In the grand scope of World War 2 fighter aircraft there is a little-remembered French design designated the Arsenal "VG-33". The aircraft was born from a rather lengthy line of prototype developments put forth by the company in the years leading up to World War 2 and the VG-33 represented the culmination of this work before the German invasion rendered all further work moot. The VG-33 was one of the more impressive prewar fighter ventures by the French that included the Dewoitine D.520, understood to be on par with the lead German fighter aircraft of the period - the famous Messerschmitt Bf 109.
The Arsenal de l'Aeronautique concern was formed by the French government in 1936 ahead of World War 2. It began operations with design and development of a fast fighter type until the German conquer of France in 1940 after which the company then focused on engine production after 1945. Then followed a period of design and construction of gliders and missiles before being privatized in 1952 (as SFECMAS). The company then fell under the SNCAN brand label and became "Nord Aviation" in 1955.
The VG-33 was the production form of the earlier VG-32 prototype and sources state that fewer than 40 of the type were completed by the time of the German incursion. About twelve were said to be in ready condition while a further 160 lay in incomplete along French assembly lines. Twelve examples fell to the Germans.
Work on a new fast fighter began by Arsenal engineers in 1936 and the line began with the original VG-30 prototype achieving first flight on October 1st, 1938. Testing showcased a sound design with good performance and speed, certainly suitable for progression as a military fighter. Development continued into what became the VG-31 which incorporated smaller wings. The VG-32 then followed which returned to the full-sized wings and installed the American Allison V-1710-C15 inline supercharged engine of 1,054 horsepower. The VG-32 then formed the basis of the VG-33 which reverted to a Hispano-Suiza 12Y-31 engine and first flight was in early 1939, months ahead of the German invasion of Poland. Flight testing then spanned into August and serial production of this model was ordered.
Despite the production contract, engineers continued work on the line and VG-34 appeared in early 1940 outfitted with the Hispano-Suiza 12Y-45 engine of 935 horsepower which improved performance at altitude. An uprated engine was installed in VG-35 and VG-36 utilized a Hispano-Suiza 12Y-51 engine of 1,000 horsepower with a revised undercarriage and radiator system. VG-37 was a long-range version that was not furthered and joined the abandoned VG-38 with its Hispano-Suiza 12Y-77 engine. The VG-39 ended the line as the last viable prototype model with its drive emerging from a Hispano-Suiza 12Z engine of 1,280 horsepower. A new three-machine-gun wing was installed for a formidable six-gun armament array. This model was also ordered into production as the VG-39bis and was to carry a 1,600 horsepower Hispano-Suiza 12Z-17 engine into service. However, the German invasion eliminated the need.
The VG-40 became a proposed variant fitting a Rolls-Royce Merlin III engine and the VG-50 another proposed form with an Allison V-1710-39 engine. The VG-60 was a final proposed variant outfitted with a supercharged Hispano-Suiza 12Y-51 engine of 1,000 horsepower. No prototypes were completed.
The finalized VG-33 was an all-modern looking fighter design with elegant lines and a streamlined appearance. Its power came from an inline engine fitted to the front of the fuselage and headed by a large propeller spinner at the center of a three-bladed unit. The cockpit was held over midships with the fuselage tapering to become the tail unit. The tail sat a shallow rounded vertical tail fin and low-set horizontal planes in a traditional arrangement. The monoplane wing assemblies were at the center of the design in the usual way. Vision out-of-the-cockpit was hampered by the nose ahead, the wings below and the raised fuselage spine aft. The pilot sat under a largely unobstructed canopy utilizing light framing and sliding on rails to the rear for access. A large air scoop was identified under the fuselage. The undercarriage was of the typical tail-dragger arrangement of the period. Construction was largely of wood which led to a very lightweight design that aided performance and the manufacture process. Unlike other fighters of the 1930s, the VG-33 was well-armed with a 20mm Hispano-Suiza cannon firing through the propeller hub complemented by 4 x 7.5mm MAC 1934 series machine guns in the wings.
Dimensions included a length of 8.5 meters with a wingspan of 10.8 meters and a height of 3.3 meters. Empty weight was 4,520lbs with a MTOW of 5,855lbs. Power was from a Hispano-Suiza 12Y-31 V12 liquid-cooled inline piston engine of 860 horsepower promoting a maximum speed of 350 miles per hour with a range out to 745 miles and a service ceiling o f36,100 feet. Armament was a single 20mm cannon with four 7.5mm machine guns.
The aircraft never saw combat action in the Battle of France. Its arrival was simply too late to have any effect on the outcome of the German plans. Therefore, with limited production and no combat service, it largely fell into the pages of history with all completed models lost.
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