechanical bird down onto Beirut’s pastures.
On the 25th of December 1913, just one year before World War I would kick off and forever change the world, a sole pilot by the name of Jules Védrines undertook an ambitious voyage, attempting to take a Blériot monoplane from Paris to Cairo. Born in 1881, Védrines had been flying for a while before this and was known for feats such as winning the 1911 Paris-Madrid air race, being the first person to fly over 160 km/h, being the first person to land a plane on a roof, and often dropping things from the sky (leaflets, violets, flags, etc.).
Before he undertook the trip from Paris to Ciaro, Védrines attempted to run for a seat in the French Chamber of Deputies, running as the Socialist candidate for Limoux. He was unfortunately defeated. Nevertheless, Védrines did not let that stop his political ambitions. His flight from Paris to Cairo was part of a larger aviators’ demand to allow people to fly wherever they pleased, regardless of national borders.
Thus, Védrines got on to his monoplane and sailed across Europe’s stormy skies. His plane was 6.5 meters in length, 9.5 meters in wingspan, and 430 kg in gross weight. It was powered by one Gnome Omega 7-cylinder air-cooled rotary piston engine and had a supposed maximum speed of 111 km/h.
Védrines’ first obstacle appeared early into his journey, as German authorities refused to allow him access to the country’s airspace. He was stopped at an airfield in Nancy to prevent this from happening. However, Védrines would then deploy a simple trick, pretending to go west until he was out of sight of the airfield before switching east and flying over Germany.
He proceeded to Prague but was also tried in absentia by the German government and sentenced to a year in prison. After Prague, the French pilot headed to Istanbul, where he earned the Sultan’s good graces by dropping a flag on the imperial palace. From there, his next stop would be Beirut.
During his trip over the “holy land,” contemporary journalists claimed he flew at a height of over 10,000 feet and at one time did a whole 400 mile journey without refueling. During this journey, he would land in Lebanon on exactly Christmas day, bringing the first sight of an airplane for many local residents. Beirut was a pit stop for Védrines, after which he would land in Jaffa on December 27, and Cairo on December 29.
Little details are available about Védrines’ time in the country. It is even unclear where Védrines had exactly landed, with some sources saying Tripoli and others Karantina. However, what is sure is that Védrines made aviation history in the country and made December 25th a memorable date for more than one reason.
We reached out to Santa for comment about Védrines’ intrusion into his Christmas sky but unfortunately have not yet received a reply.