Potez 630 (Series) Heavy Fighter / Multirole Aircraft
This Potez line of multirole aircraft took part in several of the major campaigns of World War 2 - including the failed defense of France in 1940.
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The Potez 630 series of twin-engine aircraft was introduced with the French Armee de l'Air (French Air Force) in the late-1930s as an all-modern, metal-clad, heavy-class fighter. Its design kept pace with other twin-engine, multi-role developments witnessed during the period - particularly those emerging from Britain and Germany where their proved a need for heavy fighter types to contend with the growing threat of bombers who saw their own technological growth throughout the decade. Heavy fighters were to offer both performance and armament suitable for successfully engaging larger targets and, when outfitted with bombs, could engage ground targets as needed with equal fervor.
The Potez 630 emerged from a French Air Force requirement of 1934 which called for a multi-role aircraft capable of air control/direction, interception/bomber escorting, and night fighting. Design of the 630 line was attributed to Potez engineers Louis Coroller and Andre Delaruelle and their approach utilized a well-streamlined, metal-skinned body fitting a three-man (seated inline) cockpit at front with a tapering rear section mounting a dual vertical tail fin arrangement. The mainplanes were fitted low along the fuselage sides and ahead of midships with each wing mounting a single radial piston engine along the leading edge. The undercarriage was retractable (save for the tail wheel) and of the "tail-dragger" arrangement which saw two main, single-wheeled legs fitted under each engine nacelle. The long cockpit was covered over in a greenhouse-style canopy with thin framing which offered good views of the surrounding action. The pilot sat at front with a mission specialist at center, and a dedicated gunner at rear. The center crewman position could be eliminated base on mission need and a ventral area allowed for management of lower armament or observation of the passing terrain below. Power was from 2 x Hispano-Suiza 14HBs radials of 580 horsepower each.
As designed, the aircraft showcased a standard armament suite of 1 x fixed, forward-firing 7.5mm MAC 1934 machine gun and 1 x fixed, rear-firing machine gun of same model and caliber in the ventral gondola. The rear gunner managed another of the same gun, though this on trainable mounting hardware in a dorsal position primarily facing aft.
Flight testing of the prototype (Model 63.01) revealed it an overall sound aircraft - first flight recorded on April 25th, 1936. An accident forced a slight tail redesign, producing prototype Model 630.01 and a second prototype, Model 631.01 was used to test Gnome-Rhone 14 Mars engines - first flight of this entry on March 15th, 1937. Without any major modifications following, the line was adopted for formal service by the French Air Force in 1937 through an order numbering eighty aircraft as the "Potez 630". At this same time, the similar "Potez 631" emerged and this variant made use of 2 x Gnome-Rhone 14M radial piston engines which offered better performance and reliability. The French Air Force was equally sold on this design and ordered it through a separate 90-strong contract as "Potez 631 C3". In 1938, yet another order for 50 more aircraft was signed as France geared up for its impending war with hated Germany. Twenty of this batch were also ordered by Finland though France's entry into World War 2 would negate delivery.
Still another form emerged as the "Potez 633" which became a dedicated two-seat light level bomber form. These lost their ventral gondolas and had a standard tandem, two-seat cockpit with the middle crew position taken up by a new internal bomb bay which was to service up to 880lbs of stores. The rear gunner doubled as the bombardier with delivery aided through a periscope. A prototype first flew during the latter part of 1937 and 133 were on order for 1938. However, the design changed some before the end as it was decided against a two-seat design and the third crew added back in for a spread workload. The "Potez 634" became a proposed dual-control trainer and was the Potez 630 fitted with the Gnome-Rhone engines but not furthered. Similarly, the Potez 63.16 T3 was to become a dedicated crew trainer and it only ever existed as a "one-off" prototype.