Ifremer, the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea, discovered the wreckage of an SE.203 Aquilon fighter jet in the Mediterranean sea. The aircraft had disappeared, along with its pilot, in June 1960.
The aircraft, the SE.203 Aquilon number 83, belonged to the Flotilla 11F of the French Naval Aviation. On June 13, 1960, the pilot was practicing landing procedures on the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, which was cruising off the French coast. “During the last catapult before returning to the base at Hyères, Aquilon n°83 fell into the water and sank immediately,” the French Navy describes. “His pilot, Master Jean Legouhy, aged 27, disappeared with it.”
The ocean exploration vessel “Pourquoi Pas?” (Why Not?) found the wreckage at a little more than 2,450 meters (8,000 feet) deep near the islands of Hyères, off the French Riviera. The ship was carrying scientific research in the area when its unmanned underwater robot Victor 6000 found the aircraft. The jet was easily identified thanks to its almost intact tail inscription. Because of the depth at which it rests, the plane will most likely stay there.
60 ans après s’être abîmé en mer, un avion de l’aéronautique navale, l’Aquilon 203 n°83 de la Flottille 11F a été retrouvé. pic.twitter.com/WmZhTKoYNh— Marine nationale (@MarineNationale) November 26, 2020
An important milestone for the French Naval Aviation
The Aquilon was the first operational jet aircraft of the French Navy. The single-jet fighter-bomber was in fact a French version of the De Havilland DH112 Sea Venom produced under license. Construction began in 1952, and 96 units would eventually be built in four different versions. Coincidentally, the aircraft was assembled by the SNCASE (also known as Sud-Est) in the city of Marignane, a hundred kilometers away from where the wreck now lays,.
The Sud-Est Aquillon replaced the Supermarine Seafire and the Grumman F6F Hellcat, two foreign propeller-driven fighters. However, the career of the jet within the French Naval Aviation was quite brief, from 1955 to 1966. When it entered service, no French vessel was able to operate it, and it was thus confined to land bases, notably in Algeria. The Aquilon had to wait until 1960 to land on the aircraft carrier Clemenceau. Less than six years later, it was already replaced by the Dassault Etendard IV. Despite its short career, the Aquillon remains crucial in the history of French naval aviation, as it allowed pilots to transition to jet aircraft.