Thursday, June 14, 2012

France - 1915 Ponnier M.1

The Deservedly Unloved Ponnier M.1

First off I want to give special thanks for all the valuable input on the topic provided by several members at Friends of the League of WWI Aviation Historians on Facebook. Many thanks to Aaron Weaver for your help, and Gary Warne for the inspiration after beating me to the punch.

Sometimes designers create an aircraft which raises the bar for innovation. Many more times their hard work is in vain. There are designs so bad that redesigns just amount to putting lipstick on a pig. When the Russians accept the horrifyingly bad SPAD reject the offer of desperately needed aircraft, you know you have a turkey on your hands. This is the story of one of the most maligned airplanes which entered production.

This profile is of the original configuration which was flight-tested by a number of pilots, including Charles Nungesser and Jean Navarre. Notable is the small rudder similar in shape to early Nieuports. Also of interest is the mounting of the machine gun.

The profile shows one of the variants of the redesigned Ponnier M-1 in Belgian service. Le Vampire is the personal marking of Abel De Neef. We see the addition of a fixed tail fin and a fuselage mounted non-synchronized machine gun which used deflector gear similar to that used on the Morane-Saulnier Type N.

This redesigned Belgian Ponnier M.1 has the more standard mounting for the machine gun. The pilot for this aircraft is unknown.

This small fighter was designed and built in France, where a few were used as trainers. Belgium ordered 30 for front line use, but its extremely poor control caused the order to be cut to 10, or perhaps as many as 18, and it is not thought that any were actually used operationally.

Apparently the prototype was flight-tested by a number of pilots, including Charles Nungesser, who flew the M.1 on 29 January 1916. During that flight the aircraft crashed and Nungesser broke both legs and his jaw. From what I read the Po.M.1 was not put into production for the French military, yet some M.1s were sent to the training schools. None however equipped operational units.

Thirty were ordered by Belgium because of their inability to receive enough Nieuports. Discovering what the French already knew, these aircraft were modified by having the cone de penetration deleted, the tailplane and elevators enlarged, and a fixed fin fitted. Willy Coppens noted that the M.1 remained unstable even after these alterations and consequently the initial order of 30 was reduced to (approx.) 10, of which only a few, were ever used operationally.

Having an urgent need for new fighter aircraft the Belgian authorities ordered thirty Ponnier M.1's, although this machine was rejected by the French Armee de l'Air for being too dangerous to fly. Most Belgian pilots also refused to fly the Ponnier (of which only ten were delivered) and it was quickly withdrawn from use.

The justly deserved reputation of the Ponnier M.I did one thing... Even the Russians refused the offer from the French.


  1. Jim Davilla Rare Birds Ponnier M.1 Over the Front Volume 26, Number 1, Spring 2011, p. 76-86
  2. Ponnier M.1 - Their Flying Machines
  3. Ponnier M.1 - Belgian Wings
  4. Ponnier M.1 -
  5. M.1 - 1915
  6. Wrong airplane, wrong time Warnepieces


Gary C. Warne said...

Even though it was an also-ran, I think the Ponnier M.1 was rather attractive once the fin was added. De Neef was lucky 'Le Vampire' didn't bite him when he flew it!

W. I. Boucher said...

I agree Gary it looks much better than it performed.Defector gear was a double edged sword. The problem of ricochets was a very real possibility. It was no surprise many M-S Type N showed paint damage.