Loire-Nieuport LN.401/LN.411 (LN.40) Carrierborne Dive Bomber Aircraft
The LN.401 was delivered in limited quantity to the French Navy and saw heavy losses in the German invasion of France.
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The Loire-Nieuport LN.40/LN.401 series of aircraft was a carrier-based dive bomber developed for the French Navy prior to World War 2. First flight was achieved in 1938 and the system was introduced into service the year following. Some twenty-three examples were available by the time of the German invasion of France and subsequent actions proved the LN.401 wholly outclassed by her German adversaries. Only 68 of its type were ever produced and the aircraft ceased all further development and production after the fall of France from May 1940 onwards.
Origins of the LN.40/LN.401 stemmed from the development of the Nieuport 140. Nieuport made a name for itself by producing some memorable fighter designs in the First World War. Development on the Nieuport 140 had begun sometime in 1932 and this aircraft was intended for the French Navy as a dive bomber with a crew of two. In 1933, Nieuport became a part of Loire and the company name of "Loire-Nieuport" was officially born. In the same vein, the Nieuport 140 now became the "Loire-Nieuport LN.140". Evaluation of the design continued until a pair of accidents - resulting in the deaths of her pilots - doomed the project in whole.
All was not lost, however, for the firm moved to develop the more modern single-seat LN.40 dive bomber to fulfill the French Navy request. By 1937, the French government signed an order for Liore-Nieuport to deliver a working prototype of their LN.40 as well as preproduction aircraft for active evaluation. The first LN.40 took to the skies on July 6th, 1938 and carrier landings on the Bearn completed with success. Despite some inherent deficiencies in the basic design - some of which were rectified including the deletion of the tail dive brakes - the type was decreed operational and deliveries soon followed under the new production designation of LN.401. Production was handled by SNCAO ("Societe nationale des constructions aeronautiques de l'ouest"), an organization born from the merging of Breguet and Loire-Nieuport factories in 1936. SNCAO was itself absorbed into Sud-Ouest (SNCASO) in 1941 and eventually became Sud Aviation in 1957.
Escadrille AC.1 units of the French Navy received four LN.401s in the middle of 1939 for training. In practice, the LN.401 proved decidedly slower than the French were expecting. As a result, a newer and faster platform fitted with a Hispano-Suiza 12Y-51 engine and a shorter wingspan was signed off on and set under the designation of LN.42. While development of this aircraft was underway, orders for the navalized LN.401 ramped up. The French Army placed their order for the land-based variant known under the designation of LN.411. As can be expected, this particular model did away with the navalized aspects of the LN.401 including the folding wings and arrestor hook. Like the French Navy, the French Army was none too thrilled about their slow dive bomber and rejected them. These were relocated to the stables of the French Navy. The LN.42 development continued for a time, initially hidden away from the German invaders, and ultimately test-flown on August 24th, 1945 at Toussus-le-Noble. Regardless, the LN.42 eventually fell to the scrapman's torch and was destroyed in 1947.
Externally, the LN.401 maintained a unique appearance. She held her engine in a forward compartment providing the aircraft with a modern streamlined look. The cockpit was set just aft of the engine and atop the inverted gull monoplane wings. The pilot say under a three piece canopy offering decent views all around. The fuselage continued the streamlined appearance and was capped by a conventional empennage featuring a single vertical tail fin and a pair of horizontal planes each sporting smaller vertical fins. All tail surfaces were clipped and featured sharp edges and the main vertical fin was originally designed to split open and act as an airbrake during dives. The undercarriage was a traditional "tail-dragger" arrangement with two main landing gear legs and a diminutive tailwheel. The main legs semi-recessed under each wing assembly into contoured nacelles. Armament was limited to a pair of 7.5mm Darne machine guns and a single 20mm cannon as well as a bomb load of up to 496lbs (single bomb).
Four major variants of this aircraft appeared. The first was the base LN.40 which represented some seven pre-production aircraft. The LN.401 was the French Navy dive-bomber designation to which some fifteen examples were produced. The LN.411 was a land-based version of the LN.401 sans its navalized equipment for the French Army. Forty-five of this type were ultimately produced. The LN.402 was a single example variant fitting a more powerful Hispano-Suiza 12Y series engine. First flight was achieved on November 18th, 1939.
The LN.401 was powered by a single Hispano-Suiza 12XCrs 12-cylinder vee engine delivering up to 690 horsepower and powering a three-bladed propeller system. Maximum speed was 236 miles per hour with a range of 745 miles. The service ceiling was listed at 31,170 feet.
Once in action against the Germany in the north of France, the LN.401/LN.411 was seemingly doomed to failure. She was assigned to two escadrilles (or squadrons) - the first being AB.2 and second became AB.4 from the rejected French Army systems - at the time of the invasion. In a much-publicized attack occurring on May 19th, 1940, twenty LN.401s/LN.411s were launched against German columns with ten of these being shot down and a further seven damaged beyond repair. Surviving units were relocated to the south of France where they continued the fight against Italian forces via reconnaissance and naval escort sorties. Other aircraft made their way to North Africa and were put into storage.
As France ultimately capitulated, June 1940 signified the signing of the armistice with Germany - in effect killing any further legacy for the LN.401/LN.411.