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The Potez is brand-new, built from scratch using long-lost French blueprints

Perhaps because the low-hanging fruit has all been plucked—the P-51s, Corsairs, B-25s and various Grummans already restored to airworthiness—one Texan who happens to be a Frenchman has put into the air a warbird that some of us have never heard of: a Potez 63-11 recon twin that might be characterized as the OV-10 Bronco of the late 1930s. And no, Jean-Marie Garric didn’t put this Potez back into the air, his Potez is brand-new, built from scratch using long-lost French blueprints.

If aircraft restorers are craftspeople, scratch-builders are the artists of the warbird world, and Garric came to the Potez project having already sculpted a pair of Allison-engine Yak-3 fighters from the ground up. The Potez first flew in early July, from Garric’s home base at Harlingen, Texas, in a trio of cautious liftoff/re-land hops on 5,000 feet of runway. True to the plans in nearly every other way, Garric’s 63-11 does have Pratt & Whitney R-985 Twin Beech engines, which are doubtless vastly more reliable than the original Gnôme & Rhone 9-cylinder radials.

The Potez was…well, let’s say interesting-looking, in a Gallic way. Some of the fighter and light bomber variants were more attractive than the 63-11, which was humpbacked in order to put the pilot’s position higher than the observer’s unusual glassy nose. The 63-11 has been called “an elegant and graceful coffin for its crews,” for though it was the fastest observation airplane in the world, it was still slower than the Me-109, which shot down 63-11s in droves, the heaviest losses of any French World War II type. One version reportedly carried nine guns, making it one of the most heavily armed warplanes of its time. (Some sources say 12, but that is doubtful.) That gun gallery was still not enough to make them any more successful than the Messerschmitt Me-110, another “fighter” twin of the time.

The Potez will live forever in literature nonetheless. Antoine de Saint-Exùpery wrote evocatively of trying to survive while flying a Potez 637, the direct predecessor of the 63-11, in his classic book Flight to Arras.