The Aerospatiale SN601 corvette
As part of the first generation of regional aircraft that flew some two decades before those produced by Canadair, Embraer and Dornier in the 1990s, the Aerospatiale SN.601 Corvette straddled the commercial and regional markets and consequently , was the smallest to have served commercially.
Its seed was planted when the French government, continuing its strategy of reviving the country’s post-war aviation industry begun with piston aircraft such as the Breguet Deux Ponts, Sud-Est Armagnac and Sud-Ouest Bretagne, requested that aircraft manufacturers submit proposals for a compact twin-turbofan link/trainer. The then separate Sud-Aviation and Nord-Aviation chose to jointly develop an executive jet designated the SN.600 Diplomate in January 1968 when the indigenous French SNECMA designed a suitable engine for it, the M49 Larzac.
First shown in model form at that year’s Hannover Air Show, it featured what became the standard commercial airliner configuration: a low wing, narrow fuselage, left forward door, swept airfoils and two stern-mounted turbofans. It was more like the Cessna Citation 500. It also had a very early and very small capacity regional jet application.
Predicted sales, which later turned out to be unrealistically inflated, were expected to amount to some 400 from operators worldwide above the initial 60 expected from the French Army.
Reflecting its joint Sud- and Nord-Aviation origins, the aircraft, with its “SN” designation, first took to the air in prototype form on July 16, 1970, but the lengthy development of its intended M49 engine necessitated the use of two Instead, 2,200-pound-thrust Pratt and Whitney Canada JT15D-1. Although its maiden flight was successful, its test program did not continue in this regard. During parking tests eight months later, on March 22, he crashed, ending with his disappearance.
An extended period of redesign, before which Sud- and Nord-Aviation merged to form Aerospatiale, resulted in a fuselage 5.5 feet longer, giving the now redesignated SN.601 Corvette 100 an overall length of 45 .4 feet; a 42-foot wingspan, on which fuel tanks could optionally be installed in the nose to increase range; two 2,300-pound-thrust JT15D-4 turbofans; and has a gross weight of 13,450 pounds. Range, with its maximum payload, was just over 1,000 miles.
So configured, the second and third prototypes flew respectively on December 20, 1972, and March 7, 1973. The first production example followed suit eight months later, on November 9, and French certification was received a further six months later, on May 28. , 1974.
The guy’s problem-plagued show was barely helped by the competition, particularly on his executive side. The similarly configured, French-designed Falcon 20, distributed through Pan American Falcon Jets, enjoyed a brand recognition advantage and was able to penetrate the coveted US market.
Attempts to conclude similar agreements were unsuccessful, specifically with Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV), Piper Aircraft and its own US aircraft distribution, sales and completion center Corvette Incorporated based in Atlanta. Although the latter, with Oklahoma-based Air Center, Inc., seemed more promising, it never received a single production standard aircraft of the planned seventy.
As the third most expensive commercial aircraft after the Cessna Citation 500 and Learjet 24, it was subject to cost overruns and the French government seriously considered canceling the program.
After receiving just 24 orders, Aerospatiale did just that. A report by the government’s Court of Auditors indicated that company management lacked a proper understanding of the risks involved in facing competition from comparable American, British and other French designs, saying: “It is certain that the Corvette program is , and will remain, a great commercial and financial disaster”.
In its role as a regional jet, it found limited application by third-tier carriers seeking to offer point-to-point bridging service on routes too thin to support larger aircraft.
Air Alpes, for example, which took delivery of two Corvette 100s in 1974 and another two in 1975, operated routes on its own from Paris and those, such as Lyon-Brussels, on Air France, its aircraft appearing in its livery on one side and its in the other one. With capacity for a dozen passengers, they featured two rows of individual seats next to the five oval windows on each side, divided by a central aisle. The cabin count was two, but there were no flight attendants in the cabin.
Other operators included Air Alsace, Air Champagne, and TAT Touraine Air Transport in France, and Sterling Airways in Denmark. Five aircraft were used by Airbus Industrie as corporate shuttles between 1981 and 2009.
Although an 18-passenger Corvette 200, with a 6.7-foot fuselage, was proposed, it never progressed beyond the concept stage, as its original 100-series ceased production in 1977 after 40 aircraft were built, ending the second worst commercial aircraft in France. program after the 150-passenger Dassault-Breguet Mercure 100, whose production run was just 12, including two prototypes.
Plagued by prototype accident; a long period of corrective development; a change in engine type; expensive operation; failure to establish a North American distribution location; strong competition; managerial ignorance; and a capability that proved inadequate, the Aerospatiale SN.601 Corvette served as an example of one of three regional aircraft origins: an entirely new design, conversion of an existing turboprop, or use of a business jet platform.