In 1939, many European powers could boast a fighter plane equal or even superior to the German Bf 109. And Belgium was no exception.
Alas, superiority was achieved mostly on paper. In fact, "wonderfighters" designed in Poland and Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Netherlands were either unfledged, or produced in insufficient numbers, or both. And Belgium, again, was no exception. In some alternate universe, although, the Renard fighters could have an edge over the Messerschmitt.
Alfred Renard, a Belgian aviation pioneer, started his own business in late 1920s. In 1928, he built an all-metal monoplane fighter, the Epervier, for a government contest. The first prototype was lost, the second one flew successfully but was rejected in favor of the Fairey Firefly. Renard didn't give up and designed a trimotor airliner for the Belgian Congo connection. This design was judged obsolete and rejected. Third attempt, with the R.31 reconaissance monoplane (see the picture below), brought Renard a government contract - 28 airframes were ordered in March, 1934. Replacing the venerable Breguet 19, the R.31 was very unpopular with flight crews. It's improved version, the R.32, was rejected.
Designed by Alfred Renard as a replacement for the Fairey Firefly in service with the Aviation Militaire, the R.36 was flown for the first time on 5 November 1937. Of all-metal construction and carrying an armament of one engine-mounted 20mm cannon and four wing-mounted 7.7mm machine guns, the R.36 was powered by a 910hp Hispano-Suiza 12Ycrs 12-cylinder Vee-type liquid-cooled engine.
Various modifications were introduced during the test programme - notably the relocation of the radiator bath and the enlargement of the rudder - and, late in 1938, the government took an option on a batch of 40 aircraft. The loss of the prototype on 17 January 1939 resulted in the programme being placed in abeyance and then dropped when the decision was taken to procure Hawker Hurricanes.
With an airframe fundamentally similar to that of the R.36, the R.37 differed primarily in having a close-cowled 1100hp Gnome-Rhone 14N-21 14-cylinder radial engine. Cooling air reached the engine via a narrow annulus, was mixed with exhaust gases and ejected through two groups of nozzles to provide some thrust augmentation. The proposed armament consisted of four 7.7mm or two 13.2mm machine guns mounted in the wings. Although the R.37 was displayed statically at the Salon de Bruxelles in July 1939 (see headline photo), no attempt had been made to fly this prototype before the German occupation of Belgium in May 1940.
The R.37 was discovered at Evere by the occupation forces and a Luftwaffe pilot - possibly unaware that the aircraft had not previously been flown - flew the aircraft to Beauvechain. There is no record of any subsequent flight testing, although it is known that the R.37 was taken to Germany. Prior to the German occupation, Alfred Renard had prepared a project for a two-seat version, the R.37B, for use as a ground attack aircraft.
Finally, the R.38. This sleek fighter was powered by a 1.050 hp Rolls-Royce Merlin II engine giving it a maximum speed of 545 km/h at altitude (first flight - August 4, 1939). It was originally proposed with wings of two different sizes, but the sole prototype retained a similar wing to that of the R.36 and R.37. Armament comprised four wing-mounted 7.7mm or 13.2mm machine guns. Unfortunately no series production was ordered before the German invasion of Belgium. Wearing Belgian military roundels together with the civilian registration OO-ATK the Renard R.38 was extensively tested by Sabca chief-test pilot Burniat. The sole prototype was flown to Bordeaux when the final collapse of Belgian resistance became inevitable, but was scrapped after capture in France by German forces.
The R.40, also powered by a Merlin engine, was not finished prior to German invasion. Its components were captured by the Nazis (other sources say that the protoype was destroyed at Tournai during a German bombing in May 1940).
Alfred Renard resurfaced after the war a consultant of Belgian State Railways and later, as a business companion of another aircraft designer, Jean Stampe. The question if his fighters (built in a right time and in sufficient quantity) could present a real competition to Luftwaffe, is left to alternative history fans.
Source: Virtual Aircraft Museum