. LeO 20

Dimensions: wingspan, 73 feet; length, 45 feet, 3 inches; height, 13 feet, 11 inches

Weights: empty, 6,008 pounds; gross, 12,037 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 420-horsepower Gnome-Rhone 9 Ady radial engines

Performance: maximum speed, 123 miles per hour; ceiling, 18,900 feet; range, 621 miles

Armament: 5 x 7.7mm machine guns; 2,205 pounds of bombs

Service dates: 1928-1939


he LeO 20 was the standard French heavy night bomber for over a decade. Although slow and underpowered, it served admirably in a variety of functions.

The Liore et Olivier (LeO) firm was founded in 1912 at Levallois-Perret, and throughout World War I it manufactured various Nieuport, Morane-Saulnier, and Sopwith designs under license. The firm then es­tablished itself as a major force in French aviation design, specializing in large bombers. In 1924 speci­fications were issued for a new night bomber and the firm’s prototype, the LeO 32, proved a rival to the bigger Farman Goliath and just as capable. This was followed by the LeO 122 of 1926, which was not pro­duced but served as a model for a subsequent air­craft, the LeO 20 which was a conventional biplane bomber with three-bay, equal-span wings (a consis­tent LeO trait) melded to a deep, rather rectangular fuselage. The nose housed a gunner’s cockpit while a bombardier’s station was placed directly below him. Two radial engines sat in uncowled nacelles on
the lower wings, to which were affixed large “trousered” landing gear. Despite its appearance, the LeO 20 was stable, handled well, and functioned ca­pably as a night bomber. The French Armee de l’Air eventually acquired 320 of these cumbersome ma­chines, and they formed the backbone of French nighttime attack squadrons for a decade. This func­tional design attracted overseas interest, and seven LeO 20s were exported to Romania.

The reliable LeOs underwent a number of ex­perimental developments throughout their long ser­vice life. The LeO 206 was a four-engine variant that entered production in 1932 with a run of 40 machines. Less successful was the LeO 208, which featured nar­row-chord lower wings, bigger engines, and re­tractable landing gear. It offered better performance than the stock LeO 20 but was not produced. Several machines, designated LeO 201s, were also outfitted for training of parachute forces in 1937. By the advent of World War II, nearly 100 LeO 20s were still em­ployed as target tugs or trainers in North Africa.