The Nord 1500 Griffon was first flown in 1955 and was an experimental French aircraft that utilized ramjet technology. It had an extremely unusual design that obviously didn’t make it into production, but it put out solid performance numbers for the mid-1950s.
Let’s take a look at this bizarre piece of aviation history.
The Griffon started life thanks to a French government-backed study into swept and delta wing designs. Initially, a wooden glider that featured both types of wing was towed behind a tug aircraft and released. It provided a lot of valuable data to the French air ministry.
Société Française d’Etude et de Construction de Matériel Aéronautiques Spéciaux (SFECMAS) was the company who built the gliders and carried out the testing.
These tests led to the Chief designer putting forward a number of designs. One was powered by two ramjet engines, another was developed into the Gerfaut series and the third was what became the Griffon.
Ultimately the twin-engine design was never pursued. But testing did carry on with the Griffon.
In August 1953 a pair of prototypes were ordered just as SFECMAS was merged with another company to form Nord Aviation. Both aircraft were to be for testing purposes only and were never intended to have military equipment installed.
To make the Griffon work, it required a turbojet-ramjet engine. The jet engine would allow for unassisted take-off, whilst the ramjet would provide much higher performance once in the air and moving at 600 mph (1,000 km/h).
Due to the design of ramjets, they are unable to produce thrust at 0 airspeed; meaning they cannot move an aircraft forward from a standstill.
For safety, the first Griffon did not have the ramjet installed and this was to be done at a later stage.
The looks that only a mother could love came from trying to create the fastest aircraft possible. It has a large intake with the cockpit above – a similar layout to the F-16 – and a delta wing.
Canards were installed on either side of the cockpit to counter the delta wings’ inherent tendency to pitch the nose of the aircraft down at transonic speeds.
The Griffon I made her first flight in September 1955. She wasn’t off to a great start as the test pilot noticed it was extremely underpowered, compounded by the lack of the ramjet.
Testing still proceeded however and four months later in January 1956 the Griffon made her first supersonic flight, making it to Mach 1.15. Unfortunately in June, during a taxi run across a field, the nose gear collapsed causing significant damage to the aircraft and as a result did not fly again until July.
Despite this incident, it was noted that the handling performance was excellent during its several test flights.
In less than two years, Griffon I was retired from service in April 1957.
The Griffon II came next, and was equipped with the ramjet and differed slightly from the first prototype, with an elongated fuselage and an even wider intake. She first flew in January 1957.
Three months later in April, the first supersonic testing occurred and also produced lackluster performance – only reaching speeds of Mach 1.3. This was down to the ramjet not getting enough air.
To combat this, Nord Aviation increased the air take yet again, something that worked wonders. This change dramatically increased the aircraft’s speed, reaching Mach 1.85 and even setting a speed record of 1,440 mph (2,320 km/h).
End of the Griffon
By June 1961 the Griffon II was retired from service. But all was not lost. The French gained a lot of knowledge from these experiments, with even the USA watching intently.
The biggest concern was in regards to the ramjet exhaust, which was so hot it frequently damaged the tailpipe. With the high speeds it attained the metal skin of the aircraft was also becoming damaged.
Controlling the ramjet was a challenge too as it could not be throttled up or down.
Whilst the aircraft itself did not go anywhere, lessons learned through testing remain invaluable. So although on the face of it this aircraft seems a bit mad, the French certainly knew what they were doing.
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Length: 14.54 m (47 ft 8 in)
Wingspan: 8.1 m (26 ft 7 in)
Height: 5.0 m (16 ft 5 in)
Max takeoff weight: 6,745 kg (14,870 lb)
Powerplant: 1 × SNECMA Atar 101E-3 turbojet engine 7,700 lbf thrust
Powerplant: 1 × Nord Stato-Réacteur ramjet 15,200 lbf thrust
Maximum speed: 1,440 mph (2,320 km/h) at 10,800 ft
Rate of climb: 86.67 m/s (17,061 ft/min)