Atomic Toasters’ editorial staff are big fans of early American and British Jet-Age aircraft; and rightly so, given the extraordinary machines they produced. However, we tend to overlook another innovative power of that era: France.
During the post-war period and right into the sixties, France’s aviation industry produced some unique and daring designs – the legacy of which we can still see today in aircraft such as the Mirage series of fighters and various Falcon business jets. But rather than get into the story of how France went from devastating occupation to supersonic bombers in less than two decades, let’s get right to the cool stuff.
In the early ‘30s a French engineer named Rene Leduc was working for the aircraft maker Avions Voisin. Slightly bored with his job, he drew up plans for an athodyd* power plant, recognizing the immense potential for a streamlined engine that contained no moving parts. As far back as 1935 he built a tiny example of his design, which developed 8.8lbs of thrust at 671mph. But it wasn’t until 1947 that he was able to get his ramjet design aloft in an airframe.
That airframe was the Leduc 0.10, an advanced design with a bizarre placement of the pilot right inside the jet intake. The airframe featured a double skin which contained the cockpit, with a space to feed air through, then the outer skin. The pilot peered through tiny Plexiglas windows set into the fuselage and shock cone. The wings were slightly swept and the control surfaces were radically small.
Since a ramjet engine produces zero thrust without airspeed, the 0.10 needed a boost into the air. The Sud-Est 161 Languedoc airliner was chosen as the lifting vehicle and the whole mess first flew in October, 1947. The first series of tests were unpowered, with the 0.10 being launched at 13,000ft and returning to earth as a glider. In April, 1949, the first powered test took place, and it was the first time ever that a ramjet aircraft was to fly on ramjet power alone. The test pilot, Jean Gonord, was stunned at the rate of climb (he was able to reach 36,000ft in mere minutes), and in later tests the 0.10 likely became the first French aircraft to experience the compressibility issues near Mach I that had torn apart fast-diving WWII fighters like the Lockeheed P-38 and Hawker Typhoon.
Further iterations saw the addition of turbojets on the wingtips and a more functional cockpit design. However the program was cancelled in 1958, as the French government was busy wasting its limited resources on futile efforts to pacify the natives in its colonies in French Indochina and Algeria. Rene Leduc passed away in 1968 but his company lives on as a manufacturer of hydraulic equipment.
* Basically a tube into which is shot fuel and air, with an ignition source setting the thing on fire
Sources: Janes Pocket Book of Experimental aircraft; aerostories.free.fr
Img src: aviastar.org