Latécoère 631: France’s Big Flying Boat

The Latécoère 631 could have been the final word flying boat airliner however its service file left rather a lot to be desired.

Previous to World Battle II most massive, long-range multiengine airliners had been flying boats. A part of the explanation for that was the burden of a land-based airliner’s touchdown gear, which was thought to actual a better penalty on efficiency than the aerodynamic drag imposed by a flying boat’s hull. An extra consideration was the dearth of the lengthy runways required to accommodate large landplanes in contrast with the prepared availability of appropriate our bodies of water from which flying boats may function. An extra incentive was the widespread perception {that a} flying boat would have a greater probability of surviving if it needed to ditch within the ocean.

Throughout the Twenties and Thirties many massive flying boat airliners had been developed by Dornier in Germany; Martin, Sikorsky and Boeing in america; and Britain’s Saunders-Roe and Quick Brothers. Much less well-known had been the “large boats” developed by the French, primarily as a result of they operated principally in Africa, Martinique, South America and the Mediterranean Sea. Arguably the best of these had been created by Latécoère. For that matter, among the many largest and probably probably the most elegant such plane ever produced was Latécoère’s—and France’s—final, the Mannequin 631. Sadly for its builders, it loved a lower than stellar security file and represented the top of the period of flying boat airliners.

Latécoère 631-02 visits Rio de Janeiro in late October 1945. Observe the open nacelle platforms, used to entry the Wright R-2600 radial engines. (Previous Machine Press)

Established in Toulouse in 1917, Groupe Latécoère obtained its begin within the aviation enterprise setting up 600 Salmson 2A2 plane for the French air service throughout World Battle I. In 1919 the corporate arrange its personal airline, for which it constructed its personal airplanes. The airline subsequently turned one of many founding parts of Air France. Latécoère constructed its first flying boat in 1926 and established itself as one of many main producers of such plane by the mid-Thirties. 

The Latécoère 631 originated from a 1936 request from the French Civil Avia­tion Authority for a flying boat airliner with lodging for a minimum of 40 passengers and a spread of 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles). The outcome was a swish all-metal, high-wing flying boat powered by six 1,650-hp Gnome et Rhône radial engines. The plane was 142 ft lengthy, with a wingspan of 188 ft and gross weight of 157,300 kilos. It featured an uncommon and chic V-tail with endplate fins and rudders, in addition to stabilizing floats that retracted into the outboard engine nacelles to cut back drag, each options carried over from the Latécoère 611 four-engine maritime patrol bomber. 

The Latécoère 631’s cockpit was notably spacious. (Old Machine Press)
The Latécoère 631’s cockpit was notably spacious. (Previous Machine Press)

Though building started in 1939, work on the mission turned protracted because of the outbreak of WWII, and the prototype didn’t make its maiden flight till November 4, 1942. Quickly after that, nonetheless, the Allies landed within the Vichy French North African colonies of Algeria and Morocco, to which the Germans reacted by overrunning all of continental France. Within the course of, they seized the Latécoère 631 prototype and transported it to Germany. There it underwent flight testing on Lake Constance till it was destroyed in a raid by Royal Air Pressure de Havilland Mosquitoes in April 1944. In the meantime, with the assistance of the French Resistance, Latécoère managed to hide from the Germans the parts of an incomplete second plane till it was assembled and flown on March 7, 1945.

After the liberation of France, the second Latécoère 631 turned an object of nationwide satisfaction as a result of it was tangible proof that the French aviation business nonetheless existed. For a while after the conflict it was additionally the one French airliner able to transatlantic flight. A complete of 10 had been ultimately produced, the primary 4 of which went to Air France. The manufacturing model accommodated 46 passengers and was powered by 1,600-hp Wright R-2600 Twin Cyclone radials. 

It wasn’t lengthy, alas, earlier than the graceful-looking plane started experiencing issues. On October 31, 1945, a propeller blade separated from one of many engines, damaging one other engine earlier than slicing a 10-foot gap by the hull. Though the pilot managed to land the plane efficiently, two passengers had been killed.

Passengers disembark from Latécoère 631-08 (shown in service with France Hydro), which crashed in a storm in Cameroon during a cargo flight on September 10, 1955, killing all 16 on board—the last flight of any “Laté” 631. (Old Machine Press)
Passengers disembark from Latécoère 631-08 (proven in service with France Hydro), which crashed in a storm in Cameroon throughout a cargo flight on September 10, 1955, killing all 16 on board—the final flight of any “Laté” 631. (Previous Machine Press)

Worse was to return. On February 21, 1948, a Laté­coère 631 crashed into the English Channel throughout a snowstorm, killing all 19 individuals on board. On August 1 of that very same 12 months, one other “Laté” 631 disappeared throughout a scheduled transatlantic flight, taking 40 passengers and 12 crew members with it. Though Air France ceased flying the 631 after that, the plane remained in service with different operators, primarily as cargo planes. 

Even then, dangerous luck continued to canine the large boats. On March 28, 1950, one other Latécoère 631 crashed throughout a check flight as a consequence of failure of the aileron linkage, killing all 12 on board. Lastly, on September 10, 1955, a wing broke off a 631 throughout a cargo flight in Africa, ensuing within the deaths of 16 crewmen and passengers. Of the whole of 11 Latécoère 631s constructed, one had been destroyed by air assault, one survived a deadly in-flight accident and 4 had been misplaced in deadly crashes—not a really admirable service file. 

The Latécoère 631 was the biggest flying boat on the planet when it first flew in 1942, exceeding even the mighty Martin Mars in measurement. Solely Britain’s Saunders-Roe Princess and Howard Hughes’ Hercules, neither of which appeared till after the conflict, had been bigger. By the point the 631 entered industrial service, nonetheless, the airways had been not impressed by the large flying boats. The conflict had witnessed the proliferation each of huge multiengine bombers and airfields constructed to accommodate them. In consequence, as soon as hostilities ended there have been loads of locations from which to function massive land-based airliners. Moreover, as their engines turned extra environment friendly and highly effective, such airliners had been proving way more economical and worthwhile than flying boats. Consequently, even with out the deadly crashes, the Latécoère 631’s days had been already numbered by the point it started its modest manufacturing run—together with your entire period of the majestic large boats.  


This text initially appeared within the January 2022 subject of Aviation Historical past. Subscribe right this moment!


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