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Record Breaker: Nord Gerfaut - X-Plane

December 8th, 2007
Raul Colon
PO Box 29754
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico 00929

France’s aviation industry took off in the 1950s with the development of new and exotic aircraft designs. One of the most significant French designs of the era was the remarkable Gerfaut. This simple aircraft was destined to become Europe’s first aircraft to break the sound barrier without the assistance of afterburning. It was also the first of a long and distinguished line of delta-winged aircraft to come out of French factories. The Nord Gerfaut followed a distinguished line of experimental French designs used to test aerodynamic characteristics of airframes and wing configurations.

The aircraft was the brainchild of a brilliant engineer named Jean Galtier. Galtier’s design began the trend in French aviation for developing delta-wing aircraft platforms, a methodical progression that had culminated with the introduction of the Mirage 2000 and the Rafale. Work commenced on the Gerfaut or Northern Falcon, in the early part of 1951. By the late 1953, Galtier had settled on an airframe design that resembled a wedge or an arrowhead. The idea behind this unique configuration was to provide the aircraft with the ability to use its main body to achieve higher speeds. With a wedge configuration, the proposed airplane would have, Galtier thought, a more stable air-based platform while flying at speeds above Mach 1.0. When the aircraft was finally unveiled to French military leaders in the autumn of 1953 it did not resemble anything previously designed.

The barrel-shaped airframe was constructed of an all metal alloys. The airbrakes, designed to slow the aircraft, were installed on each side of the rear side of the fuselage. A cantilever tail section had a high mounted, variable tail plane of delta platform. Two blisters, sited at the base of the fin housed a pair of parachutes, one for braking the aircraft and one to prevent spinning. The main part of the aircraft, the delta wing section, as with the main fuselage; was constructed out of metal alloys that provided extra strength to the extremely thin wing. The ailerons and elevator controls were placed inset on the trailing edges of the wing. The aircraft was fitted with a retractable landing gear. The nose wheel rotated 90 degrees to lie flush in the front fuselage directly beneath the air inlet duct. The wing’s wheels folded inward into the main wing structure. The cabin was built above the airframe as a completely separate structure. It was pressurized for one crewman. An ejection seat was installed for emergencies.

The Gerfaut was powered by one SNECMA Atar 101c turbojet engine capable of producing 6,177lb of thrust. Later versions of the aircraft were fitted with Atar 101d, generating 8,825lb of thrust. The last Gerfaut version, the II, utilized the Atar 101g21 turbojet with afterburning.


Maximum Speed 989mph
Operational Range 125 nautical miles
Service Ceiling 56,600’
Maximum Take off Weight 9,979lb
Wing Span 21’-7”
Total Wing Area 282sq ft
Height 18’-0”
Length 36’-0”

This amazing plane flew for the first time on January 15th, 1954. It achieved supersonic level flight status on August 3rd, 1954 without the assistance of an afterburner. During its test phase, from the summer of 1954 through the winter of 1955; the aircraft was extensively tested. Aerodynamic characteristics and wing behaviors were measured.

The aircraft was pushed to the limit of its ability and sometimes, beyond it. The ultimate version of this French experimental aircraft was the Gerfaut II, number N.1402B, which first took to the air in the morning of April 17th,1956. In the capable hands of Andre Turcat, a marvelous French test pilot who would later in his life become the main project pilot for the Concorde programme, the Gerfaut II broke five time-to-altitude records during 1957.

When the testing of the Gerfaut series was over, Nord used the experience gained on the programme to develop a more advanced experimental aircraft, the N.1500 Griffon. Overall, five Gerfaut were built from 1953 to 1957. None of these airframes exist today. The Gerfaut had been relegated to just a footnote in the history of innovated, test-based aircraft.


Military Aircraft of the Cold War, Edt Jim Winchester, ThunderBay Press 2006
The Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft, Robert Jackson, Parragon Publishing Book 2002