From Pioneers to Legends
Of all nations that have ventured into the field of designing and building their own aircraft, France was one of the earliest to do so. Of French aviation companies, few are as legendary as Morane-Saulnier.
A partnership of aviation pioneers, Raymond Saulnier and the Morane brothers, the Morane-Saulnier company was founded in 1911 and was active for around half a century before being bought out by the Potez aircraft company in 1962.
Raymond Saulnier (1881-1964) was an aeronautical engineer and alumnus of the prestigious and demanding École Centrale in Paris. Saulnier had colaborated with Louis Blériot on the Blériot XI aircraft and the famous 1909 flight over the English Channel that was performed with the aircraft. He also was responsible for designing the aircraft Roland Garros made the first flight across the Mediterranean with in 1913.
Saulnier stayed with the company he helped found from its establishment in 1911 to its dissolution in 1962. He was a prolific designer of aircraft and holder of many patents.
Léon Morane (1885-1918) was a well established pilot who had the distinction of being the first man to fly at 100 kilometres per hour and the first to fly at an altitude of over 2,500 metres, he set both records in 1910.
Léon’s life was unfortunately cut short by the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.
Robert Morane (1886-1968) was a passionate automotive racer who earned his pilot’s license and entered the world of aviation in the footsteps of his older brother. In the wake of his brother’s death, Robert immersed himself deeply in the activities of Morane-Saulnier.
Robert had a hand in establishing Air Union in 1923. Air Union was an airline that would be merged with two other airlines in 1933 to create Air France.
A number of further reorganizations among French aircraft companies took place after Morane-Saulnier was bought out by Potez in 1962. Since 2008, the Morane-Saulnier legacy has been in the hands of the Daher company; it became theirs when they bought a controlling share of the SOCATA company.
Modern For the Military and the Masses
In France, as in many other countries, the revelation that the First World War brought of aviation being able to serve practical purposes was not lost on the nation’s military or public at large.
The 1920s saw the birth of flying clubs and schools across Europe as well as the birth of the commercial, corporate, general and sport aviation sectors.
In 1925, the British designed and built De Havilland DH.60 Moth took to the air for the first time and swiftly became the workhorse of flying schools in Britain and abroad.
In 1928, the French Air Ministry issued an order for a new two seat training aircraft for use by the French army and naval aviation arms. Of the several companies that presented designs in response to the order, only the design by Morane-Saulnier represented contemporary design philosophies and it easily won the competition.
The aircraft, designated the MS.230, first flew in 1929 and quickly found favour not only in the military but also with civilian flying schools in France. While it was doing much the same job in France that the Moth was doing in Great Britain, to call the two aircraft equals would be substantially selling the French aircraft short.
Compared to most other training aircraft of the period, the MS.230 was a leap forward aeronautically speaking in several ways.
While most trainers of the time were biplanes, the MS.230 was a parasol wing monoplane design. The monoplane design used less materials by virtue of not having a second set of wings. The parasol wing arrangement meant that the wing had no direct connection to the fuselage, but was held above the fuselage by a system of support struts. The parasol wing had a period of popularity in the interwar years and Morane-Saulnier were strong proponents of it. One of the advantages that came with the parasol wing included better downward visibility for the pilot and observer; without a lower set of wings, there was a much less obstructed view to the ground and this was very beneficial to observation and reconnaissance duties.
Additionally, the parsol wing simplified design and construction of the aircraft as designers did not have to concern themselves with creating wing root junctions on the fuselage and ensuring that the wings connected to the fuselage securely without compromising the strength of either.
The MS.230 was driven by a 230 horsepower nine cylinder radial engine made by the Salmson company. At the time the MS.230 first flew, radial engines had some distinct advantages over in-line engines of the period. One of the biggest advantages was that radial engines were air cooled while in-line engines required bulky radiators and coolants; as such, there was a weight savings to radial engines. Radial engines also tended to be more robust and serviceable than in-line engines of the day.
From a materials standpoint, the MS.230 was constructed primarily of metal and fabric. The wings and rear fuselage were fabric on a metal framework while the forward fuselage was sheet metal construction. Many of its contemporaries still had significant amounts of wood in their construction, the lack of wood in the MS.230 definitely made it modern for the time.
A Tutor and an Acrobat
The MS.230 was well liked as a training aircraft. It was stable enough in flight to be useful as a basic trainer and was aerobatic enough to be used for more advanced training as well.
Just as most Royal Air Force pilots at the outbreak of the Second World War had received their first taste of flight in the DH.82 Tiger Moth that was developed from the DH.60 Moth, the bulk of French military pilots at the outbreak of the conflict had gone up into the air for the first time in an MS.230.
The MS.230’s aerobatic abilities were noted quite early on in its service life and led to the aircraft becoming the mount of the Patrouille d’ Etampes military demonstration team, a forerunner of today’s Patrouille de France team, from 1931 until the late 1930s.
Those same aerobatic qualities also made the aircraft popular among sport pilots of the day.
The MS.230 was used by the air arms of around a dozen countries and was licence built in Belgium, Greece, Portugal and Romania. Aside of its training duties, the aircraft also found use in liaison, observation and glider tug duties.
During the Spanish Civil War, the Republican side had some MS.230s in their air force.
When Germany occupied France during the Second World War, the Luftwaffe evaluated the MS.230 favourably, noting its robust construction and that it was easy and pleasant to fly. By that time, however, the aircraft was showing its age and the Luftwaffe had little practical use for it as they had more modern aircraft of German design in service for training purposes and other roles the MS.230 might be fit for.
Very few MS.230s were left intact after the Second World War. However, the few that did survive enjoyed some success in sport flying circles and in film.
Probably the most notable use of the MS.230 in film was as the fictitious new German monoplane fighter prototype seen in the First World War drama “The Blue Max” which was released in 1966.
What Remains and Learning More
Of the more than 1,000 examples of the MS.230 that were built, it seems that perhaps less than ten remain intact worldwide today.
Preserved examples exist in museums in Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Spain and USA.
Of the remaining examples, it appears that there may be one or two in France that are ground runnable. However, they seem not to have flown since the 2015 timeframe from what I can find online.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of dedicated information about the MS.230 in any language online. However, there are a couple sites you can go to for more details.
This link will take you to the webpage of an organization in France that has an MS.230 in ground runnable condition. The page is in French but responds well to online translator functions:
Link to MS.230 article at cercledesmachinesvolantes.com
This link will take you to a short article about the MS.230 preserved at the Kbely museum in Prague, Czech Republic. It’s in Czech, but works respectably with online translators:
Link to MS.230 article at vhu.cz
Where print media is concerned, the defunct Air Enthusiast magazine published an article in their August 1972 issue that gives one a good impression of what the MS.230 is like as a flying machine. It may be worth the effort of trying to track down a back issue if you want a pilot’s perspective on the aircraft.