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The Fouga CM.170 Magister was developed to perform both basic and intermediate training activities. It is a compact, tandem seat aircraft with performance akin to larger, more powerful aircraft. Comparatively, it was a higher performance aircraft than the rival British-built BAC Jet Provost, and was considered by the Aviation magazine Flight International to be comparable to Fokker S.14 Machtrainer. It featured a distinctive butterfly tail configuration; a conventional tail was tried but found to be aerodynamically inferior at higher speeds. A keel fitted under the rear fuselage functions to reduce the negative dihedral effect of the butterfly tail during rudder applications.
The Magister was powered by a pair of Turbomeca Marbore turbojet engines, which provided 880 lb of thrust each; it was promoted as offering "twin-engine safety with single-engined flying characteristics". The two engines, which were placed close to the centre line, produced very little asymmetric thrust as a consequence; this was viewed as a valuable safety feature for a trainer aircraft. While viewed as an uncommon instance, in the event of a single-engine flameout the relighting procedure was relatively quick and easy to perform. The rate of acceleration and rate of climb were less than contemporary frontline jet fighters, such as the de Havilland Vampire and Gloster Meteor, but was in excess of many of the previous generation of piston-engined trainer aircraft. The engines shared a common fuel system, but had independent oil systems; for extended range, tip tanks were provided as standard equipment.
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