Jean Coureau was born on June 1, 1928, in Bouillac, in the French region of Tarn and Garonne. He began flying gliders out of Montauban airfield shortly after World War II, while still in high school. He joined Ecole de l’Air, the French Air Force’s training school, in 1947, and qualified as a fighter pilot in Meknès in 1949. In 1950, he was among the very first French pilot to retrain for jet-powered aircraft, and was posted to the 4th fighter squadron the following year, where he promptly cemented his skills. His talent soon caught the eye of CEV, a test flight center, where he was assigned in 1954.
He qualified as a test pilot in 1956, and worked on the day’s leading-edge military Mystère II, Mistral, Vautour, Fouga Marine and Mystère IV aircraft. He was also active in tests on lightweight interceptor Gerfaut I and II, Trident, Durandal and Mirage III 001 aircraft, the pool from which the Mirage III was chosen. As a pilot, he worked on the team defining this plane’s specifications and conducting its first tests at CEV (Mirage III A 01 in 1958). He joined Générale Aéronautique Marcel Dassault in 1960, for the final fine-tuning and most delicate tests. Also known for his aerobatic prowess, he performed over 100 spirals on different Mirage III configurations, and performed the Mirage III C’s, Mirage III E’s and Mirage III R’s maiden flights (the first in 1960, the second and third in 1961).
Coureau also flew at aircraft presentations staged for foreign delegations. His demonstrations of the Mirage III’s full range of features in Switzerland, for instance, earned that aircraft the favor of the Swiss Aviation Troop in 1961. He later performed maiden and test flights on the Mirage III T (in 1964), Mirage F 2 (in 1966) and Mirage G (in 1967).
His inquisitive nature and engineering mind left no phenomenon – no mater how complex – beyond his grasp. He was known to visit the design offices to ask for detailed explanations. His exceptional understanding of flight controls and keen perception of handling features explain much of how the Mirage G was developed in such a short time. His flawless command of the aircraft’s possibilities and variable geometry contributed to the formula’s success. French and foreign pilots enjoying firsthand access to his experience, moreover, became operational at a staggeringly fast pace.
Coureau was also at home with commercial aviation issues. He took the Mystère 20 for several test flights and, as a user, took part in the Hirondelle’s development (1968). He and Hervé Leprince-Ringuet took the Mystère-Falcon 10-01 into the air for the first time in 1970, and Jérôme Résal sat alongside him as he did so with the Mystère-Falcon 30 in 1973.
He joined Avions Marcel Dassault as chief pilot in 1967, and was known to run the several tests, in particular on the Mirage F-1, with talent and authority. His background as a military pilot did not hamper his ability to adjust. To the contrary, he willingly and successfully joined the ranks of civil pilots training for airline service (on Caravelle with Air Inter and Boeing 727 with Air France), to get a firsthand grasp of civil transport aircraft. He worked as first associate pilot alongside Jérôme Résal, Gérard Joyeuse and Denis Malbrand to develop the Mercure 01 (in 1971). The last aircraft program he was involved in was the Mirage 2000, which he took on a maiden flight in 1978.
He was appointed deputy test-flight director in 1979 and promoted to flight safety director in 1987. He retired in 1992, after serving at Dassault for 32 years – and clocking 6 000 flying hours.
Coureau’s achievements in military duties earned him the title of Officer of the Legion of Honor. He also held the title of Officer of the National Order of Merit, and the Medal of Aeronautics. He passed away on January 19, 1997, as a result of a painful illness.