It was an uphill battle for the rebuilding French aviation industry following the close of World War 2 in 1945. Its first entry into the world of jet-powered flight became the Sud-Ouest SO 6000 "Triton", a two-seat experimental trainer platform. The aircraft became a success as a trial and data collecting platform and helped to further French interest in the subject despite the country having to catch up to the work already completed by its competitors in Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union.
The SO 6000 was being designed as early as 1943 in secret within German-occupied France. The initial approach called for a stressed metal skin monoplane aircraft powered by a single turbojet engine. The turbojet was to be aspirated by a wide-mouth air intake arrangement at the front of the aircraft. Unlike other jet aircraft of the early post-war years, the French design offered two interesting design qualities - its engine was buried within the fuselage (as opposed to underslung nacelles) and a crew of two were seated in a side-by-side arrangement. A tricycle undercarriage was also worked into the airframe and ejection seats were planned.
The resulting design was a clean, if unorthodox, first entry into the world of jet-powered flight. The side-by-side seating required a wide fuselage and this gave the aircraft an appearance akin to a modern corporate jet. The wide-mouth intake was replaced with two small side intakes. The fuselage shape was well-rounded and tapered noticeably from nose to tail. The low monoplane wing appendages were straight with rounded tips. Similarly, the tailplanes followed with a rounded look to them and complemented a single vertical tailfin. The tricycle undercarriage was made up of three legs (two main, one nose) and each sported a single wheel - the main legs retracting under the wings.
Attempting to recover lost technical ground from the war, French officials were sold on the promising Sud-Ouest endeavor and quickly moved to order six prototypes (one to serve in the static test role). Development of a French-originated turbojet proved slower than anticipated so this led to the selection of the rather unreliable German Junkers Jumo 004B to power the aircraft. These engines were built during the war on French soil so the decision was sound to help the SO 6000 project along. It also powered the famous wartime Messerschmitt Me 262 "Schwalbe" jet fighter. The use of the Junkers engine produced the "SO 6000J" designation and would power the first two prototypes of the series.
First flight of the Triton was recorded on November 11th, 1946, marking a major stepping stone for French aviation. The flight lasted roughly 10 minutes and the aircraft managed a speed of only 180 miles per hour but progress was progress. The Triton then garnered considerable interest as a static display during the 1946 Paris Air Exhibit and much was expected from this impressive-looking French product going forward. Some delays brought on by technical challenges brought the program to a standstill flying-wise but the aircraft went airborne against to net a maximum speed of 250 miles per hour.
Three subsequent prototypes were initially selected to receive the British Rolls-Royce "Derwent" turbojet engine but this was not to be (the pairing generated the designation of "SO 6000N" as a result). Instead, the Rolls-Royce "Nene" 101 series turbojet engine (4,850lb thrust), already being produced locally under license for French de Havilland Vampires (through Hispano-Suiza), was set aside to also serve the Triton program. First flight of a Nene-powered SO 6000 (Prototype 04) was on March 19th, 1949 and further testing clocked the airframe at 555 miles per hour.
The Triton continued in testing for years later and went on to serve in its intended role as trainer for an all-new generation of French aviator - the jet fighter pilot. The platform proved valuable in introducing airmen to the nuances and speeds at which jet-powered aircraft operated, particularly when compared to even the fastest prop-powered fighters they were use to. While not a stunning technological achievement when compared to advances seen in Britain and the United States, the SO 6000 Triton still served French aviation well - particularly into the 1950s and 1960s with the Soviet Union now replacing Nazi Germany as the world's global threat.
All six SO 6000 aircraft were completed. Prototype 01 was the first French aircraft to fly under jet power but ended its career with just eight flights to its record before ultimately being retired in 1947. Prototype 02 was never flown as it awaited the original French turbojet engine that was not to be. Prototype 03 installed a powered ejection seat (unlike the first two prototypes) but only flew twice. Prototype 04 managed the most influential flying career of them all when it accounted for 189 flights. Prototype 05 was flown just eight times before being retired and Prototype 06 never advanced beyond its intended static testbed role.
Prototype 03 survives today as a protected museum showpiece at the Musee de 'lAir et de l'Espace of Le Bourget Airport in Paris. The Triton managed to reach a maximum speed of 593 miles per hour during its flying life as well as a service ceiling of 39,375 feet.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
Developed ability to be used as a dedicated trainer for student pilots (typically under the supervision of an instructor).
34.4 ft (10.48 m)
30.1 ft (9.16 m)
7,716 lb (3,500 kg)
10,053 lb (4,560 kg)
+2,337 lb (+1,060 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the Sud-Ouest SO 6000N Triton production variant)
1 x Hispano-Suiza (Rolls-Royce) Nene 101 turbojet engine developing 4,850 lb of thrust.
S.O. 6000 "Triton" - Base Series Designation; six airframes completed in all.
S.O. 6000J - Fitted with Junkers Jumo 004 series turbojet engine; single example completed.
S.O. 6000N - Fitted with Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet engine; three examples completed.
Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective aerial campaigns / operations / aviation periods.
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