Cold War, Experimental, Two Minute Read

Snecma Coléoptère – A Bold Experiment in VTOL Aircraft

There are numerous aircraft designs that, while not achieving operational success, nevertheless pushed the boundaries of engineering and our understanding of flight. One such design is the Snecma Coléoptère, an intriguing and ambitious attempt to create a practical, vertically launched aircraft.

This French design, developed by Snecma in the mid-20th century, represented a radical departure from conventional aircraft layouts and demonstrated a bold, forward-looking vision of future aviation.


The Snecma Coléoptère (the French word for ‘beetle,’ which itself is a nod to the annular wing resembling a beetle’s protective casing) was characterised by its unique design feature – an annular wing, essentially a large wing ring encircling the fuselage.

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This unconventional design choice was meant to facilitate vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities, a concept that was attracting considerable attention in aviation circles at the time.

The aircraft would take off vertically.
The aircraft would take off vertically.

Within the annular wing, the Coléoptère housed a single turbojet engine, the Snecma Atar 101, that expelled exhaust downwards for VTOL capability.

The pilot’s cockpit was located at the top of the aircraft, giving the pilot a panoramic view, but notably, the pilot was oriented in a prone position during vertical take-off and landing.


The development of the Coléoptère began in the early 1950s as a part of a broader global interest in VTOL aircraft. The French government, recognizing the strategic value of such an aircraft that could take off and land without requiring extensive runway infrastructure, provided funding for Snecma’s design.

The Coléoptère was built as an experimental prototype, designed to prove that the annular wing concept could work in practice. Snecma began with smaller-scale models, conducting wind tunnel testing and free-flight tests to ascertain the aerodynamics of the design.

Flight Testing

The Snecma Coléoptère took its first tethered flight in April 1959, with August Morel at the controls. While it managed to lift off the ground, maintaining control proved to be a significant challenge due to the inherent instability of the annular wing design.

The maiden untethered flight took place on May 6, 1959.

This flight, and several subsequent ones, revealed the same control issues observed during the tethered flight tests. Despite various modifications and adjustments to improve stability and control, the Coléoptère continued to present considerable challenges to pilots.

The Coléoptère did successfully take flight.
The Coléoptère did successfully take flight.

The ninth and final flight on July 25, 1959, resulted in a crash from a height of about 150 meters, although the pilot, Auguste Morel, was able to escape with minor injuries.

Post-crash analysis indicated that the aircraft had entered a state of uncontrollable oscillation, causing Morel to lose control. After this incident, the Coléoptère project was cancelled.


The Snecma Coléoptère represents an audacious and innovative attempt to redefine aircraft design and operation. Despite not achieving its ultimate goal of producing a viable VTOL aircraft, the project advanced our understanding of the challenges and potential solutions associated with this type of flight.

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The Coléoptère’s daring annular wing design and ambition to revolutionize aircraft take-off and landing procedures marked it as a truly remarkable experiment in the realm of aviation.

Its legacy serves as a testament to the creativity, innovation, and courage that define aviation history and pave the way for future advancements.

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