Round 1908 Edmond Astruc decided to turn his large studio on the Quai de Rive Neuve into a workshop allowing him to test model planes. He set about building a plane which he designed entirely : the frame was a tricycle, with two staggered wings and no tail, two 7 hp engines taken from Peugeot racing motorbikes and two propellers spinning in opposite directions. The parts were assembled in the wheelwright’s workshop of Mr Brémond and the first trials were completed at Calas, then on the airfield of Miramas where at the first landing it all fell to pieces.
At Miramas again, he later piloted two monoplanes built by the Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée according to the plans of Mr Henri Blanc, a lawyer, on which he carried out longer flights.
His father having died in the meantime, he made use of the premises of the family tannery in the Rue Lessor to build a new single-engined aeroplane with staggered wings and no tail (using a 40 hp Grégoire Gyp engine with a down-draught carburettor) with which he managed a couple of flights in a straight line on the Gensoulin airfield at the Pas des Lanciers.
Realising that he was making no headway in his attempts to build aircraft at a time when French aviation was beginning to develop, he took the advice of his friend Léon Cheuret and found employment as an instructor at the Lyon-Bron centre training the first military pilots. After a few flights on Henri Farman machines he was sent to Reims to take delivery of one of the first Henriot-Pommier military aircraft, a ’cavalry’ monoplane.
With this very plane a had a very serious accident on the Reims airfield : during takeoff one of the rubber belts holding the axle broke off and the landing gear fell off, causing the plane to overturn at a speed of 100 kph (roughly 60 mph). The result was an open fracture of the shinbone, a cut eyelid, a dislocated jaw and various internal injuries, which meant four months in a clinic and one year on crutches.
In 1913, having more or less recovered from his accident, he joined the Henri Fabre company as a pilot.
Henri Fabre, a Marseilles engineer, was the first to devise a plane that could take off and land on water. His first seaplane, the ’Canard’ (Duck) took wing from the Etang de Berre, earning his inventor a prize from the Academy of Science.
The association of Henri Fabre and Edmond Astruc began with a triumph in the first hydroplane race at the Monaco air display early in 1914.
In July 1914 Astruc successfully undertook the journey up the Rhône on a hydroglider. Starting from the stretch of water opposite the Roucas Blanc, he floated upstream over the river from Port-Saint-Louis as far as Aix-les-Bains on the Lac du Bourget. He had to get over several barrages above Lyons. "As easy as anything", he explained, "you just had to pull up the machine to jump over obstacles".
At the beginning of the First World War, Astruc was declared unfit for service in his infantry regiment, the 55th territorial based in Aix.
I vainly tried to join the air force. Dr Darcourt (a friend of mine) who was the Medical Officer responsible for the physical examination of the volunteers pretended that my medical case prevented me from joining as an aviator, for in the event of my falling in enemy territory I could not run away to save myself !
He went back to the Henri Fabre aircraft factory where he perfected a torpedo hydroplane then, as a test pilot at Toulon, Saint-Raphaël and later Marseilles, he supervised the transformation of land-based aeroplanes into seaplanes (gunner hydroplanes or bomber seaplanes) for the French Navy.
After the First World War, Edmond Astruc devoted himself to painting but it did not bring in enough to support a family, so he decided to go back to aviation with the intention of becoming an airline pilot.
Having gone to Paris in search of a private plane, he returned to Marseilles flying a Potez 60 prototype. The journey had to be undertaken in stages, with frequent landings in open fields to refuel until the final spectacular arrival in the Parc Borély.
Two months later, he transformed his Potez into a seaplane and based off the Roucas Blanc, began to develop air tourism. To quote from the newspaper ’Les Sports de Provence’ dated May 13th, 1922 :
With the aim of popularising air transport, Astruc has successfully developed the project on which we had reported in its time and turned his Potez aeroplane into a seaplane. Last Wednesday night on the beach, the people out for an evening stroll could witness the first official tests of the new machine which floated swiftly and gracefully through the air some 200 or 300 metres above the waves. We deliberately speak of a new machine, for the Potez already existed as a land-based aeroplane but this was the first time it could be seen in its new version as a seaplane. And the results are a tribute to Astruc’s qualities as a technician as much as to his consummate skill as a pilot. The friendly aviator has achieved, alone and with his own resources, what many had thought impossible : flying a two-seater hydroplane equipped with a 60 hp engine. With this achievement, coastal air tourism can be said to be taking a new (and democratic) turn.
The following day, on another flight, Astruc took aboard with him the weight of a passenger and the machine took off and manoeuvred as easily as before. The fullest success thus crowned the efforts and obstinacy of the friendly aviator.
During the Second World War Edmond Astruc volunteered for service and was assigned as a technical adviser to the Commission for the requisitioning of the seaplanes operating between Marseilles and Algiers, then successively to the SNCAE at Marignane and to the SNCAN at Evreux and Angoulême. At the onset of the Occupation he came back to Marseilles and devoted himself solely to painting.