After the close of World War 2 (1939-1945) in 1945, the rebuilding French Air Force - like other nations in its position - made due with surplus of former American combat aircraft such as the Republic P-47 "Thunderbolt" and Vought F4U "Corsair". Powerful and well-armed for their time in the air, the designs proved useful to the French in maintaining control of their various overseas territories (at least for the interim). Despite this, thought was already being given to advancing the stock of aging warplanes in service to more capable types better suited for Close-Air Support (CAS) and COunter-INsurgency (COIN) sorties.
The primary threat to France proper was the Soviet Union which grew into a military powerhouse during, and immediately after, the Second World War. This meant that, with a divided Germany at its border, the nation could quickly become embroiled in a war near its borders or within them. The Soviet advanced would most likely center on massed formations of troops and armor - leading the French to require suitable aerial-based attackers in response. Add to this general unrest in the various overseas colonies and the French need proved great.
In August of 1955, French Air Force authorities put forth a new requirement calling for an attack platform centered around a twin-engine layout and a crew numbering between two and three to share the workload. Anticipated ferry range was out to 1,245 miles with the vehicle holding a maximum speed near 255 miles-per-hour. The aircraft would be called upon to fly "low-and-slow" while carrying a variable array of munitions that should include Air-to-Surface Missiles (ASMs), conventional drop bombs, rockets, and automatic cannons (2 x 30mm guns were to be the standard fit). Loitering over contested areas in support of ground troops was also to become part of this new aircraft's design and the airframe should be able to double in the reconnaissance, training, and liaison roles when needed - thus the aircraft would have to be flexible enough to accept the installation of camera equipment or other pertinent systems to meet whatever the requirement. The training and liaison roles were eventually detailed under a separate requirement.
The SE 116 'Fonceur' (or 'Charger'), also known as the 'X-116', was one of the many entries considered for this attacker requirement. This sleek aircraft was started by Sud Est engineers in 1955 (as the SNCASE SE X-116B project) and included the required twin-engine arrangement with its crew of three positioned in tandem at the nose/forward fuselage. The crew was spread out across three distinct workstations - the pilot at center under the "bubble-style" canopy with one crewman directly aft, and the third managing a defensive machine gun position at the belly. The low-mounted mainplanes made the SE 116 the first French aircraft to sport laminar flow wings. The tail was of conventional, single-finned design.
While a plethora of engine options were considered throughout the design cycle of the SE 116, the aircraft was originally envisioned to be powered by 2 x Turbomeca 'Bastan' lightweight, small-diameter turboprops of 650 horsepower (each) then in development. These were eventually superseded with the readily available Wright 'Cyclone 7' air-cooled radials of 800hp and the first flyable prototype was completed in this fashion. However, a second flyable prototype soon emerged with the planned Bastan units in place.
To cover the 2 x 30mm automatic cannon requirement, engineers selected the DEFA 552 cannon series which would be installed in a removable ventral "pack", fixed to fire forwards for devastating strafing runs. The pack could be replaced with a camera-equipped pack for reconnaissance sorties.
For ordnance/munitions-carrying, the SE 116 was to feature three total weapons hardpoints under each wing (for a total of six stations). The ASM of choice was the SS11/SS12 wire-guided Ant-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) series for precision strikes against armor at-range. Coupled with other weapon types such as bombs and rockets and the SE 116 would be quite capable at engaging any ground-based target from the air.
A first-flight was recorded on June 5th, 1958 through prototype SE 116-01. The Bastan-equipped prototype appeared in the skies that December 15th but this aircraft's flying career came to an abrupt end when it fell apart in-flight during testing on January 9th, 1959 - killing its three test pilots in the process (excessive tail flutter due to high speed was found to be the cause). This event proved disastrous on many levels, least of all it painted a cloud over the whole program, leading to its eventual cancellation. The setback was notable for France was embroiled in its years-long war in Algeria (the Algerian War of Independence, 1954-1962).
With the end of the SE 116 project, and other CAS/COIN proposals that arrived before and after it, the French Air Force simply continued its post-war tradition of purchasing stocks of surplus American warplanes to quickly field in response to deteriorating situations overseas - the Douglas 'Skyraider' became a French fixture during this time.
The proposed SNCASE SE 117, which was something of a slight evolution of the abandoned SE 117, flew for the first time on January 21st, 1960 and intended for attack, training, and liaison roles but it - too - was cancelled, this in the latter half of 1960. The revised design was to have all-new wing mainplane members as well as a light transport capability to satisfy changing French Air Force needs.
The SE 118 "Diplomate" was a proposed fast-transport that never materialized.
As flown, the prototype SE 116 had a wingspan of 59 feet with a length of 40 feet. Gross weight was 12,540lb. The installed 2 x Bastan engines offered 650 horsepower and propelled the aircraft to speeds of 277 miles-per-hour.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
✓Close-Air Support (CAS)
Developed to operate in close proximity to active ground elements by way of a broad array of air-to-ground ordnance and munitions options.
✓Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
✓X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
40.1 ft (12.22 m)
59.0 ft (17.97 m)
18.7 ft (5.71 m)
9,259 lb (4,200 kg)
12,544 lb (5,690 kg)
+3,285 lb (+1,490 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the SNCASE X-116 (Charger) production variant)
2 x Wright Cyclone 7 air-cooled radial piston engines developing 800 horsepower each OR 2 x Turbomeca Bastan turboprop engines developing 650 horsepower each driving 2 x Three-bladed propeller units.
2 x 30mm DEFA 552 automatic cannons in removable ventral pack (fixed, firing forwards).
Support for SS11 or SS12 wire-guided Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs), rockets, or conventional drop bombs across six total under wing hardpoints (three per wing).
Ventral gun pack also replaceable with camera-equipped reconnaissance pack.
(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 6
SE 116 - Base Series Designation.
X-116 - Alternative designation.
X-116B - Project Designation.
SE 116 - Initial flyable prototypes of which two were completed, the first with Wright Cyclone radial engines and second with Turbomeca Bastan turboprops; second prototype lost to disintegration midair during testing.
SE 117 - Revised prototype incorporating light transport capability; canceled.
SE 118 - Proposed (cancelled) fast-transport derivative.
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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