Morane-Saulnier Rallye Minerva MS.894A, built in 1970
Aéroplanes Morane-Saulnier is a French aircraft manufacturing company formed in October 1911 by Raymond Saulnier (1881–1964) and the Morane brothers, Leon (1885–1918) and Robert (1886–1968). The company was taken over and diversified in the 1960s.
Morane-Saulnier's initial production was the Model A, a continuation of a monoplane design produced by the previous Morane company (sometimes called Morane-Borel, from the brothers partnership with Gabriel Borel) using a wing-warping mechanism for control, in which Jules Védrines won the Paris-Madrid race on May 26, 1911.
Morane-Saulnier's first commercially successful design was the Morane-Saulnier G, a boxy looking wire braced shoulder wing monoplane with wing warping which led to the development of a whole series of aircraft and was very successful in racing, and setting records in its own right. The Type G was a 2 seater, and was reduced slightly to make the Morane-Saulnier H, a single seater, and in parallel was given a faired fuselage to make the Morane-Saulnier N single seat fighter. The Morane-Saulnier H was modified so that its wings were mounted parasol fashion, above the fuselage to afford the observer a better view, creating the Morane-Saulnier L. The L was then fitted with a faired fuselage as on the N and ailerons to make the Morane-Saulnier LA, which was then completely redesigned (though looking very similar) to make the Morane-Saulnier P which would be the basis for a whole family of aircraft developed in the '20s. The Type N was developed into the larger and more powerful type Morane-Saulnier I and the very similar Morane-Saulnier V but these were not successful, being too powerful and having inadequate controls. The V was then redesigned to create the Morane-Saulnier AC which dispensed with a wing warping, and used a strut braced wing. The AC was not particularly successful, in part due to the poor visibility a shoulder mounting wing afforded, so the Morane-Saulnier AI was developed, which raised the wing above the fuselage. The AI lost out in the competition to the SPAD XIII but was built in limited numbers in case there was a problem with the SPAD though as it turned out, it was the AI that suffered structural problems. In parallel to the L the Morane-Saulnier BB was developed for the RFC, which was a Type P built as a biplane. Because the type 'BB' when pronounced in French sounds like Bebe (or baby), this became the type's nickname. Most of these types had no fixed fin, or horizontal stabilizer with the result that they were not only very sensitive on the controls, but could not even be flown hands off. One early pilot noted that if one left the aircraft to its own devices it would end up going upside down in the opposite direction. Despite this, many were used as trainers, including a great many that had their wings stripped so they couldn't fly, creating what was known as a Penguin.
The Type L has the distinction of being the first fighter aircraft during the early days of World War I when one was fitted with a machine gun firing through the propeller by Roland Garros. Although initially fitted with a synchronizer, the irregular rate of fire afforded by the gas-operated Hotchkiss machine gun he used meant it didn't work half the time, and he was reduced to fitting metal plates to armour the propeller. Bullets striking the back of the propeller were deflected off at an angle. Since the rate of fire was slightly less than the rate of rotation of the propeller this worked (though not perfectly) and Garros would later be considered (possibly erroneously) as the first French Ace. A similar system would be fitted to the Type N pending the arrival of other machine guns which made the system workable. While flying his modified Type L, Garros crashed on the German side of the lines and the wreckage was examined by Fokker just prior to Fokker producing a similar system.
After the war, Morane-Saulnier produced a number of designs for training and general aviation, but with the start of World War II looming it once again turned to military aircraft. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, it produced a number of parasol wing fighters including the M.S.230 and M.S.315, but all were of limited performance and were relegated to training duties. Moraine-Saulnier had much more success with its dramatically-modernized M.S.406, which was the Armée de l'Air's most numerous fighter at the start of the war. Unfortunately, the 406 was advanced only for its introduction in 1935 and suffered terribly against the more modern Messerschmitt Bf 109s it faced in 1940.
During World War II, Morane-Saulnier was operated under German control and built a number of German types including the Fieseler Storch, known after the war as the Morane-Saulnier MS.500 Criquet. Morane-Saulnier also produced a number of trainer and civilian aircraft models, the best known of which was the successful "Rallye" series of four-seat STOL semi-aerobatic tourers (see picture above).
Morane-Saulnier was purchased by Potez on January 7, 1962 and became SEEMS, the Societe d'Exploitation des Etablissements Morane-Saulnier. In 1966 its civilian models were spun off to form SOCATA, the Societe de Construction d'Avions de Tourisme et d'Affaires, which was eventually purchased by Aérospatiale.