The feisty Fennec – a fiercer fox


North American T-28S Fennec

In the late 1950s, with war raging in Algeria, French forces needed a close-support aircraft urgently. Their light strike aircraft being used in North Africa (in what would now be called a COIN role) included large numbers of  the T-6G Texan. This aircraft had been upgraded, fitted with underwing gun pods and thrown into the fray. Standard French operating procedure was to use a pilot and an observer in the Texan on missions. This left the aircraft slow, underarmed and very vulnerable.

Two North American Nomads (civilianized versions of the T-28A) were purchased by the French for test purposes, quickly followed by 146 ex-USAF T-28A Trojans. These primary trainers were handed over to Sud Aviation at St. Nazaire, who oversaw the rebuilding of the machines; this included fitting standard French radio gear, armour protection for the engine and crew, and additional underwing hardpoints. The aircraft lost their 800hp R-1300 Cyclone engines, and were upgraded with a Wright R-1820-76B putting out 1425hp (these were sourced through Pac-Aero, who had produced the Nomad conversions). The aircraft was named Fennec, after the swift, cunning desert fox of North Africa, and the designation changed to T-28S; first flight took place on 10 March 1960, with each aircraft conversion taking approximately two months.

The war in Algeria was being fought over rugged mountain terrain, as well as in urban settings, and the Fennec suited the task. As well as being faster, more powerful, with extra armour protecting the engine and crew, the armament fit included a mix of  .50 calibre Browning machine pods, SNEB rocket packs, 87mm rockets, napalm containers and ‘iron’ bombs.

The Fennec seen here is based at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, and is one of only two T-28 aircraft in the country. It was originally built by North American in 1951 (51-7545) as a T-28A, but was converted as the 119th Fennec. It carries the markings of one of the French light strike units (Escadrilles d’Aviation Legere d’Appui) EALA 7/72 ‘Fennec’ of the Armee de L’Air. Eventually, this example was disposed of to the Haitian Air Force, where it served until 1978. After a time on the US civil register, it was bought by Radial Revelation Inc, of Wilmington Delaware, and shipped to the UK, under management of The Aircraft Restoration Company.

This aircraft carries nose art, as ‘Little Rascal’, and the badge of 7/72, appropriately a fennec under the moon, under the cockpit. This feisty fox has been described as ‘a poor man’s Hurricane’; indeed, when the Fennecs were withdrawn to Metropolitan France after the Algerian War was over in 1962, they were issued to training and secondline defence units, and it is a matter of record that a Fennec claimed a ‘kill’ on an ‘opposing’ Dassault Mirage IIIC during air exercise ‘Carte Blanche’ in 1963!

‘Little Rascal’  is a fine performer on the European air show scene, and is shown here parked in the warbirds section at the GVFWE, Hullavington. A splendid conversion of an already successful type.

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2 comments on “The feisty Fennec – a fiercer fox”

  1. Hi there, I was a mechanics on T-28 Fennecs in Villacoublay (BA107) in 1964 (see my website http://fennec.pfiquet.be) and if I do not personnally know about that Mirage IIIC claim in 1963, I was aboard Fennec #110 as an observer when the pilot put a claim for killing an Etendard IV on October 12, 1964 during a steep turn dogfight exercice over the Briton area, between Lannion and Morlaix.

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    • Thank you very much for the information regarding Fennec #110 and the Etendard IV kill. I am always pleased to receive such news, especially from anyone who was involved with the T-28. Merci mille fois, M’sieur!

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