To coincide with Dassault's glitzy roll-out of the wide-body Falcon 5X business jet on 2 June, and as the aerospace industry prepares to travel to Le Bourget for the Paris air show, our Top 10 feature looks at some of the most significant and iconic French aircraft of the post-Second World War era.
1. Sud Aviation Caravelle
As the ancestor to the Airbus A320, the first flight of the all-French Caravelle on 27 May 1955 may seem bittersweet. The Caravelle would never out-sell the higher-capacity Boeing 727 and Douglas DC-9 that came later, but it would lay the foundations of the French contribution to the Airbus consortium. The world’s first short-haul airliner not powered by propellers also introduced the concept of mounting the engines on the rear fuselage rather than embedded within or under the wings. The Caravelle was successful enough to re-establish France as a commercial aviation powerhouse.
2. Aérospatiale (Sud Aviation) Puma
Weighing up to 7t, the Sud Puma introduced the European rotorcraft market to the heavy-lift helicopter when it first appeared in 1968. It quickly caught the world’s attention, filling a wide variety of civil military roles in Europe, Africa and South America. The 16-passenger aircraft also provided the impetus for Sud’s corporate successor, Aérospatiale, to launch the 9t Super Puma in 1975.
3. Morane-Saulnier MS.760 Paris
Business aviation may owe a debt to the Morane-Saulnier MS.760 Paris. Though it found success as a French military trainer, the true legacy of the MS.760 is inspiring the idea of business travel using light, jet-powered aircraft. An alliance with Beech in the late 1950s to market the MS.760 to business executives as an alternative to turboprops failed to gain traction, but the idea stuck. In 1963, serial aviation entrepreneur Bill Lear introduced a highly modified version of a Swiss fighter jet – the P.16 – as the Learjet 23, and fulfilled the promise intended by the MS.760.
4. Dassault Ouragan
The Nazi occupation during the Second World War froze France’s fertile aviation industry just as their American, British and German rivals entered an era of rapid advances, so there was much catching up to do. To push France abruptly into a new era of swept-wing, jet-powered fighters, Marcel Dassault proposed the Ouragan (“Hurricane”). Though not quite the match for its other Western rivals, the Ouragan re-established France’s proud aviation legacy when the country needed it most and paved the way for the long series of Mystere, Mirage and Rafale fighters that followed.
5. Fouga Magister
Potez Fouga CM-170 Magister (French air force colours)
As the classic image of the French air force's elite Patrouille, the V-tailed, two-seat Fouga Magister belongs on any list of top post-war French aircraft. The Magister also served ably as a lead-in jet trainer for the air force pilots of many nations. France replaced the Magister’s place in the Patrouille with the Franco-German Alpha Jet. Flightglobal's MiliCAS database records Cameroon as being the only remaining user of the Magister, with six trainers in service.
6. Dassault Mirage IV
Dassault Mirage IV (French air force colours)
Though sharing a name and an overall appearance with a series of delta-winged Dassault fighters, the Mirage IV was quite different. As the backbone of France’s nuclear deterrent capability for three decades, the Mirage IV played a critical role in the nation’s post-war history. It posed no idle threat. Powered by a pair of Snecma Atar jets, the Mirage IV could climb to 65,000ft, accelerate to Mach 2.2 and deliver the AN-11 or AN-22 nuclear bombs at ranges up to about 670nm (1,240km).
7. Dassault Falcon 7X
For a business jet, there are advantages to being associated with a fighter manufacturer. Dassault pioneered the development of fly-by-wire flight controls with the Mirage 2000 fighter. The flagship Falcon 7X trijet was the first member of Dassault’s elite line-up of business jets to benefit from the technology. Complemented by Honeywell Primus Epic avionics and Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307A turbofan engines, the Falcon 7X is an established class-leader in that most exclusive club of long-range business jets.
8. Dassault Rafale
Like a dusty bottle from the Chateau Dassault cellar, the Rafale is ageing beautifully. The concept was launched in the late-1970s, and the first operational fighter appeared about 14 years ago. Egypt became the first export customer earlier this year, followed by Qatar, and sales negotiations are at last heating up with the Indian air force. Now possessing an active electronically scanned array radar, advanced electronic warfare equipment and an infrared search and track capability, the world is beginning to appreciate the multi-role dexterity of the jewel of French air force and navy fleets.
9. Breguet Atlantique
Breguet 1150 Atlantique (French navy colours)
Maritime patrol is a demanding mission: Part surface bomber and part submarine hunter-killer in wartime, it is most often used in peacetime on rescue missions to detect stranded vessels and sailors. It demands an aircraft big enough to carry a heavy load, fly long duration missions and yet be nimble enough to make manoeuvres at low-altitude. Since the early 1960s, the Breguet Atlantique – and the Dassault-built Atlantique 2 – has performed in the same class as the USA's Lockheed P-3C Orion.
10. Socata Rallye
Socata Rallye 235C Gabier
At the beginning of French aviation, there was Morane-Saulnier. Raymond Saulnier engineered the famous crossing of the English Channel by the Bleriot XI. Morane-Saulnier eventually was renamed Socata, and now is called Daher and based in Tarbes. Combined with a design acquired from Mooney, the TBM series of turboprops (TB stands for Tarbes and M is for Mooney) emerged. Before the TBM could evolve, however, there was first the Morane-Saulnier MS.880A, which was later rebranded as the Socata Rallye. This four-seat, piston-engined aircraft revitalised French general aviation after the Second World War, serving as the springboard for many pilots and engineers that would go on to fly and work on Daher-Socata and Airbus types. More than 3,000 aircraft were delivered over a 21-year period, ending in 1982.