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Gruz, Laurent - SE.2010 Armagnac, the forgotten giant (2010)

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SE.2010 Armagnac, the forgotten giant (2010)

By Laurent Gruz

A four-engined passenger transport aircraft with a hundred seats, the SE 2010 Armagnac remains, with a maximum weight of 77 tonnes, the largest aircraft of entirely French design. Designed and manufactured by the Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Sud Est (SNCASE) in Toulouse, it is the direct forerunner of Caravelle and Concorde, from which the Airbus is the descendant.

Launched in May 1945 at the same time as Nazi Germany had capitulated, the Armagnac was to be the long-haul aircraft of the reborn French commercial aviation. A formidable technical challenge in a country that was struggling to recover from a terrible defeat followed by a devastating occupation, it was a bitter commercial failure. No airline was to buy it, not even Air France for whom the SE 2010 had been specifically designed and which preferred Lockheed's Constellation. The initial order of fifty was reduced several times and only nine airframes were actually completed.

However, this failure hides an undeniable technical success. Despite a thousand difficulties and the accidental loss of the prototype, SNCASE engineers had succeeded in designing and developing the largest civil transport aircraft of its time. After being evaluated by an independent company, Transports Aériens Intercontinentaux, the seven production aircraft were entrusted to what can be considered the first French charter carrier, SAGETA.

The Armagnacs made it possible to carry out an air bridge with Indochina, before meeting the numerous charter needs of French companies, mainly - ironically enough - those of Air France. They flew to every continent, with the notable exception of North America, although they had been designed to cross the Atlantic. The SE 2010 served until the end of 1958, when they were pushed out of service by the arrival of jets, including the Caravelle, its direct heir.

The book reviews the history of the programme by putting it into context. The development and completion of the programme are described exhaustively thanks to unpublished testimonies and archives. The operation is then described in detail, first at the TAI and then at the SAGETA. The author also describes the use of the second prototype transformed into the SE 2060 flying test bench to evaluate SNECMA's new jet engines. The appendices include a production list and a full technical description.

199 pages - in French