Profile Publications No. 147 The Morane Saulnier 406

The Morane Saulnier 406 by Gaston Botquin Since before World War One, the firm Aeroplanes Morane-Satthiier had produced fighter and training aircraft for the Armee ile rA ir, specialising until the thirties in high- (and slightly tapered-) wing mono­planes, or “Parasols” .The first low-wing Morane, the M.S.325, did not appear until 1932. In 1934 the Armee de I'Air issued a specification for a modern interceptor fighter to replace the D.500, LN 46 and D.371 aircraft. In response to this the Morane designers at Puteaux projected a low-wing monoplane with such features as a retractable undercarriage, enclosed cockpit, landing flaps and a variablc-pitch airscrew. In July 1937 the Morane-Saulnier M.S.405 was selected from five competing prototypes for a pro­duction order (the other competing aircraft were the Bloch 150, Dewoitine D.513, Loire 250 and Nieuport 161) the winner was to receive production contracts totalling more than a thousand aircraft. As the Puteaux plant was not large enough to produce so many aircraft, the recently-nationalised French aircraft industry was introduced into the production process. From a material and psychological point of view, the introduction of the M.S.406 into the Escadres de Cliasse at the beginning of 1939 was an important event. It was the first modern infighter French service and the “traditional” biplane supporters argued with the “modern” monoplane supporters around its shapely lines. In September 1939, when war broke out, about 600 M.S.406 aircraft had come ofT the assembly lines and, with the 170 Curtiss H.75 aircraft received from the U.S.A., (see Profile No. 80) they were the only French fighters capable of opposing the Luftwaffe. It must be said that the French aircraft industry, so often described as inefficient, had delivered 600 modern infighters the eighteen months succeeding the first flight of the first production M.S.406. This figure compares well with the Hawker Hurricane I (see Profile No. Ill) of which 497 were produced in twenty-three months. It would be pointless to The distinctive silhouette o f the Morane- Sanlnier 406 against the evening sky “somewhere in France" in 1940. Out­classed and outnumbered, the M.S. 406 had no real chance against the Luftwaffe, hut the exploits o fits defiant pilots have assured its place in the story o f the early war years. (Photo: E.C.A. pretend, as was often done during the war for propaganda purposes, that the M.S.406 was the finest infighter the world, le meiUettr chasseur dtt nionde, but it was certainly a pleasant machine to fly with novices and great manoeuvra­ bility. Unfortunately it lacked most of the attributes of areal “war bird” ,but this gives more value to, and enhances, the gallantry of the French pilots who gained victories flying the type. THE M.S.405 AND DERIVATIVES Built at Puteaux, the prototype M.S.405-01, powered by a Hispano-Suiza HS I2Y grs engine, had no retractable landing-gear abut fixed mounting which was replaced by a retractable Olaer undercarriage after its first flights. The famous aerobatic pilot Michel Detroyat piloted the M.S.405-01 on its first flight from Villacoublay on 8th August 1935. The excellent flying characteristics of the prototype were immediately apparent. After 80 hours oftest flights, the prototype was delivered to the Centre d'Essai dtt Materiel Aerien (C.E.M in.A.) January 1936, with all military equipment fitted, for Service testing. Some modifications were necessary to the wing planform and dihedral, and the Chauviere airscrew was replaced by one of Levasseur manufacture. Excellent per­formance was recorded in tests, speeds of 250 m.p.h. being recorded near the ground and 304 m.p.h. at 13,100 ft. and a speed of 450 m.p.h. was easily attainable in a dive. The prototype received con­siderable publicity when, on 14th June 1937, M. Detroyat flew the aircraft from Paris to Brussels, bearing the civil registration F-AKHZ, to exhibit it at The M.S. 405 No. I. photographed on 12th July, 1936 note the windmill actuator o f the variable pitch airscrew. 3
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