Powered by a new engine that the world has never seen, the French Leduc 022 was geared to dominate the skies. Equipped with anti-air missiles and rockets, it would have been the perfect French bomber interceptor in the ‘50s. But today, the 022 is nowhere to be seen. Why is that?
Going Back To 1913
While tensions surrounding the First World War rose around the world, a local French designer/engineer named Rene Lorin had – at that time – a crazy idea that nobody took seriously. Regardless, the engineer’s work was published on the back pages of “L’Aerophile”, a French aviation magazine. His “crazy idea” was called the RAMJET.
But in a world where planes barely moved as fast as a train, the engine wouldn’t be moving fast enough to get the air needed. That didn’t stop another French man, Rene Leduc, from being inspired, however.
Leduc managed to convince his bosses to let him work on his new engine idea: one that would use a series of valves to push the air into the jet engine. This wasn’t your typical jet, nor was it even considered a ramjet. Leduc’s creation would be later dubbed the PULSEJET.
Rene Leduc’s first ramjet aircraft prototype featured the iconic circular double-hold fuselage. The pilot would have to sit at the front of the engine with the air intake all around him.
But with the nose cone in front of the pilot, they would have no forward visibility. It also only had a wingspan of 10 meters, small ailerons, and a conventional tail used for steering. Furthermore, the new design wasn’t able to take off on its own, relying on a larger aircraft to carry it up to speed.
Unfortunately, as Leduc’s team was about to finish the prototype, Germany decided to invade France and forced Leduc and his team to evacuate. To make matters worse, the errant bombing raids were able to destroy Leduc’s prototype.
After The War
Leduc waited until the end of the war to resume his work. In April of 1949, the Leduc 010 finally ignited its ramjet engine for the first time and was able to maneuver under its own power.
In 1953, the French government issued a specification for an interceptor capable of taking on any Soviet bombers while also being able to take off from a grassy runway that is a kilometer long.
The Leduc 022
Dubbed the 022, the new aircraft would be similar to the 021 prototypes but with several improvements:
- It had an escape pod with a parachute at the front,
- a radar fitted into the nose cone,
- an improved landing gear to support solo takeoffs and landings,
- and the addition of a secondary turbojet engine which the plane would use to get up to speed before switching over to the ramjet.
The 022 could also carry 20 air-to-air missiles or 40 unguided rockets for strike missions. However, in prioritizing speed above all else, the 022 was designed without any guns. By 1957, the Leduc 022 used its ramjet for the first time and was able to regularly fly at Mach 1.15 by the end of that year.
The prototype had already completed 140 successful flights and was about to leave the 141st mission when disaster struck. Its engine caught fire while taxiing on the runway, melting the entire fuselage and destroying the entire aircraft.
Leduc had a spare prototype that was ready to go, but one quick phone call from the French government put a stop to his plans.
France’s ongoing wars in Africa and issues in Vietnam had pushed their government’s budget to the limit. Planes like the Dassault Mirage III fit the project specifications better without breaking the bank.
It also didn’t help that the 022 was made of steel while others were lighter and used composite materials, giving other planes better fuel efficiency and maneuverability.