The Business Jet Used By Regional Airlines: Aérospatiale’s SN 601 ‘Corvette’

Following World War Two, the French government decided that it wanted to boost home-built aviation and asked manufacturers to come up with a combined liaison / trainer that twin turbofan engines would power. Among the companies interested were Sud Aviation and Nord Aviation. Rather than compete against each other for the contract, the two French aviation companies decided to work together.

Similar to the Cessna Citation 500, except larger, the French plane was designated the SN600, and a scale model was shown to the public for the first time at the 1968 Hanover ILA Air Show. Both companies had big expectations for the business jet, with projected sales of 60 planes going to the French military and a further 400 for the global market.


A prototype SN 600 crashed, putting off potential customers

With the business jet market already established in North America, Sud Aviation and Nord Aviation started looking for a distributor. On March 23, 1971, a prototype SN600 crashed, badly affecting potential customers’ faith in the plane. Engineers set about redesigning the plane, and a further two prototypes were built and designated as being SN 601 before changing the plane’s name to the Corvette 100.

Early test flights showed that the plane still had unfavorable stall characteristics. Despite the SN 600 being shown to the public at around the same time as the Citation 500, the French plane was three years behind its rival. Even the French government was starting to become skeptical to the point where in 1974, stopping the program was seriously considered.

Now called Aérospatiale following the merger of Sud and Nord Aviation, an American distributor was set up before its French airworthiness certificate was awarded. Following poor sales of the Corvette 100 in North America, Aérospatiale pulled out of the marketplace in March 1976. Later the same year, Aérospatiale stopped production of the Corvette following disappointing orders.

A French government Court of Audit revealed that the Corvette program accounted for 66% of Aerospatiale’s fiscal deficits from 1972 to 1975. Totaling a loss of around $ 190 million, the reports also suggested that Aerospatiale management underestimated the competition from other business jet makers like Dassault, Cessna, and Leer.

In the end, the rival Dassault Falcon 20 proved more popular and was sold to the French Navy and United States Coast Guard. In 1973 Federal Express, as it was then called, selected the Dassault Falcon 20 for its new air express package delivery service. In three years, operating out of Memphis International Airport (MEM) in Tennessee, Federal Express established a nationwide network with a fleet of 33 Falcon 20s.

Only 40 Corvettes were built

Sadly for Aérospatiale, only 40 Corvettes were ever built with some entering service with French regional airlines Air Alsace, Air Alpes, Air Champagne, and TAT. Denmark’s Sterling Airways used the Corvette during its brief three years history, while the Congolese Air Force used another for VIP transportation. Between 1981 and 2009, Airbus had five Corvettes that it used to move employees.

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