I knew I was never getting a date in high school when the pretty girl who sat beside me in grade ten math class caught me drawing pictures of the Sud-Ouest SO 9000 Trident. What Jennifer K couldn’t have known is that I was partly drawing the damn thing as a distraction from her.
As far as sci-fi designs go, the Trident nails just about every element, and could have appeared in the Tom Swift novels many of us enjoyed as children. It was drawn up by Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Sud-Ouest as a mixed-power aircraft at a time when turbojet engine output was lagging so far behind airframe technology that engineers were resorting to tacked-on rocket motors to make up the deficit.
The Trident was a response to the French government request in 1948 for a high-speed pure interceptor that would take on attacking Soviet bombers. The advanced design brought innovations such as an escape system for the pilot whereby the entire nose of the aircraft would separate from the fuselage; an anhedral tailplane that took over roll control from the ailerons, which locked at supersonic speeds; thin constant-chord wings (ie, they are a straight line from fuselage to tip); and a three-chamber liquid fuel rocket motor.
The design process took roughly three years, and the first flight occurred in March, 1953, under turbojet power only. A second prototype was to fly in September the same year but the meager turbojet power couldn’t get it over power lines at the end of the runway and it crashed, injuring the pilot so severely that he was not able to return to the project.
Refitted with much more powerful Armstrong-Siddeley Viper turbojets, the surviving prototype went on to make dozens of successful test flights. In 1954 flights took place with the rocket motor firing, and speeds of Mach 1.55 were reached at altitudes up to 52,000 feet. The Trident could also comfortably achieve well over Mach 1 in a shallow dive on turbojet power alone.
Given these successes, the type was put into production as a functioning interceptor and renamed SO 9050 Trident II. With more powerful jet engines and a larger, single chamber rocket motor, the Trident II was also given longer legs to clear underslung air-to-air missiles. The type proved a spectacular performer, with speeds close to Mach 2, and a European altitude record of 79,400ft attained in one test. However, the program was cancelled in favour of the Mirage III after just seven airframes were constructed – probably because of the meagre range offered by the rocket motor as well as concerns over its volatility.
Some great images to boggle at here: