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  • Writer's pictureJ.K. Caldwell

Max Holste MH.1521 Broussard

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Le Broussard est robuste et durable! This French flying pick-up truck is purpose-built to operate in one of the harshest environments on Earth, the Sahara Desert.

BACKGROUND: With much of France either mired in wars and/or threats of war in many of their colonies, the French military needed a STOL utility plane to serve a wide variety of purposes in austere and severe conditions. Max Holste, a French aeronautical engineer, saw this need and designed the MH.1521 Broussard as a larger adaptation of his original MH.152, a similar looking four-seat light observation airplane. The result was the Broussard, which literally means “man of the bush,” and truly is a bush pilot’s dream! This six-seater can carry 2,580 lbs., including fuel, and still take-off in less than 900 feet. There was a total of 363 Broussards built by the Societe des Avions Max Holste between 1954 and 1959, but only some 25 remain flying worldwide, including 14 in the United States.

The MH.1521 saw service with the French military in the Algerian War where it served multiple roles, including artillery spotting and photo reconnaissance. However, its most common use in the war was as an air ambulance, able to carry 2 patients in bunkbed-style litters. Armament possibilities include a light machine gun and grenade-dropping launcher. The Broussard that I flew has an inert 100lb GP (General Purpose) bomb strapped to its centerline station that is, in actuality, a smoke generator!

DESIGN: Many people refer to the Broussard as “the French Beaver,” and this is because of its many similarities to the de Haviland DHC-2 Beaver. Both aircraft are relatively equal in size and capabilities and they both use the R-985 engine. Yet some differences, such as the Broussard’s twin tails, are obvious. In a three-point attitude, the Beaver’s rudder is partially masked by the fuselage. Max Holste, wanting full rudder control at low airspeeds, gave the plane twin rudders. While de Havilland Aircraft of Canada designed their Beaver to operate in the harsh environment of the cold Canadian backcountry, the Broussard was uniquely designed with the harsh environment of the North African Sahara Desert in mind.

POWERPLANT: The venerable and hardy Pratt and Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior was the logical choice to power the Broussard. A supercharger helps deliver 450 horsepower to a two-bladed Hamilton-Standard 2.D.30 constant-speed “airscrew”. The engine’s air intake is located on top of the cowling, intentionally located as far from sand and dust as possible. After air enters the top of the cowling, it is routed down, then up before passing through the air filter. Centrifugal force and gravity help separate particles before they enter the engine. The oil cooler on the bottom of the cowling even includes a steel grate, presumably to keep out large pieces of desert brush and debris!

It is easy to hear the Broussard’s approach because of its 9-cylinder radial engine, large two-bladed prop, and relatively slow speed. This acoustic signature proved a distinct disadvantage in the Algerian War, because it could be heard from a long distance and gave plenty of time for the enemy to prepare their ground fire. Adding armor plating only slowed it down further and decreased its useful load. In non-wartime scenarios, the current owners of the Broussard I flew, Jeff and Lynnda Martin, assured me that the loud R-985 droning is ideal for lulling children to sleep on long cross-country flights!

PREFLIGHT: Everything about this plane is utilitarian. Steps and handles are ubiquitous! You can climb the spring steel gear legs, grab handles, step on protruding posts, and scramble all the way up to walk down the wings in order to fuel the 60-gallon wing tanks. There is even a handle in the center of the windshield to grab when climbing from the top of the cowling to the top of the fuselage.

Check the Wasp for oil and be sure the lower cylinders do not have hydraulic lock by walking the prop through at least a 9-blade count. The singular fuselage entryway consists of a forward-swinging hinged door joined to a sliding aft door. The aft sliding door can remain open in flight if needed to shoot a crew-served weapon, drop paratroopers, or simply maintain a cool breeze flowing through the cabin on hot days! All back seats are easily removable, which makes for a swift transition from passengers to cargo. Though the Broussard’s exterior is much like a Beaver, the cockpit is a different story. It is equipped with sticks, vice yokes and individual throttle, mixture and prop controls for both pilot and co-pilot (located below their respective side windows). There is a large wheel trim, and the pilot has electrical trim control on the stick. The cockpit even has a handy egress tool in case the plane gets a little bent in a landing accident.

START: Use the electric prime button to get solid fuel pressure, mixture to full rich, master switch on and hit the starter button, counting 9 blades before pulling the magnetos lever all the way up to select both. The R-985 may cough, sputter, cough again, but (with any luck) will eventually begin that harmonious radial chugging. Oil temperature is controlled via a radiator oil bypass valve on the upper left of the instrument panel. Keep the RPM around 800 until oil pressure is up and oil temperature is in the green. And, by the way, unless your French is better than mine, it would behoove you to get out your label-maker and French dictionary for some translation work before you fly!

TAXI/TAKEOFF: There is not a steerable tailwheel, so getting the aircraft moving in the desired direction requires a hefty amount of braking influence. It will lock in place via a detent once it is tracking straight. After a standard runup, line up on the runway and slowly add throttle, making sure you don’t over boost the cylinders with the R-985’s supercharger. The acceleration will not throw you back in the seat, but the lumbering workhorse will eventually gain flying speed. Lift the tail and set climb attitude. When the Broussard is good and ready, it will gently part ways with the earth and produce a 400-700 FPM climb, depending on weight, density altitude, and wind.

FLYING QUALITIES: In flight, the Broussard performs much like a Beaver, but the stick and throttle give a bit more of that “tactical maneuverability” feel. It flies exactly as it should – like a heavy utility bush plane. It trims out well in all three axis and is a pleasure to cruise in! Passengers are rewarded with plenty of room to stretch out and great visibility, which is nice because you are not getting to your destination quickly!

LANDING: It is not difficult to slow the Broussard to flap speed. You simply need to slightly reduce the power, keep the nose up, and program to 50 degrees of flaps by way of the electrical switch on the top left of the panel. The twin rudders make crosswind landings a breeze (pun intended). With 45 degrees of flaps, the ailerons will droop 13 degrees, giving it excellent slow speed controllability. It is your choice between a wheel or three-point landing, although wheel landings provide better forward visibility and the Broussard lands slow enough for most airstrips anyway.

WRAP-UP: The MH.1521 provides similar capabilities to the more well-known de Havilland Beaver at a fraction of the cost. It tends to generate a loyal following, and owners hold on to them for many years. So, if you are looking for a durable machine that easily hauls passengers and gear into the backcountry, try to get your hands on a Max Holste Broussard!

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