Setting up the Société des Avions
Marcel Dassault company
Having been absent from the aircraft building industry since 1940, Marcel Bloch brought himself up to date as regards developments in techniques. On his return from deportation, his only wish was to get back into business as an aviation manufacturer. Still convalescent, he began to rebuild a team and his company. From May to December 1945, he purged the accounts of Société Anonyme des Avions Marcel Bloch (SAAMB) and then reorganized it incorporating the Saint-Cloud, Boulogne and Talence factories.
Times were difficult and industrial activity was held back by economic difficulties: rationing of raw materials, energy and premises.
Post-war working conditions
As Guy Audrain recalls, the initial successes were all the more praiseworthy in view of the precarious working conditions of the time:
“Telephone trunk lines were virtually unusable, journeys were long and exhausting, office supplies were delivered in dribs and drabs – when there were any -. We sometimes had to buy our own drawing pins and there was no paper for notes, calculations or schedules other than on the back of obsolete drawings; we only had one tiny lever-operated calculator, that was reserved for the accounting department moreover”
Georges Brian, test pilot at Bordeaux-Mérignac, describes the working conditions as he saw them:
“We had a quarter of a bombing-gutted hangar that we shared with Air France and the Chamber of Commerce coaches. The roof had holes all over the place. One morning, we found the prototype [MB 303] three quarters covered with snow! The winter of 1946-1947 was cold and we warmed ourselves up in Maurice Fayant’s [the runway chief’s] storage room with a home-made stove running on old sump oil. Some time later, the flight trials section was set up in a room in a wooden shed located behind the old airport. One night, I was awoken by a phone call from the caretaker telling me: “Mr Brian, your office has gone. The building burned down during the night. It’s now only 6 inches tall!”
A new company set up
In Talence, the factory used to do some subcontracting work for the Latécoère, SNCASE and SNCASO companies, while the design office worked on a two-engined military training and liaison aircraft. The Saint-Cloud factory developed prototype propellers and engines with the participation of the Boulogne establishments.
On November 10, 1945, the shareholders of Société Anonyme des Avions Marcel Bloch, meeting during an extraordinary general assembly observed that “the société anonyme company form did not correspond to the nature of their group in which relations between people were becoming prevalent”. They then decided to change the company to a limited liability entity called Société des Avions Marcel Bloch (SAMB). To facilitate the managing of his Company, the factories of which were spread between Saint-Cloud, Boulogne and Talence, Marcel Bloch set up subsidiaries.
The Société des Avions Marcel Bloch company became what is known as a “holding” company, leasing its factories (land and buildings) to subsidiaries. Thus on December 6, 1945, the Société des Avions Marcel Bloch company set up the Société des Moteurs et Hélices Marcel Bloch company, the head office of which was located in Saint-Cloud. From December 12, onward it was known as Saint-Cloud Avions Marcel Bloch. On the same day, the companies Boulogne Avions Marcel Bloch in Boulogne-Billancourt (Seine) and Talence Avions Marcel Bloch in Talence (Gironde) were set up in accordance with the same articles of association. The Marcel Bloch company became Marcel Dassault on January 20, 1947.
Anecdote : Jean Cabrière recalls the Company’s state of mind at the time
” Despite the precarious conditions of our installation, the souvenirs of these beginnings remain among my best: on the waste ground between the Saint-Cloud grand hall and the Seine, there was fairly dilapidated “1900 suburbs” style pavilion with wood paneling, in which Louis Blériot once lived. The design Office had installed its few drawing boards in the only room on the first floor that still had its window panes! Heating was provided by a small cast iron stove. To stop Mr Dassault feeling cold when he came to see our drawing boards, we turned the stove up to red. “
Over the years, Dassault imposed itself as the only company able to supply combat aircraft corresponding to French defense needs. The aircraft built by Dassault provided the impetus for the whole French aviation industry, both state-owned companies and privately-owned subcontractors. The building of aircraft alone or in partnership for national needs avoided the need to make costly purchases from abroad.
Dassault’s industrial rules
Dassault was always in favor of co-operation as long as it was effective, in other words, as long as the prime contractor retained financial and industrial responsibility. Indeed, in a concern to meet the development needs of his industrial activities without “overblowing” his own production facilities, the Dassault company wove close links with several French and foreign companies. Co-operation processes were highly diverse, ranging from straightforward industrial subcontracting to private financial participation.
