René Bigand

Appointed as chief test pilot at Dassault in 1959, René Bigand completed maiden flights in a number of civil and military aircraft: Mirage IV, Mirage IIIB, Mystère 20, etc.

René Bigand was born on January 30, 1923 in Boulogne-sur-Mer. He was a pupil at the Maths Spé school in Nice in 1943-44, before applying to take the Ecole de l’Air entrance exam in 1944 which, due to the upheavals of the time, was put back to January 1945. He thus joined the 1944 year (France) on March 26, 1945.

René Bigand entered the Ecole de Mitrailleurs in Cazaux on February 1, 1946 and was awarded his navigator’s license on July 1, 1946. He then went on to train to be a pilot. He started at the single-engined aircraft transformation school in Cognac on July 20, 1946. He was promoted to Pilot Officer in the French Air Force Officers Corps aircrew on October 1, 1946. He was awarded his pilot’s license on June 5, 1947, and was posted to Avord on September 15 and then to Marrakech on February 26, 1948.

After a short period as a fighter pilot, René Bigand decided to become a bomber pilot, which at the time seemed a more promising career to him in those days of material shortages. On June 9, 1948, he was posted to the 21st heavy bombing squadron in Bordeaux and became a pilot on Halifax aircraft. Six months later, he became an aircraft captain and carried out many transport missions. On October 1, 1948, he was promoted to Flying Officer. On November 24, 1950, he was posted to the GB I/19 Gascogne in the Far East. He carried out 231 wartime missions and won fame while flying B-26 Invader ground support missions in Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China.


René Bigand was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on February 1, 1952, and was repatriated on June 1, 1952. He was posted to the Brétigny flight test center (CEV) on September 17. He became a jet-engine aircraft pilot in Mont-de-Marsan on Vampire aircraft and then on Ouragan and Mystère aircraft. He was then posted to the Cazaux flight test center on August 1, 1953. He then took a test pilot training course in Brétigny and was awarded his license in November 1954. He was posted back to Cazaux on November 30 and took part in weapon demonstrations. On September 13, 1955, he was transferred to Brétigny where he was given responsibility for the Etendard IV flight trials and also took part in the Vautour flight trials.

He represented France on the NATO committee responsible for selecting the European tactical support aircraft. In this capacity, he assessed all the competitor aircraft during the famous “NATO competition” in September 1957.

He was promoted to Squadron Leader on October 1, 1957, and posted to the BPM on October 9. He was type officer of the Mirage IV.


On April 1, 1959, he was given unpaid leave and joined the Dassault company. After a few months spent familiarizing himself with the Mirage III and Etendard aircraft, he took on the Mirage IV 01. René Bigand was appointed as the company’s chief test pilot in 1959 in replacement of Roland Glavany. In addition to the Mirage IV program, which he ran from start to finish, he participated in the development of various versions of the Mirage III, the Mirage III B, on which he flew the maiden flight, the Mirage III R and the Mirage III E.

On September 22, 1960, he broke the world speed record over 1000 km in a closed circuit in a Mirage IV 01 (flight lasting 33 minutes 8 seconds i.e. an average speed of 1822 km/h). On October 12, 1962, he took off on the vertical takeoff Balzac V aircraft. On May 4, 1963, he flew the maiden flight of the Mystère 20 01 alongside the flight engineer Jean Dillaire.

He presented the Balzac aircraft to General de Gaulle during the inauguration of the Paris Air Show on June 7, 1963. At the end of 1964, he flew the maiden vertical takeoff flights of the Mirage III V 01. In the Autumn of 1966, he took part in the optimization of the Mirage III V 02. On December 23, 1966, he flew the maiden flight of the Super Mirage F-1 01.

On May 18, 1967, while he was carrying a final test flight of the Mirage F-1 01 before the Paris Air Show, the aircraft had a mechanical failure and crashed. It was a day of mourning for the whole French aviation industry.