The SNECMA Coléoptère was a French VTOL plane that was fairly successful in testing but could not get funding to build a second prototype after the first one crashed on its ninth flight. After that the project was scrapped. Looking at this plane, one can see why some people may have thought it was silly:

image of the Coléoptère

But one does wonder. What if they had received the funding? Obviously I'm not asking that as it would be beyond broad, but I do need a reason to follow this line of thought.

What is the smallest feasible change I could make to history for the SNECMA Coléoptère Mark II to get funding?

  • $\begingroup$ My impression is that Coleopters like the SNECMA Coléoptère had major stability problems. Landing and taking off was excruciating difficult for pilots. Had it succeeded, it could have been an aviation catastrophe. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 16 '17 at 12:09
  • $\begingroup$ "Some people thought it to be silly". Seriously, take a look at that giant trash bin! No wonder they dumped it. By the looks of it it couldn't even start/land traditionally with a runway. It clearly is just a terrible design and a very bad concept altogether. $\endgroup$ – r41n Jan 17 '17 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ @r41n It was designed for vertical takeoff, without a run way $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Jan 17 '17 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ @TinyTrEs-2b, I know that, it still is terrible. The lack of flexibility alone makes it a bad design. Lets say the engine fails, how are you supposed to try and do an emergency landing with it? $\endgroup$ – r41n Jan 18 '17 at 9:17
  • $\begingroup$ @closevoters how is this off-topic? We have a whole tag devoted to alternate-history, and it clear that the OP wants to use this for a fictional world or apply this knowledge in an on-topic way. Voting to leave open. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Jan 22 '17 at 3:43

Ideas like the Coléoptère, "Pentomic" Divisions, converting militia regiments into "Civil Rescue columns" and numerous other plans (some more feasible than others) were all responses to the idea that the threshold for nuclear weapons release would be very low (indeed there was and is a school of thought the USSR would begin the "Liberation" of Western Europe behind a decapitating nuclear strike). All these ideas were meant to allow forces to continue to operate in a post nuclear environment. As an incidental, the Soviet BMP-1 was also developed for this environment, allowing troops to cross contaminated battlefields and even fight mounted. (Misunderstanding of this role led to the Western development of the Infantry Fighting Vehicle or IFV, and when the realization that using nuclear "fire corridors" to clear the axis of advance was't a particularly smart idea, the Soviets were stuck with several thousand of these vehicles, which they repurposed into IFV's....)

enter image description here

BMP-1. This picture is after the BMP became an IFV (hence the dismounted troops). Later developments included changed tactics, and by the late 1970's the BMP-2 with a two man turret and a 30mm cannon

While these ideas were being developed, tested and in some cases fielded, it became apparent that the idea of decapitating nuclear strikes and low thresholds of nuclear weapons release were counterproductive (to say the least), and many of these ideas turned out to be rather fragile or unsuitable for operations either in regular military environments post nuclear environments.

To continue development of the Coléoptère, two things have to change:

  1. The futility of low thresholds of nuclear weapons release is not recognized or acknowledged, and;

  2. The technical issue of landing a Coléoptère can be addressed.

Tail sitters like the Coléoptère, or the "Pogo" are easy to take off and often joys to fly due to the enormous power to weight ratios (the Convair "Pogo" would have been virtually unbeatable in a dogfight, for example), but pilots had terrible difficulty judging ground approach when attempting to land "tail sitters". This might have been corrected by some sort of radar altimeter and autopilot, although the state of the art really wasn't sufficiently developed. As well, even if we assume the Coléoptère actually performed as advertised, dispersing large numbers of ground crews, fuel trucks, ammunition trucks and security forces for each aircraft would be problematic, and indeed would have presented fairly lucrative targets on their own.

enter image description here

XFY-1 Pogo taking off

The expected payoff would have to be commensurate with the investment, so the projected and demonstrated performance of the Coléoptère and its weapons systems would have to be far superior to conventional aircraft (or there would have to be a virtual certainty that there would be no conventional aircraft anywhere in a post nuclear environment.

So the development of the Coléoptère would be dependent on the conditions for such a specialized aircraft to continue to be in effect, the state of the art for radar and autopilots developed sufficiently for the aircraft to safely operate, and there are no real or projected alternatives which can do the same job for a lower investment.


What is the smallest feasible change could I make to history for the Snecma mark II to get funded?

Make it work.

The main problem is, that it crashed after the ninth flight. If it wouldn't have done so, funding wouldn't have stopped.

Okay, let's say it didn't work, but some high up government official still clings to the project. The magic word is: Cross-subsidization

  • Make other projects cost more than they really would and fork off some money to the Coléoptère project.
  • Buy pens for 1 Franc per piece, while it would really cost only 0.25 and the other .75 Franc go to Coléoptère (Area 51 is funded that way, according to the Independence Day Movie)

Convince decisionmakers that it may work and that the geopolitical situation makes it necessary to try harder.

  • Scientific reports about overpressure damage from nuclear strikes on above-ground airbases.
  • Intelligence reports about the Soviet fielding of runway-cratering conventional bombs for their principal bomber force.
  • Early, specacular failures on other concepts like the P.1127 and the Do 31. Change the timeline on those, try thrust vectoring earlier before it can be controlled.

By the way, SNECMA is the company and Coléoptère is the aircraft.


It has potential to save money.

I mean, from the looks of it, that's a disastrous design. It doesn't look particularly efficient. Nevertheless, I'm no expert. I would approach the problem by trying to showcase this plane as a wise investment opportunity. One might want to highlight the following features in the v2 model:

  • Fuel efficiency
  • Payload capabilities
  • Rapid ascent
  • Top speed

Apparently, the 9th flight failed due to "insufficient instrumentation and a lack of visual benchmarks" - to me, that describes internal problems such as faulty cockpit equipment. I mean sure, the design sucks... but one might be able to argue that with newer (inside) technology the aircraft could flourish one of my potential money-saving features.


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