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French fighter pilots 1939-1945.

Constantin Rozanoff


by Christian-Jacques Ehrengardt
Philippe Listemann
Pierre-André Tilley

Translation: Mike  Léveillard

Constantin Rozanoff, nicknamed "Kostia", was more than an icon in the French Air Force fighter arm, he was a true aviation legend.

A descendant of a noble Russian family, he was born on August 23rd 1905 in Varsovie (Poland). With his parents he immigrated to France a few years later, and he became a French citizen in 1927.

He studied engineering at the central and superior schools of aeronautics where he graduated with top honnors. Called in the military service in 1928, he completed his obligations with the 34th aviation regiment of observation at Le Bourget, and as a reserve officer at Avord. He continued his military aviation career, graduated as a pilot, and was attached to the 12th aviation regiment in Reims in 1930. Desiring to continue his career in the French Air Force, he opted for technical and administrative positions, rather than operational positions.

In April 1935, he was attached to the Villacoublay flight test center and promoted to captain in June. He pursued his test pilot career until the beginning of world war two. However, in October of 1937, it almost came to an end. While testing the spin characteristics of a Hanriot, he could not recover and bailed out just in time.

On November 28 1939, he was selected to ferry a captured Bf 109, but the flight ended with another bail out and the destruction of the airplane. Desiring to take a more active part in the war, he requested to be transferred to the front, and in February of 1940 he became second in command of GC (Groupe de chasse) II/4.
Staying with the "armistice" Air Force, he was assigned several positions at the  command headquarters. On November 21st 1942, he took command of GC II/5 Lafayette, re-equipped with Curtiss P-40s and saw combat in Tunisia. At the end of the Tunisian campaign, he was named assistant to the director of all the flight schools in North Africa. On July 16th 1943 he took command of GC II/3.

Promoted to lieutenant colonel in December, he left for Great Britain to occupy several posts, and to attend two additional test pilot courses, including one at the Empire Central Flying School where his instructors noticed his high sense of duty, a strong personality, and a great sense of humour. His raw sense of humour however was not always appreciated.

In July 1945, he flew his first Jet in the united States. At the end of 1945, he was assigned as director of the CEAM at the flight test center of Mont-de-Marsan with the rank of colonel. He quit the French Air Force in October of 1946.

After his release from the French Air Force, he was hired right away as director of flight test with Dassault and put in charge of testing, and "fine tuning" the Marcel Dassault MD.450 Ouragan, as well as the Mystere serie. On February 24th 1954, at the controls of a Mystere IV, he was the first French pilot to break the sound barrier with a French built airplane. It was the same airplane that ended his life tragically on the 3rd of April 1954. After performing a brilliant demonstration of the airplane in front of a delegation of French and British personalities, Kostia decided to break the sound barrier for the first time at ground level. Unfortunately, following an electrical failure of the stabilizer motor, the control surface deflected to nose down position as the airplane was entering the initial low altitude presentation. The aircraft hit the ground and exploded in a gigantic fire ball.

Rozanoff Constantin
Squadron Leader / Major

16.05.40 (2)  Ju 86    Fismes [51]
18.05.40 (4)  Hs 126 Rethel [08]

(X): total number of pilots participating to the destruction of the enemy airplane.
[XX]: geographical French department.

Aéro Editions, Aérostories, 2000.

The Sioux Indian head is the official emblem of the Lafayette escadrille. This prestigious escadrille  born in 1916 during the arrival of the American volunteers became renown in World war one with pilots such as Raoul Luftbery, Victor Chapman, Norman Price, and even for a while, Charles Nungesser.

"Kostia" left, talking with major Destaillac (seen from the back), watched attentively by Pierre Le Gloan (center), lieutenant Legrand, and Chief Sargent Queguiner (right) at Alger Maison Blanche January 8th 1943.

ECPA         Click!

Curtiss P-40F-5-CU (41-14349)
Major Constantin Rozanoff, commanding GC 2/5 Lafayette. Thelepte (Tunisia), January 1943. The markings on the airplane display the first letters of Kostia's given name, and his wife (Madeleine).

Infography : Pierre-André Tilley, © Aéro-Editions (nov. 99).