Morane-Saulnier MS.733 Alcyon – a trainer with Gallic flair!
Tags: Air France, Air Show, aircraft, Alcyon, Algerian War, Aviation, Cambodia, colonial war, Cotswold Airport, Duxford, England, Europe, France, French, French Aeronavale, Imperial War Museum, Kemble, Morane-Saulnier, Morroco, MS.733, North Weald, Peterborough, Potez 6 D-01, Service de la Formation, Spanhoe Airfield, St Yan, warbird
The French have always gone their own way when it comes to military hardware. Their standard rifle caliber (as used by the famous “Fusil Mle 1886 M93″, the Lebel Rifle), from before the First World War to after the Second was 8mm, when almost everyone else was using 7.7mm (.303”). They have used unique sub-machine guns and armored cars, and lots of other weaponry; they are no different when it comes to aircraft designs. Indeed, the French even re-invented the Boeing 737 (see the Dassault Mercure!)
Following the end of the Second World War, it seemed that almost all of the Allied Powers in Europe decided that they needed a new primary trainer. This gave rise to the Percival Prentice in Great Britain, the Fokker Instructor in Holland, and the Morane-Saulnier MS.733 Alcyon (Kingfisher) in France.
Morane-Saulnier had been responsible for the design of the standard French fighter at the start of WW2, the MS.406, a monoplane with pedestrian performance which did not do well in the Battle of France during May, 1940. Postwar, they were determined to win the contract for the new elementary trainer from the French Air Force and the French Navy to replace the venerable, but beloved, Stampe SV.4C biplane. The new machine was to hold to the old style of undercarriage, in that it was to be a ‘tail-dragger’, but was to conform to the new style of ‘side-by-side’ seating for the pupil and instructor, and, like the British Percival Prentice, the trainer was to have room for an extra pupil behind these two seats ‘to observe’ the sortie (this was one European fashion which quickly faded!)
The first attempt to meet the requirements, the M.S.730 fell short, as did a modified version of the same aircraft, re-designated as the M.S.731, with a fixed undercarriage. The next version, the M.S.732, had a retractable tailwheel undercarriage, and was powered by a war-surplus German Argus As 10 of 240hp. The Belgian Air Force placed an order for two examples. By the way, this unusual method of the evolution of an aircraft through protoypes, before an official order was placed, did seem to be common in France at this time; the same thing happened with the ‘airborne observation post’, NC 856A Norvegie.
It wasn’t until the MS.733 was developed that the French military finally accepted the aircraft. The Argus engine was replaced by a French unit, the air-cooled, 6-cylinder, inverted Potez 6 D-01 of 240 hp, and the first flight in this new configuration took place on the 23rd June, 1952. All basic aerobatic manoeuvers were possible, and the Potez pulled the MS.733 along at a maximum of 160 mph; the range being a useful 560 miles. Series production began in 1955, with a total of 200 being built, plus the 5 pre-production prototypes. L’Armée de l’Air (French Air Force) took 145 and the Aeronavale (the French Navy) ordered 40; the MS.733 was well equipped, for the day, in navigational terms, with twin VOR-ILS, twin VHF radios, ADF, and a radar altimeter. This made them attractive to Air France, who operated five civilianized versions, as part of their navigational syllabus could be taught on the MS.733 as opposed to the usual twin-engine aircraft.
About this time, the French realized they were in desperate need of more ‘light strike’ or COIN (‘counter insurgent’) aircraft in their colonial war in Algeria (1954 – 1962). Before the heavily modified T-28 Fennec arrived, a number of Alcyon aircraft were converted for the role. These were designated MS.733A, and, for such a low-powered aircraft had a reasonable weapons load. Two zero-length Matra T14 rocket mounts were installed under each wing, to carry a total of four 62lb SERAM T10 rockets (with either high-explosive or fragmentation heads); in between each pair of rocket rails was a mounting for a 110lb HE bomb. Two MAC 34/39 7.5mm machineguns, each with 500 rounds, (one in each wing) were fitted. All the weapons were aimed using a SFOM 83 reflector sight, suspended from the cockpit roof.
Eventually, when the conflict was over, these 773A’s were either sold to Morroco, or converted back to trainers. A batch of 15 armed Alcyon’s were sold to Cambodia, which used them for both training and COIN operations.
The aircraft you can see above is one of a batch of 40 built for the French Aeronavale, which were used for pilot training and liaison work. G-MSAL was built in 1956; six years later it was civilianized and issued to the Service de la Formation, a flying school at St Yan which trained Air France pilots. It eventually found its way to the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, where it was sold at auction in 1990, and spent the next 12 years undergoing an attempted restoration – this failed, and the aircraft was put into store at North Weald airfield. Better times came when a team from Windmill Aviation and a group of enthusiasts managed to complete the restoration, after moving the aircraft to Spanhoe Airfield near Peterborough; they gained a Permit to Fly from the CAA in June, 2008. This is now the only Alcyon in the U.K., and one of only 6 or 7 in flyable condition in the world.
As an aside, the irrepressible Lindsay Walton, (better known for his French F4U-7 Corsair), flew an MS.733 in Cambodian Air Force markings around the U.K. airshow circuit for a while, as ‘the Cambodian Gunship’. It was registered G-SHOW, appropriately, and carried dummy rockets under the wings. That particular aircraft is now in Australia.
The MS.773 has had a interesting past, and is a rare survivor of the first post-War generation of training aircraft. Truly, a fine example of Gallic design!
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