The Dassault company has thus, from the time it was set up, followed the same industrial rules in:
- providing project leadership for its programs, from the development stage to the delivery stage, and then after-sales service, via the industrialization and mass production phases;
- subcontracting the production of a significant number of series components to subcontractors in France, or sometimes abroad, while reserving 20 to 30% of the airframe, final assembly and flight trials for itself. It basically sought subcontractors for the machining of primary parts and small subassemblies, resorting to medium-sized aviation companies as well as “non aviation” companies, based in the Paris area or in the provinces;
- independently funding the development of prototypes for combat aircraft (Mirage III, Mirage F-1 or civil aircraft (Mystère-Falcon 20 and 10).
- consolidating bases abroad and preparing for future sales by entering into partnerships with a considerable number of European firms (notably in Belgium, Italy and Spain) in miscellaneous programs, in various contractual forms.
From the commercial standpoint, a sales and after-sales service was set up and sought to establish bases in each geographical area. These investments were legally tailored to each case, ranging from the 100%-owned subsidiary to a mere understanding with a local company, and including the continuous Dassault delegation. These departments worked with Government departments and with the USIAS (Union syndicale des industries aéronautiques et spatiales).
The Mirage III, an example of technical and industrial genius
Derived on the basis of the first Mirage which did not meet requirements and retaining its delta wing, the Mirage III was designed at the end of 1955. For its test pilot, Roland Glavany:
“In my opinion, it was on this occasion that Marcel Dassault gave the most brilliant demonstration of his industrial genius:
- decision to launch a more realistic prototype at his own expenses;
- but while bring in the authorities to allow him to use the wing of the Mirage I 02 already in production;
- harass his design office and prototype workshop in working miracles;
- flight test this prototype a year after taking the decision, on November 17, 1956;
- impose it on the authorities by virtue of its intrinsic qualities;impose it on the authorities by virtue of its intrinsic qualities;
- obtain a pre-production order the first aircraft of which, and in fact a new prototype, the Mirage III A 01 flew on May 12, 1958.
This brought together all the qualities of a great industrial entrepreneur”.
For general Georges Grimal, chief of the air force’s equipment program agency in 1949:
“Before the Ouragan, Marcel Dassault was not considered seriously. Afterwards, however, he was taken very seriously, With his great human and technical flair, and his realism and rapidity, he demonstrated that France could make worthwhile achievements in the jet aircraft field. Other companies then began to fade into his shadow and were eclipsed as the projects they presented were incomplete or their aircraft impractical to use. We have placed our confidence in him and his company, and we have not regretted doing so”
Between 1959 and 1965, Dassault and Sud-Aviation worked in partnership on the Community programs, including the Spirale, Voltigeur, Concorde and vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. But it was with the Mystère 20 that they went furthest together. Developed through a program independently funded by Dassault and produced in partnership with Sud-Aviation, the Mystère 20 prototype made its maiden flight on May 4, 1963, in Mérignac. All the aircraft’s fuselages were built by the Sud-Aviation factory in Saint-Nazaire.
The company’s design and production facilities made it one of the leading companies building French aviation equipment. Its business encompassed the whole aviation field. It provided for research and development as well as the building of aircraft, missiles, radars and electronic equipment, engines, servo-actuators and electrical equipment.
The Equipment department and the servo-actuator revolution
Following the initial flight trials of the Mystère II, it was clear that it would difficult for the pilot to exert the forces that would be required by a manual control system: hydraulic assistance had become essential. Marcel Dassault thus fitted the Mystère with servo-actuators but the ones he purchased were not suitable and so he decided to have them manufactured by his Company.
He gave this complex design task to his mechanical design Department, led by Joseph Ritzenthaler. A young graduate engineer from Sup’Elec, Jean-Luc Lagardère, was hired in November 1952 and appointed as his assistant after a spell in the design office. These servo-actuators were a success and paved the way for the success of subsequent aircraft.
In 1959, activities were extended to the building of a number of items of equipment including the hydraulic or hydro-electric servo-actuators that were fitted to all the GAMD aircraft. Tried and tested through hundreds of thousands of flight hours on various types of aircraft, under extreme temperatures and under the most difficult flight conditions, they formed an essential component of the safety of Dassault aircraft.
