My 'paper plane' complete, and it turned out pretty much how I imagined it would...

What Could Have Been?

It was - for me - a 'quickie' project and isn't hugely detailed, but it is just a hypothetical aircraft so I didn't have much reference to go from (principally one line drawing and a couple of very blurry photos).

To recap, the goal here was to imagine how an early 1930's French prototype fighter - the Wibault 313 - might have evolved by 1940 *if* they had decided to peruse the idea. Here's a photo just to remind you what the aircraft looked like in it's original configuration...

Now, perhaps you can see from the above photo of the Wib. 313 prototype what I saw and that is the potential for this aircraft to have developed into a version which would have been typical of monoplane fighter configurations in the early part of World War 2. Notably the addition of an enclosed cockpit and a retractable undercarriage. 

As it stood, the Wib. 313 - to me at least - looked like a sort of primordial P-47 Thunderbolt! And this is why I gave my 'what if?' aircraft design the name of 'Orage' - which is French for thunderstorm.

Intermission! A Divergence About Convergence.

You'll be used to me going off on tangents by now, and so... I alluded to the idea of design convergence in part 1 of this project - the idea that unconnected designers working to produce a design given to same criteria goals and same technological tool kit are likely to come up with similar solutions independently of each other. Just look at todays latest generation of stealthy fighters - they all look roughly similar (no, it's not everyone copying the F-35)!

So, it was interesting to compare my idea for my Wib 400 to other similar designs of the time - like the Fokker D. XXI, or the Brewster Buffalo, or the Republic Lancer, or the Curtis 75 - to show this kind of sort of general concurrence of technological innovation. But, looking at the original Wibault 313 design - the inspiration of this project and my idea - I di wonder just how close it was to getting to my Wib. 400 concept?

The main differences between the real Wibault [313] aircraft and my imaginary [400] progeny are the inclusion of the enclosed cockpit and the retractable undercarriage. And - still in the realms of the hypothetical - I did wonder just how far off these innovations might have been for a early 1930s aircraft design?

Well the first fighter aircraft to incorporate  a folding and retractable undercarriage was the Grumman FF-1 of 1931, so not far off from the inception of the Wib. 313 then...BUT (there is always a but) in a janky 'one step forward but one step back' anomaly the Grumman fight was a biplane design!

And so... I did a little digging (with Google) and the first monoplane fighter that I could find was the Soviet Tupolev I-14 of 1933...AND - would you believe it - but just look at what this aircraft looks like...

Look familiar? 😉 I can't think of a better 'coincidence' to illustrate the concept of design convergence! Yes, there are slight differences and, yes, the Tupolev has an open cockpit, but it's pretty close to my Wib. 400 though. And I think it shows that the Wibault company were just a couple of steps behind in their innovations (I might even imagine a hypothetical and transitional Wib. '350' with either a enclosed cockpit but fixed undercarriage or vice versa)!

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...

Being Very Sketchy...

As it turned out, this project was a quicker job than I expected. I think it was because it was a fictional design so the amount of detail that I was able to reference was a bit thin on the ground (working, as I was, from one vague line-drawing and a couple of very blurry photos).

So, in the end, I completed the basic drawing of the aircraft with ease, but it's hardly a detailed or hyper-realistic profile...

Above: The basic aircraft drawing without any decoration. Although I used a light grey as a foundation colour this is not meant to represent a 'silver' bare metal plane. It's just a plain plane...

I'll be honest, I did rush this project a bit so some of the elements are a little 'hocky'. But, in my defence the purpose of this project is just to illustrate the possibility of the evolution of the design and not to produce a technically accurate engineering drawing of what could have been.

This simplistic form of drawing profiles might actually be more useful as I might be tempted to use this means of illustration to represent some of my wacky 'theories' for my blog.

Anyway, onto my representation of my 'Wilbaut Wib. 413' in French service...

Talking hypothetically, I'm NOT saying that this fictional design might have been able to best the German's Me. 109 where other real French fighter were not. Taking into consideration the overall design and the projected technical specifications that I have imagined for this plane, it would not have even been on a par with - say - the Curtis 75 which it roughly resembles.

My point is simply that some of the early 1930 prototypes did, in fact, have the potentiality to have been upgraded and modernised to designs at least weren't as anachronistic as some of the European aircraft that were pitted against the Germans in early 1939. 

And so...

It may be perhaps fitting that I FINNISH with the following version of my design! 😉

Above: My 'Wib.413' concept in Finnish Air Force colours (circa 1941). The Fins made very good use of whatever aircraft that they could lay their hands on from whatever source. They already had a very eclectic international stable of military aircraft including some French types, so it seem logical that they would have been glad of a few Wib.413s! 

In Conclusion

The point of my project wasn't just to see how an early 1930s design might have evolved - had it continued in development - up to 1939 and the start of World War 2. It also, wasn't just to illustrate ideas about design convergence - the theoretical likelihood that different designers given the same goal, tools and available technology might then produce a similar solution to the problem (as I can show with the plethora of similar looking radial engined fighters from the 1930s).

In the end, I also wanted to prove another point and that was to highlight and applaud real genius which is that that has exactly the same technological starting point as everyone else but makes the innovative jump in producing something new and ground breaking.

Such were the 1930s designs of 'Willy' Messerschmitt with his Me.109 and - thankfully - R. J. Mitchell with his Supermarine Spitfire (and with a special mention to Sydney Camm for his Hawker Hurricane). We in Britain should be eternally grateful that such men were not satisfied with just 'good enough' and made that technological leap that certainly saved this country.

It should make you shudder to think that we could have so easily ended up with a design like this...

Above: The Vickers Venom, a British 1936 design that was seriously offered as a competitor to the likes of the Spitfire and Hurricane! Thankfully, the Air Ministry had a moment of clear thinking and give this one a miss!



Since I posted this post up - just a day ago - I've had a chance to discuss my hypothetical design with some aircraft buffs online. Essentially the feedback has been positive with many being intrigued by the idea and - of course - spotting the similarity of the design to other period aircraft types (notably the French Bloch fighter - which I don't get myself - and, surprisingly, the American Grumman Wildcat).

Hmmm, interesting!

The main question I got was about the speculative performance of 'my' design. A few people making the connection with the Wildcat and wondering how it would have compared to that aircraft. Well, I had to disappoint them and clarify that I had imagined that any fictional Wib. 413 - I changed the designation number slightly as apparently there had been a Wib. 400 - would have been equipped with a 1,000hp engine and at best it's performance would be something between that of the Curtis 75 and Brewster Buffalo with a max speed of about 315-320mph.

...I need to remind you that - as a reference point - the speed of the Me.109 was 350mph!

So 'my' Wibault fighter didn't even have the performance of the Hawker Hurricane or the Grumman F4F Wildcat. Both these aircraft did just manage to hold their own and had successes against the Messerschmitt Bf109 but were superseded quite quickly by better fighters (like the Spitfire and Hellcat).

The best hope for an 'improved' Wib. 413 would have been to fit a better engine perhaps, something like the Wright R-1820-40 Cyclone or Pratt & Whitney R-1830-76 'Twin Wasp', this at least would really make it comparable to the Grumman Wildcat... But this is all moot. France collapsed in 1940 and no amount of 'paper planes' would have save it.



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