Monday, 12 November 2012

French flying boats of WWII - the Latécoère 631 six-engined flying boat- Biscarosse

.. The Latécoère 631 was a large six-engined flying boat conceived in France during the years leading up to WWII. The first machine constructed was confiscated by the Germans and transferred to Lake Constance. According to some sources it was destroyed here on 17 April 1944 by Mosquitos, wearing German codes 63+11 (along with SE-200, 2D+UT as reported in Aérojournal issue No. 4, Jan '99, 'Dans le service de l'ennemi')....rare image below

 The second Latécoère 631 F-BANT (no.2) is perhaps notable chiefly for the fact that it was 'hidden' by the French in the Toulouse area during WW II and re-assembled post-war for its first flight. Contrary to some accounts however the aircraft was not hidden 'secretly' - but rather with the knowledge of the Germans. This was chiefly to protect it from Allied bombing raids. Following the liberation of France the stocked parts were re-assembled and F-BANT first flew from Biscarosse on 15 March 1945. The reasons behind this project re-launch were chiefly 'political' in nature - to give the impression, at whatever the cost, that the French still had an aeronautical industry. But ultimately like most large flying boats of the period, the type was a huge white elephant. Air France never wanted it but had to fly it for reasons of national prestige as the national airline. More than 100 deaths followed in crashes and technical incidents concerning the type, mostly to do with the little-understood oscillatory phenomena of six unsynchronised engines on such a large wing - for example, on 01 November 1945 off Montevideo at 330 km/h an inboard prop sheared off the "Lionel de Marnier" F-BDRC tearing a huge hole in the fuselage, killing one passenger instantly and amputating the legs of another, who later died of his injuries. The aircraft put down safely despite losing another two props!  War-time technical advances had left the French far behind and by the time of the Late 631's first Air France transatlantic service in August 1947, TWA Constellations had been regularly crossing the Atlantic at over 400 km/h (cruise) for at least 18 months prior to this date. On the night of July 31, 1948 "Lionel de Marnier" F-BDRC (Latécoère 631 number 06) owned by Air France was flying from Fort-de-France to Port-Etienne in Mauritania when it disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean with the loss of all 52 on board. It is believed to have gone down around 1200 miles from Dakar in Senegal. The U.S. Coast Guard ship Campbell reported finding debris on August 4 but no sign of survivors. 

Ten of these huge machines were built - half were lost to accidents. By way of comparison the Late 631 had a mTOW of around 70 T (9,600 hp) and could carry some 50 passengers and freight at 300 km/h. The much smaller Boeing 314 with a TOW of 38 T (6,400hp) could transport 25 passengers at 300 km/h. With its 57 metre wingspan it is still the biggest aircraft ever constructed by the French..

More on Biscarosse and the Late seaplanes on this blog here

Artwork and internal views and French newspaper cuttings

Featured post

Victor B.2 XL513 & XL 512 carrying Blue Steel - ebay photo find #57

An original Ministry of Defence photograph of Handley Page Victor B.2 XL513 equipped with a Blue Steel Missile. Note the four Vulcans on...