The Farman NC.223 was the most advanced entry in the F.221/F.222 series to see active service during the Second World War, and carried out the first Allied bombing raid on Berlin.
The NC.223 was produced in several different versions, both military and civil. Its basic configuration was similar to that of the F.221 and F.222, with a large high mounted wing and four engines carried in two nacelles mounted on low-mounted stub wings (one pusher and one puller engine in each nacelle). The main wing was redesigned. The F.221 and F.222 had featured a massive wing, with a rectangular central section and tapering wing tips. The wing on the NC.223 had straight trailing and leading edges, both tapering towards a point. The tail was also altered, with the single vertical control surface of the earlier aircraft replaced with a twin-tail.
The first prototype, NC.223.1, was a long-distance mail-carrier, which made its maiden flight in June 1937 and was used on the route between Brazil and West Africa. The change in designation from F.222 to NC.223 was caused by the nationalisation of the French Aircraft industry. Farman became part of SNCAC, and the N.C. stood for Nord Centre.
The second prototype, NC.223.01, was a bomber. It was powered by four Hispano-Suiza radial engines, had a similar nose to the F.222.2, and had provision for defensive armament and an internal bomb bay. It made its maiden flight on 18 January 1938.
Two different production versions of the bomber were proposed. The NC.223.2 was to have been powered by four Gnome-Rhone radial engines, but none were built. A batch of eight NC.223.3 BN.5 (five seat night bombers), powered by four Hispano-Suiza 12Y-29 V-12 inline engines, was built for the Armée de l'Air. These aircraft had a modified version of the nose used on the F.222.2. The top of the nose sloped down from the cockpit, to improve the pilot's view. A 7.5mm machine gun was carried in the top of the nose, above the glazed bomb-aimers position. The distinctive 'step' seen on the F.221 and earlier versions of the F.222 was gone, and the fuselage thus had a smooth floor from nose to tail. The main defensive firepower was provided by two SAMM type 109 powered turrets, each carrying one Hispano 404 20mm cannon. This made it the only French heavy bomber to have powered turrets at the start of the Second World War. The NC.223.3 was used alongside the F.222 in Groupement de Bombardement 15. The surviving aircraft then escaped to North Africa just before the French collapse, and were used by the re-named Groupement de Transport I/15.
The final version of the NC.223 was the NC.223.4 mail plane. Despite being built as a civilian aircraft, it would be one of these aircraft that carried out the type's most daring raid. The NC.223.4 had a well-streamlined pointed nose, and a larger twin-tail than the NC.223.3. Only three of them were built, and in May 1940 they were transferred into the Aéronavale, forming Escadrille B5, based at Orly. The three aircraft were to be used as long range reconnaissance and bomber aircraft, although only one, the Jules Verne, was actually converted to carry bombs. On the night of 7-8 June 1940 this aircraft became the first Allied aircraft to bomb Berlin, dropping 2 tons of bombs on the city.
After the French collapse the NC.223.4s were used as transport aircraft, flying between North Africa and France. During the Allied invasion of Vichy Syria in 1941 a number of the NC.223s were used to transport equipment to Syria, flying via Greece and Italy.
Stats for NC.223.3
Engine: Four Hispano-Suiza 12Y-29 12-cylinder inline engines
Power: 910hp each
Wing span: 110ft 2in
Length: 72ft 2.5in
Height: 16ft 8in
Empty Equipped Weight: 23,259lb
Maximum Take-off Weight: 42,329lb
Max Speed: 249mph
Cruising Speed: 174mph
Service Ceiling: 26,245ft
Range: 1,491 miles
Armament: One 7.5mm machine gun in nose, two 20mm cannon, one in dorsal and one in ventral turret
Bomb-load: 9,237lb internally