by: Stephen T. Lawson [ ]
The high wing monoplane Morane Saulnier A.I was one of the most powerful fighter aircraft of the World War I. Even though its combat assignment was somewhat short, it left traces in the aviation history. More than 1000 machines of all versions were produced and the trainer version was used long after the war's end. It was used by Belgian, France, Polish, Swiss and Japanese air forces. Its main short coming was the tendancy for the wing to fail in combat manoevers.
The A .I was a single seat version of another Morane Saulnier two seat design the A .F. The AI went into production and the first examples were delivered late in1917. Powered by either the Le Rhône 120hp or the Gnôme Monosoupape (phonetic “mono-soo-pop”) 9N, 160hp rotary engine, mounted in a completely enclosed circular cowling with an open-front with the lower half fretted with seven exhaust ports. With the except of the number of exhaust cutouts it was similar to those seen on most of the late production rotary powered Nieuport fighters.
It was the reputation of the Gnôme Monosoupape 9N, 160hp rotary for catching fire that cause most of the mistrust in the type AI. The real problem was inexperienced pilots that were mis-using the Gnôme powered AI to train in. It began with the improper use of the coupe button on the control column. When landing in a Gnôme powered machine the rpms cannot be regulated by the manettes. These engines were regulated by a instrument panel mounted switch that enabled the pilot to regulate the specific cylinders that fired. 1, 3, 5, 7. 9 etc. If the coupe button was held down too long raw fuel would dump into the cowling through the exhaust trough onto the underside of the fuselage. When the coupe button was released the engine would fire and exhaust gases would ignite and the aircraft would explode in midair.
The parasol wing was swept back (10 degrees) and used balanced ailerons that are actuated by torsion tubing from the control column. the wing-tips were raked and typically for the pilots upward visibility there was a large trailing edge cut- out in the centre section. Spars and ribs were of conventional wood, wire-braced and covered with fabric covering. It was the complex arrangement of cabane and interplane struts connected the wing to the fuselage that seemed to strangely add to the frail appearance of the aircraft profile. There are two main struts per side with two pairs of “N” struts with two more pairs of struts joining the main struts. All of this is wire braced like a fuselage skeleton.
The main wing struts had a negative incidence in side elevation. The rear fuselage had a circular cross section tapered to a point at the rear, was built up of wooden half moon formers (like those used on the DH 5) , longerons and stringers. The front of the fuselage was braced diagonally with what was termed “metal knee braces”and metal cowlings. Most of the fuselage back to the tail unit being covered in typical aircraft fabric with the French five colour camouflage. The tail skid is articulate at the forward end and trapped in a yoke at it mid-section and recoiled by two springs, all under the rudder post.
The tail unit was braced on its undersurface with small struts. The horizontal stabilizers seemed small in area, but carried ample elevators. The fin and balanced rudder were triangular in overall profile. The undercarriage was additionally braced by a vee strut to the centre point of the spreader bar/ axle assembly. With the usual Vee type under carriage legs like the earlier MS “N”.
Either one or two synchronized Vickers machine guns were fixed to fire forwards through the propeller arc. One unit, Escadrille 156, was equipped with AI types in January 1918. Some structural trouble was experienced initially, but many pilots liked the type's handling qualities. Other units are believed to have had one or two AI types on their strength for evaluation. In March 1918 the type was withdrawn from the front, and thereafter served as an advanced trainer. Approximately 1100 -1300 AI airframes were constructed. Fifty of these were purchased by the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) for use as pursuit trainers. These were divided up and used in Toul and Issoudon with several going back to the United States for testing at Langley and McCook Field.
The single gun version was designated the M.S.27 C-1, the two gunned version was the M.S.29 C-1, and the training model the M.S.30 E-1. After the war many continued in service: a number of these being re-equipped with 130 hp Clerget rotaries. One modified machine (AR ?), piloted by Monsieur Fronval (MS chief test pilot) and Temple N. Joyce (former instructor and crash investigator at Issoudon) , was looped 1,111 consecutive times! Temple N. Joyce’s first attempt had him looping an AI 300 times before running out of gas.
Morane-Saulnier kept up production between the wars, the best known types being the MS130 and MS 230. One of these ( an MS 230) was owned by Doug Bianchi and was modified to fly in the 1966 movie “The Blue Max.” Even Charles Nungesser flew a post war version with his typical black heart motif.
Production fighter variant with one 0.303in (7.7mm) Vickers machine gun and powered by a Gnome Monosoupape 9NI rotary engine.
Production fighter variant with two 0.303in (7.7mm) Vickers machine guns and powered by a Gnome Monosoupape 9NI rotary engine.
Production advanced trainer with either a 89kW (120hp) Le Rhone 9Jb or a 101kW (135hp) Le Rhone 9Jby rotary engine.
Variant of the MoS 30 with a de-rated Le Rhone 9Jby engine 67kW (90hp).
The kit contains two sprues with 60 plastic parts, resin and photo-etched parts. As a short-run kit it is a pleasant surprise to note that the parts are sharply detailed. Mine has zero visible sink marks but there is a little flash. This seems to be on the smaller parts. The fabric simulated surfaces are very finely done, but the fabric wrap strut reinforcement strips are a bit overdone as always seems the case with any kit in this scale.
The wing is thin and without warping. The kit includes parts for the one gun version (Type 27 C.1) or the two gun version (Type 29 C.1). The problem is that the fuselage cheek panels were different between the two versions. The kit depicts Type 29 cheek panels. Also the cabane struts on the box art are misleading. They are not "X" but are more like an "N" profile in layout.
There are two types of propellers: an Eclair and a Gremont. Their hubs are not very well molded but this is a minor issue because both kit propellers rotate in the wrong direction. They should rotate clockwise from the pilot's view. You will need to take a little more time cleaning up, aligning and test-fitting the parts, in the end you will have a nicely detailed little model of this attractive fighter.
The 36 PE parts are a soft nickel coated metal nicely done with some very small parts.
Three pieces. two machinge gun muzzles and one rotary engine base.
Instructions come as a folded sheet booklet of ten pages with historical data of the type in both English and Czech. Next is a parts map. There are nine exploded view assembly steps that are very well illustrated and include several color call-outs by Gunze-Sangyo. A rigging diagram is also included. The instructions are printed in black and white only. The serial # for profile "C" should be MS1583 not MS1581.
The decal sheet is by Aviprint, is in perfect register and the colors appear solid and well defined with the option to use tail serials printed integrally with rudder stripes or by separate. Markings are supplied for three French aircraft: two of the escadrille MS156 and one of the MS158.
A. Morane Saulnier A.I. MS1591 Red “11" Esc. MSP156, as flown by Sgt Walter S. Shaffer in February 1918.
B. Morane Saulnier A.I. MS1724 White “3" Esc. MSP158, as flown by Sgt Rufus R. Rand Jr. in March - April 1918.
C. Morane Saulnier A.I. MS1583 Red “9" Esc. MSP156, February 1918.
I have included the coloured versions of the Special Hobby schemes here.
Cross & Cockade USA Vol. 4 # 3 Pp.264 - 273.
Windsock Datafile #5 by J. Bruce (see it at)
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