Although Charles Lindbergh had flown "The Spirit of St. Louis" from New York to Paris three years earlier in 1927, the journey from France to the United States was more difficult due to many factors, especially the unpredictable weather on the American east coast. Numerous pilots attempted to fly the route with no success. Finally, in September 1930, Dieudonné Costes, French World War I ace and pilot with six world records to his credit, successfully spanned the Atlantic with his navigator, Maurice Bellonte in their plane "The Question Mark". The non-stop flight took 37 hours through some difficult weather, but when they finally landed in New York, Lindbergh was at the airfield along with a crowd of 10,000 people to welcome the Frenchmen to America. (see poster 00105).
Record breaking—flying the fastest, farthest, and highest—defined post-World War I civil and military aviation. Aeronautical clubs awarded aviators—including victorious cross-country flyers, closed circuit racers, and aerobatic pilots—with trophies to mark their accomplishments.
Government agencies overseeing aviation activities and often, individuals—both industrialists who were directly involved with aviation and entrepreneurs who were invested in the future of aviation—provided the funds to entice these daredevils and serious advocates of aviation to participate in air shows, test flights, and navigation expeditions.
In the same year that Costes and Bellonte made the first crossing of the North Atlantic in the east-to-west direction, French pilots were breaking other records. For example, Jean Mermoz, flying for the French airline Aéropostale (which, along with three other French airlines, became Air France in 1933), made the first transit of the South Atlantic via airplane. Mermoz’s flight from Dakar (Senegal) to Natal (Brazil) made it possible for Aéropostale to begin regular passenger and mail service on the route, but more importantly, further proved France’s aeronautical prowess.
At that time, aviation played an instrumental role in raising a nation’s profile as a player in the modern, increasingly global world of post-WWI. Governments recognized their aviators as human-publicity machines. Citizens lauded their pilots as heroes and role-models. Film makers, trading on both official and unofficial adulation of aviation, cashed in on the trend. In 1930, aviation films also broke records: In January, the “all-talking” aviation film Flight made box office records in Atlanta; in March, Young Eagles, a sequel to the popular movie Wings opened in a movie theater on Broadway in New York City; in May, Hells Angels premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles; in July, Dawn Patrol packed theaters in New York City; in August, Hell’s Angels was, according to one reviewer, “bound to be the talk of the town.” (For more, search proquest under term “aviation film.”)
United Artistic Films and Éclair Productions produced Costes et l’Atlantique in 1930. The poster advertises the film. Typical of posters of the time, national icons—the Eiffel Tower representing Paris and the Statue of Liberty marking New York City—represent end points on significant routes. While the map is hand-drawn, the airplane is a photographic image as is the portraits of the two pilots. The curl of the question mark frames their faces and also represents the eponymous name of the airplane Question Mark in which the pilots made their record-breaking flight.