Born: 6 October 1888
Died: 5 October 1918
Cause of death: Aircraft crash
Notable because: Garros achieved the first ever shooting-down of an aircraft by a fighter firing through a tractor propeller in WW1. His captured plane gave Fokker the boost to advance German engineering.
Roland Garros was an early French aviator and a fighter aircraft pilot during World War I.
Garros was born in Saint-Denis, Réunion and studied at HEC Paris. He started his aviation career in 1909 flying Santos-Dumont's Demoiselle monoplane, an aircraft that only flew well with a small lightweight pilot. In 1911 Garros graduated to flying Bleriot monoplanes and entered a number of European air races with this type of machine. He was already a noted aviator before World War I having visited the US and South America; by 1913 he had switched to flying Morane-Saulnier monoplanes, a vast improvement over the Blériot, and gained fame for making the first non-stop flight across the Mediterranean Sea from Fréjus in south of France to Bizerte in Tunisia. The following year, Garros joined the French army at the outbreak of the conflict.
In the early stages of the air war in World War I the problem of achieving a practicable platform for a forward-firing machine gun on combat aircraft was considered by a number of individuals. The so-called interrupter gear did not come into use until Anthony Fokker developed a synchronisation device which made a large impact on air combat, however Garros also had a significant role in the process of achieving this goal.
In December 1914, Garros, as a reconnaissance pilot with the Escadrille MS26, visited the Morane-Saulnier Works. Saulnier's work on metal deflector wedges attached to propeller blades was taken forward by Garros; he eventually had a workable installation fitted to his Morane-Saulnier Type L aircraft. Garros achieved the first ever shooting-down of an aircraft by a fighter firing through a tractor propeller, on 1 April 1915; two more victories over German aircraft were achieved on 15 and 18 April 1915.On 18 April 1915, either Garros' fuel line clogged or, by other accounts, his aircraft was downed by ground fire, and he glided to a landing on the German side of the lines. Garros failed to destroy his aircraft before being taken prisoner, in particular the gun and armoured propeller remained intact. Legend has it that after examining the plane, German aircraft engineers, led by Fokker, designed the improved interrupter gear system. In fact the work on Fokker's system had been going for at least six months before Garros' aircraft fell into their hands. With the advent of the interrupter gear the tables were reversed against the Allies, with Fokker's planes shooting down many Allied aircraft, leading to what became known as the Fokker Scourge.
Garros managed to escape from a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany in February 1918 and rejoined the French army. On 5 October 1918, he was shot down and killed near Vouziers, Ardennes, a month shy of the end of the war and one day before his 30th birthday.
Garros is erroneously called the world's first fighter ace. In fact, he shot down only three aircraft; the definition of "ace" is five or more victories. The honour of becoming the first ace went to another French airman, Adolphe Pegoud.
In the 1920s, a tennis centre which he attended religiously when he was studying in Paris, was named after the pilot, Stade de Roland Garros. The stadium accommodates the French Open, one of tennis' Grand Slam tournaments. Consequently, the tournament is officially called Roland Garros.
The international airport of La Réunion, Roland Garros Airport, is also named after him.
Peugeot Car Manufacturers (French) commissioned a 'Roland Garros' limited edition version of its 205 model in celebration of the Tennis Tournament that bears his name. The model included special paint and leather interior. Due to the success of this special edition, Peugeot later created Roland Garros editions of its 106, 206, 207, 306 and 806 models.