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Morane-Saulnier MS.406

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Entering service with the Armee de l'Air in 1938, the MS.406 suffered due to issues with its radiator and landing gear. At the outbreak of the Second World War the aircraft equipped ten frontline Groupe de Chasse and would be in action during the Battle of France. The Morane-Saulnier MS.406 was also used by the Aeronavale.

Quick Facts
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First flight
8th August 1935
Entered service
Total built

Front view
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Side view
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Rear view
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In 1934 the Service Technique de l'Aeronautique issued a C1- Single Seat Fighter Specification, this called for an aircraft with a top speed of 280 mph and armament of one or two 20mm cannons. Morane-Saulnier submitted their Paul-Rene Gauthier designed MS.405, it was this aircraft that would be developed into the MS.406.

Flying from Villacoublay, piloted by Michel Detroyat, the 8th August 1935 saw the MS.405 prototype fly for the first time. The 20th February 1936 saw the aircraft arrive at the Centre d'Essais du Materiel to undergo testing. It was during these tests that a number of issues were found which would hamper the aircraft during its service. The two major issues were firstly with the undercarriage, which had no locking mechanism, so would lover in certain situations and secondly with the ventral radiator. This would limit the top speed of the aircraft whether it was raised or lowered. When raised it caused the engine to overheat when at full power and when lowed increased drag.

Despite these problems, on the 1st March 1937 the Ministere de l'Air ordered 16 pre-production aircraft. It would be the fourth pre-production example that would become the MS.406 and this flew for the first time on the 20th May 1938, and orders totalling 1,082 aircraft were soon placed. Groupe de Chasse 11/7 took delivery of a number of these pre-production aircraft for conversion training.

The 29th January 1939 saw the first production version make its first flight, known as the MS.406 C-1 it was powered by a 860-hp Hispano-Suiza 12Y-31 engine, giving the aircraft a top speed of 302 mph, range of 466 miles with a service ceiling of 30,840 ft. Armament was one 20mm cannon and a pair of 7.5mm machine-guns.

When the Second World War (1939 – 1945) began on the 3rd September 1939, ten frontline Groupe de Chasse in France were equipped with the type. That same month on the 21st September 1939 the first MS.406 was lost in action when a Messerschmitt Bf 109 of I./JG 53 shot down a 1/3 Groupe de Chasse aircraft. Over the next few months further combats took place between the Luftwaffe and Armee de l'Air before the Battle of France (10th May 1940 - 25th June 1940) began.

The Ms.406 would be in action on the first day of the German invasion of France on the 10th May 1940, but with a top speed of 302 mph were slower than the Messerschmitt Bf 109. As the Battle of France progressed, the aircraft would also be used for ground attacks. During this period the Aeronavale also used a small number of MS.406s. With the armistice between France, Germany and Italy coming into force on the 25th June 1940 and the establishment of Vichy France, a number of aircraft would be used by the Vichy French Air Force.

In total 1,176 Morane-Saulnier MS.406s were built.

Technical Details

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Top Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
MS.406C-1 302 mph 466 miles 30,840 ft one 20mm cannon
two 7.5mm machine-guns


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(C) = Cockpit only exhibit. (F) = Fuselage only exhibit. (R) = Remains of an aircraft.

No known examples currently on public display in the UK.

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