The latest product of the Engine department: the R 7 Farandole
In February 1953, on seeing that the French engines intended for the future light combat aircraft would not be ready at the same time as the airframes, Marcel Dassault acquired the license for the British Armstrong Siddeley Viper engine that his company developed on independent funds under the name MD 30.
At his request, Joseph Ritzenthaler designed and developed a post-combustion system for the Viper. Six years later, the Engines department completed its latest product, the R 7 Farandole, intended to be fitted to the Méditerranée business aircraft, then in the design stage, and certified in 1960. Its abandonment, as a result of the discontinuing of the Méditerranée liaison aircraft program, put an end to the department’s existence.
The Electronics department becomes an independent company
During the design of the Mystère IV N, which had not yet been fitted with its radar, Marcel Dassault became aware of the contribution a department specialized in electronics could make to his business. On Serge Dassault’s advice, Marcel Dassault hired Bertrand Daugny in September 1954.
The department’s first activity, which it completed in a few months with fewer than 20 people, was to build a nose cone airborne radar called Aladin, for the light interceptor program.
Up to the end of the 1950s, the Electronics department designed a number of airborne units (radar for the Étendard aircraft, airborne radar for the Mirage III which was to be discarded in favor of a competitor’s radar, the first countermeasures radar).
The design of an air-to-air seeker head (homing head for the Matra 530 missile ) began in 1959, marking the start of a range of homing heads which, over the next few years, were to be fitted to virtually all Matra’s air-to-air missiles. At the same time, the department designed and produced an analogue navigation and bombing computer for the Mirage IV’s nuclear payload.
A long series of digital computers was to be fitted, not only to most French combat aircraft, but also to the long range missiles of the Albion platform and nuclear submarines (SSBS and MSBS).
Due to the diversification of its products and the development of the electronics business, GAMD was led to build an establishment in Saint-Cloud, housing the CEREL (Centre d’études et de recherches électroniques), the new name of the Electronics department.
On March 31, 1962, CEREL became an SARL, called Électronique Marcel Dassault and managed by Benno Claude Vallières. The Société immobilière Marcel Dassault holding was the main shareholder. Électronique Marcel Dassault became a société anonyme on January 28, 1963, with Benno Claude Vallières as chairman and Serge Dassault and Bertrand Daugny as deputy managing directors.
From 1945 to 1960, various international conflicts and the tensions between the Eastern and Western blocks brought about new developments in the aviation sector. It was during this period that Dassault came to the forefront on a world-wide level. The combat aircraft had become an instrument of foreign policy.
The impact of the Cold War on the aviation sector
The cold war made its mark on the international context and characterized the world aviation industry:
- the all-powerful United States industry;
- the British industry, still taking advantage of its industrial ability, arising out of the war, to carry out satisfactory programs;
- the European industry (excluding the United Kingdom), unable to meet civil and military needs, and France being the only place in which a serious revival was beginning to take shape.
Mirage III, Mirage F-1 and Mystère-Falcon: symbols of export success
The combat aircraft had become an instrument of foreign policy. During the 1950s, a number of relatively developed countries, notably including India and Israel, wanted to break free from the control of the great powers, and found in France a new style of relations, directed more at assisting their own development.
In December 1958, general de Gaulle was elected as President of the Republic after enacting the constitution of the 5th Republic in October. French combat aircraft programs formed part of his national independence policy. Export had by now become one of Dassault’s main lines of business.
From the 1950s to the end of the 1970s, the company expanded mainly through exports, as follows:
- the average export percentage over the first 15 years (1952-1977) was 58%;
- this percentage increased to 66% (1972-1977) over the last five years;
- the average over the period 1976-1977 even exceeded 75%.
The Mirage III, Mirage F-1 and Mystère-Falcon aircraft were all export successes. The company never began building an aircraft that had not been ordered, just to meet the demands of its customers more rapidly. On the other hand, it would anticipate long cycle procurement orders and began building the ordered aircraft at a rate faster than needed to meet contractual deadlines. This would allow it to shift manufacturing, as and when needed, onto export aircraft.
This method received the approval of partners (Snecma et Thomson) which would begin their manufacturing on the lines of the company’s schedule.