The advent of Jet technology in the 1940s offered levels of aircraft performance not previously dreamed of. Britain’s first operational jet fighter was the Gloster Meteor, a twin engine design that was to all intents and purposes an aircraft of the piston engine era but powered by jet engines. Despite this the aircraft went on to have a successful career initially as a day fighter and then later as a fighter bomber, reconnaissance fighter and night fighter.
France’s aviation industry suffered under Nazi occupation. A number of French aircraft were pressed in to Luftwaffe service and the French aviation industry was turned towards supporting the Germans which subsequently made it a target for the RAF and later the USAAF. After the war a new aviation company appeared in France that would come to define French military aviation for the next sixty years – Dassault.
Headed by Marcel Dassault the company needed to break out quickly in to the new post-war military aviation scene if it intended to compete and so it had to embrace jet technology. With little or no experience with jet technology the company turned to the UK and imported a number of Rolls-Royce Nene engines with which to build a new fighter around. The result was the Dassault MD450 Ouragon (Hurricane); France’s first ever jet fighter aircraft.
At the time of the Ouragon’s introduction in 1952 the RAF had re-equipped with the penultimate variant of the Gloster Meteor, the F.8 model which was intended to keep the aircraft competent while the new generation of swept wing fighters was under development. In reality neither the Meteor F.8 nor the Ouragon were in the same class as the Soviet Union’s MiG-15 swept wing fighter but they were both still potent when faced with the remaining piston fighters or other straight wing jets such as the Republic F-84 and the Yakovlev Yak-15.
But which was the better fighter?
The Meteor was a conventional straight wing design with a high mounted tailplane in order to keep it clear from the jetwash of the two engines. The engines themselves were mounted in pods midway along the length of the wings in an arrangement similar to a number of wartime piston engine aircraft. This reflected the play-it-safe philosophy taken in designing Britain’s first operational jet fighter. This arrangement naturally increased the drag factor although this was less than in piston engine aircraft of similar dimensions because the very nature of jet technology requires air to pass through the nacelle rather than over it.
The Ouragon on the other hand adopted what was becoming the standard shape for single engined jet fighters of the late 1940s. Like the Meteor the aircraft was of straight wing design, although they were significantly thinner than the British aircraft’s wings, with a high tailplane while air for the Nene engine was fed through a single gaping intake in the nose. This produced an aerodynamically efficient shape which was somewhat spoiled by the fitting of wingtip tanks to increase range. These also had a negative effect on roll-rate and pilots complained that the aircraft liked to break in to an uncommanded roll when in a tight turn.
Early jet engines were significantly underpowered and this lead to the first operational jet fighters, the Messerschmitt Me.262 and the Gloster Meteor, being fitted with two jet engines to give them the necessary thrust. The Mark.I Meteor was powered by two Welland turbojets each producing just 1700lbs thrust but as the technology matured the engines quickly became more powerful until the Meteor F.8 was developed equipped with Rolls-Royce Derwent 8 engines. These engines produced 3500lbs of thrust each, more than double what the Wellands produced.
A little known fact is that it was actually a Frenchman who was the first to patent a gas turbine aero-engine. Maxime Guiliam designed what is now termed an axial flow turbojet and patented the design in 1921, seven years before Frank Whittle submitted his own design. However, as Whittle experienced in the UK, there was very little interest at the time due to the complexities involved in building the engine and a suitable aircraft. France’s capitulation meant that French jet development went out the window while Britain and Germany developed their own programs. This left them trailing behind in the immediate post-war era and so the French decided to use imported British engines while they began development of their own engines. Therefore the Ouragon was designed around a single Rolls-Royce Nene engine which developed 4990lbs thrust.
Stripped out (i.e. guns and ammunition removed as well as non-essential equipment) and the Meteor F.8 could tear through 640mph with relative ease. Fully loaded however and the airspeed tended to hover around the 600mph mark, still impressive when you consider that just three years earlier the fastest propeller driven aircraft were struggling to get beyond 400mph. The two Derwents allowed the aircraft to achieve a thrust-to-weight ratio of 0.45 and this allowed it to climb at around 7,000ft a minute to a service ceiling of 43,000ft.
