A New Trainer for the New Learning Curve
With the end of the Second World War, the jet aircraft quickly came into its own and swiftly replaced piston powered aircraft in many roles. Early jet fighters were typically designed as single seat machines and it was felt existing piston trainers, such as the North American T-6 Texan, were adequate to the task of training early jet age fighter pilots. This error in thinking was quickly exposed by the huge performance and handling differences between piston and jet aircraft.
Initially, the problem was addressed by retroactively designing a second seat into existing single seat designs. While better than piston powered trainers, the reworked designs often were less than ideal stepping stones. It was clear that a purpose built jet powered trainer was required.
When the prototype of the French designed Fouga CM.170 Magister made its first flight in 1952, it marked the beginning of a legendary and highly significant aircraft that would become the world’s first widely successful purpose designed jet trainer.
The sleek and compact design of the Magister fuselage together with its long, straight wings pointed directly to its sailplane origins. The Magister was the result of jet propulsion experiments in the late 1940s using a Castel-Mauboussin CM.8 high performance sailplane. The Magister inherited many design aspects of the CM.8 including the distinctive V-tail.
An Instant Hit
The new trainer, designated CM.170-1, entered service with the French air force in 1956. In that same year, the prototype for the CM-175 Zéphyr took to the air for the first time. The CM.175 was a modified version of the Magister ordered by the French navy, the CM.175 was able to be operated from aircraft carriers.
It did not take long after the Magister first flew and entered French service for the aircraft to attract international attention in the form of not only exports but also license production. A total of 929 Magisters were built between production lines in France, Germany, Israel and Finland. While French production of the type stopped in 1962, it did continue up to 1967 in Finland.
One of the more surprising aspects of the Magister, given a cumulative production of nearly one thousand units by four countries, was the relatively small number of variants the aircraft family was comprised of:
This was the primary variant of which 761 were made. It was powered by two Turbomeca Marboré II engines which left it somewhat under-powered in some situations.
An improved version produced from 1960 which totaled 130 units. the primary improvement was the use of more powerful Marboré VI engines.
A modified variation of the Magister for naval use. Modifications included stronger landing gear, carrier launching gear, tail hook and a slightly revised cockpit canopy in which the canopy sections slid open on rails rather than lift open on hinges as they did on the Magister.
Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) Tzukit
Appearing in the early 1980s, the Tzukit was a modernized Magister variant for the Israeli air force that incorporated an updated cockpit and the addition of composite materials.
Destined to Endure
The Magister retired from military service entirely when Israel withdrew their last examples of the type from service in 2010.
Through a military career spanning five decades, service to no less than 25 countries and countless pilots receiving their training in it; the Magister earned worldwide respect as not only a trainer, but also as a light attack platform and an aerobatics aircraft. At various times, Magisters served as the mounts for the military air demonstration teams of Austria, Belgium, Brasil, Ireland and Israel.
Well before the last military Magister had been retired, ex-military Magisters had begun to appear in the hands of civilian operators for use in airshows as an example of an early jet warbird. Many of the same handling and performance qualities which made it popular in military service are equally appreciated by civil flyers of the type.
Today, there are several airworthy Magisters in existence along with specialist maintenance companies to ensure spare parts and proper training and qualification of mechanics for the type.
It seems safe to say that there will be Magisters aloft somewhere in the world for some time to come.
A very good overview of the Magister’s development and its military service, particularly in Belgium, can be found at this link: