Fouga CM.170 Magister – The Specialist Arrives

Former Luftwaffe Magister seen preserved at Berlin-Gatow, Germany in 2016.

A New Trainer for the New Learning Curve 

With the end of the Second World War, the jet aircraft quickly came into its own and swiftly replaced piston powered aircraft in many roles. Early jet fighters were typically designed as single seat machines and it was felt existing piston trainers, such as the North American T-6 Texan, were adequate to the task of training early jet age fighter pilots. This error in thinking was quickly exposed by the huge performance and handling differences between piston and jet aircraft.

Initially, the problem was addressed by retroactively designing a second seat into existing single seat designs. While better than piston powered trainers, the reworked designs often were less than ideal stepping stones. It was clear that a purpose built jet powered trainer was required.

When the prototype of the French designed Fouga CM.170 Magister made its first flight in 1952, it marked the beginning of a legendary and highly significant aircraft that would become the world’s first purpose designed jet trainer in series production.

The sleek and compact design of the Magister fuselage together with its long, straight wings pointed directly to its sailplane origins. The Magister was the result of jet propulsion experiments in the late 1940s using a Castel-Mauboussin CM.8 high performance sailplane. The Magister inherited many design aspects of the CM.8 including the distinctive V-tail.

Former Austrian air force Magister preserved at Zeltweg, Austria in 2013.

An Instant Hit with a Long Life

The new trainer, designated CM.170-1, entered service with the French air force in 1956. In that same year, the prototype for the CM-175 Zéphyr took to the air for the first time. The CM.175 was a modified version of the Magister ordered by the French navy, the CM.175 was able to be operated from aircraft carriers.

It did not take long after the Magister first flew and entered French service for the aircraft to attract international attention in the form of not only exports but also license production. A total of 929 Magisters were built between production lines in France, Germany, Israel and Finland. While French production of the type stopped in 1962, it did continue up to 1967 in Finland.

As with many jet trainers of the Cold War era, the Magister could be adapted to the light combat role.

The Israeli air force used their Magisters extensively as light attack and close support aircraft in the Six Day War of 1967.

Magisters of the Salvadoran air force saw use in the light attack role in the Salvadoran Civil War which lasted form 1979 to 1992.

Magisters played a small role in the early stages of the Congo Crisis which lasted from 1960 to 1965. A handful of Magisters were provided to the province of Katanga, which was trying to break away from Congo. The aircraft had a greater political effect than a military one as a Magister flown by a Belgian mercenary pilot was used to shoot down an aircraft carrying Dag Hammarskjold, the Secretary General of the Uniter Nations at the time. Hammarskjold was among 15 people killed when the aircraft was shot down.

Moroccan air force Magisters saw action in the Western Sahara War which lasted from 1975 to 1991.

While the Magister did well in the light combat role, it proved to be a vulnerable machine when used in more intensive action against well trained and equiped adversaries. Both Israeli and Moroccan forces experienced significant losses of both Magister aircraft and crews when they took the aircraft into combat.

Through a military career spanning five decades, service to no less than 25 countries and countless pilots receiving their training in it; the Magister earned worldwide respect as not only a trainer, but also as a light attack platform and an aerobatics aircraft. At various times, Magisters served as the mounts for the military air demonstration teams of Austria, Belgium, Brasil, Ireland and Israel.

Former Austrian air force Magister preserved at Zeltweg, Austria in 2013.

A Family Portrait

One of the more surprising aspects of the Magister, given a cumulative production of nearly one thousand units by four countries, was the relatively small number of variants the aircraft family was comprised of:

CM.170-1
This was the primary variant of which 761 were made. It was powered by two Turbomeca Marboré II engines which left it somewhat under-powered in some situations.

CM.170-2
An improved version produced from 1960 which totaled 130 units. the primary improvement was the use of more powerful Marboré VI engines.

CM.175 Zéphyr
A modified variation of the Magister for naval use. Modifications included stronger landing gear, carrier launching gear, tail hook and a slightly revised cockpit canopy in which the canopy sections slid open on rails rather than lift open on hinges as they did on the Magister.

Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) Tzukit
Appearing in the early 1980s, the Tzukit was a modernized Magister variant for the Israeli air force that incorporated an updated cockpit and the addition of composite materials.

A Marboré engine on display in cutaway form at Zeltweg, Austria in 2013.

Destined to Endure 

The Magister retired from military service entirely when Israel withdrew their last examples of the type from service in 2010.

Well before the last military Magister had been retired, ex-military Magisters had begun to appear in the hands of civilian operators for use in airshows as an example of an early jet warbird. Many of the same handling and performance qualities which made it popular in military service are equally appreciated by civil flyers of the type.

Today, there are several airworthy Magisters in existence along with specialist maintenance companies to ensure spare parts and proper training and qualification of mechanics for the type.

It seems safe to say that there will be Magisters aloft somewhere in the world for some time to come.

A very good overview of the Magister’s development and its military service, particularly in Belgium, can be found at this link:
Link to Magister Aviation

This link gives good information about the Magister in Finnish service:
Link to Finnish Aviation Museum

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