This June 21, 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of an absolute altitude record, achieved by a helicopter piloted by the French pilot Jean Boulet in 1972, which remains unbeatable and recognized by the International Aeronautical Federation.
This record was made on June 21, 1972, at the Istres Air Base (France) where Boulet reached 12,442 meters, which is equivalent to about 40,820 feet, in the Lama 001 – SA 315 helicopter built by Aerospatiale and derived from the Alouette II, fitted with a Turbomeca Artouste III B engine.
Born on November 16, 1920 in Brunoy, near Paris, Jean Boulet was first hired in 1947 by SNCASE (an acronym for Société Nationale des Constructions Aéronautiques du Sud-Est) and was its long-term test pilot. This would later become Sud Aviation and later the Helicoptères Division of the Société Nationale Industrielle Aérospatiale, later Eurocopter and finally Airbus helicopters.
After retiring, Jean Boulet, having been director of test flights at Aérospatiale, remained a legendary personality in the world of European aviation, both for his exceptional skills as a test pilot and his personal passion for flying, and above all for having established an important place for his company, Aérospatiale today being Airbus, in world helicopter history.
Having initially received training in the United States before becoming a military pilot for the French Air Force, he was one of the first foreign pilots to fly a helicopter in the US Air Force. Over the years, he would quickly become one of the greatest pioneers in the history of helicopter flight testing.
Some highlights of his illustrious career include: the first flights of the SE 3000 in 1948, the first helicopter designed in France based largely on the war-time German Focke-Achgelis FA 223 Drache (Dragon) helicopter, the SE 3101 (year 1948); as well as the first helicopters of the Alouette II and III series, and also the great SE 3200 Frelon, and the SA 330 Puma, SA 341/342 Gazelle and SA 315 Lama.
A little-known fact about Jean Boulet is that, during the initial testing phase of the SE 530 Mistral jet aircraft, on January 23, 1953, he had to make use of the aircraft’s ejection system, when the prototype spun out of control near from the ground, becoming the first Frenchman to experiment with the ejection system.
The Mistral was a French Rolls-Royce Nene-powered derivative of the famous de Havilland Vampire later produced in a number of 250 units for exclusive use by the French Air Force.
Jean Boulet received the Icaro Award in 1961 and, in 1976, the prestigious Pilot of the Year award from the International Helicopter Association. He accumulated more than 9,000 flight hours during his long career, of which more than 8,000 were in helicopters. The man was well known for his love of flying and his readiness for daring test actions, but above all he was highly respected for his human nature, and his modesty as a person.
Jean Boulet, passed away on February 13, 2011, managing to accumulate 23 world records recognized by the FAI, throughout his career as a test pilot, of which four records remain undefeated, 50 years later.