The Ouragon topped out at 584mph in level flight although naturally French pilots tried to get more out of their aircraft by engaging in high speed dives. Doing this did achieve greater speeds, sometimes in excess of 600mph but often this overstressed the airframe. The Nene engine, despite being more powerful than a single Derwent, didn’t leave the Ouragon with a great deal of power having a thrust-to-weight ratio of around 0.31 under combat conditions. The gutsier Nene did however allow the Ouragon to keep pace with the Meteor when in a climb although the Meteor enjoyed a solid one thousand more feet in its service ceiling figures.
Please note; thrust-to-weight figures are determined by taking how much thrust is available compared to the full-up weight of a typical fighter mission. Adding ground attack weapons such as bombs and rockets decrease the thrust-to-weight ratio further however as fuel is expended the ratio becomes higher than it was just after take-off. Either way the Meteor still enjoyed a higher thrust-to-weight ratio than the Ouragon.
The Meteor’s design benefitted from experience gained in the years of World War II in terms of its gun armament. The aircraft was fitted with four Hispano Mk.V cannons, an arrangement that quickly became standard on all British fighters of the period as it offered the best compromise between weight, ammunition capacity and of course hitting power. The weapon could hurl a 20mm shell at 840m/s and achieve a rate of fire of 750rds/min. Mounted close together in the nose meant that the pilot could bring all four guns to bear on a single spot on a target at longer ranges thus increasing their destructive power. The gun did have a somewhat chequered history however and the earlier version of the weapon was prone to jamming. In fact the first two interceptions of V-1 Flying Bombs by earlier versions of the Meteor suffered from jammed guns forcing the pilots to resort to the wingtip method of bringing them down. The Mk.V in the Meteor F.8 had largely resolved the problem but it was still prone to jamming if not properly maintained.
The Dassault Ouragon was equipped with almost the same gun it being the French equivalent the MS.404. Like the Hispano Mk.V it was a 20mm weapon but featured a longer barrel than the British gun as well as other minor changes. This resulted in a weapon capable of dispensing a round with a velocity of 880m/s with a rate of fire of 700rds/min. This meant that the Ouragon’s guns were marginally harder hitting while the Meteor’s guns could get more rounds on to a target in the same period of time. Like the Meteor the guns were arranged close together in the nose of the aircraft which offered the same advantages.
Both aircraft found themselves quite adept at ground attack when they passed their short primes as fighters. Again, recent war experience played a part in the air-to-ground configurations with the Meteor often adopting the powerful 60lb Rocket Projectile (RP) that had proven so effective against tanks and ships under the wings of wartime Bristol Beaufighters, De Havilland Mosquitoes and of course the Hawker Typhoon. The Meteor could carry up to sixteen of the weapons under its outboard wings or alternatively eight 5-inch HVAR rockets. Another air-to-ground weapon was the traditional unguided bomb and the Meteor could carry two 1,000lb bombs under its wings.
The Ouragon was designed with the ground attack role more in mind than the Meteor and it shows with the various weaponloads that could be carried on its four underwing pylons. In total the aircraft could carry aloft around 5,000lbs of weaponry, more than twice what the Meteor was carrying. Weapons included up to 16 105mm rockets or two Matra pods containing 18 SNEB 68mm rockets (this weapon’s dimensions prevented other weapons being carried on the other pylons).
In the air-to-air role the Meteor F.8 held a slight speed and altitude advantage over the Ouragon but where the Meteor surpasses the French type is in its more sprightly performance thanks to its greater thrust-to-weight ratio. What this means in combat is that the Meteor could recover any lost energy from a tight turning battle quicker than the Ouragon. Another distinct advantage the Meteor held over the Ouragon was its twin engine arrangement which meant the Meteor could be expected to be able to sustain more damage than the single engined Ouragon. One advantage the Ouragon pilot would enjoy would be that he would be shooting against a bigger target than the Meteor pilot and it would also be somewhat easier to locate the Meteor in the heat of battle.
As always we have to take in to consideration pilot training but from a technical point of view it is safe to say that these aircraft would be closely matched in combat and as long as their pilots played to their respective aircraft’s strengths then both aircraft would give a good account of themselves. In the ground attack role however the Ouragon does hold the edge although again the Meteor’s twin engine arrangement means that it would be less likely to be brought down by small arms fire than the Ouragon.