These limited-production aircraft served with little distinction in French hands but were better served as night fighters and attack aircraft by the Israeli Air Force in later years. The aircraft is oft-noted for its design similarities to the Soviet Yakovlev Yak-28 but it became a very different aircraft altogether. The system was produced in only three mission-specific variants and formed the core of Soviet deterrent in France during the Cold War. The portly-looking Vautour (meaning "Vulture") served for an impressive 15 years with the French Air Force eventually being replaced by the more capable Mirage F1 series.
The Vautour was initially derived from half-scale research glider testing in powered and engine-less forms. From there, a full scale prototype was born with the designation of S.O. 4000 to which these were fitted with Hispano-Suiza turbojets (x2), license-production copies of the British Rolls-Royce Nene. With the arrival of the official designation, S.O. 4050, the Vautour was produced in three prototypes that included two 2-seat versions and a one single-seat version. the initial two-seat variant was designed as a night fighter while the second appeared as a single-seat ground-attack derivative. The final prototype was a two-seat dedicated bomber. All versions differed mainly from one another by their selection of powerplants. Engines were later standardized for production in the SNECMA Atar 101E 7,716 pound thrust engine regardless of dedicated role.
The three major variants became the Vautour II-A attack aircraft - fitted with 4 x 20mm cannons and bombs - the Vautour II-B - a dedicated bomber with a redesigned and glazed nose assembly for the bombardier - and the Vautour II-N nightfighter with the "N" in the designation indicating this specific role. The nightfighter variant was fitted with specialized interception radar in the nose and was of the two-seat design. In all, just some 70 aircraft of all three types were ever delivered despite the initial desire for the French government to field some 140 total Vautours.
Externally, the Vautour was a very standard aircraft design. The fuselage allowed for either the single or two-seat crew accommodation to be used depending on the production model. Engines were held outward of the fuselage under each wing and the crew sat high and forward on the stout airframe. A single vertical tail surface was held at rear with high-mounted elevators creating the distinct "T" tail assembly. Two hardpoints allowed for the carrying of air-to-air missiles or unguided rockets. Standard armament was a battery of 4 x 20mm cannons - two to a side in the nose.
Israel took delivery of at least 18 Vautours after testing their capabilities. These Vautours formed two squadrons and replaced aging British Mosquitos in attack and interception roles. The Vautour performed admirably well in Israeli hands in day or night roles. Their exposure to combat gradually diminished with the arrival of more capable French and American made aircraft.
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