In view of the fact that Générale Aéronautique Marcel Dassault’s (GAMD) business had, due to the departure of the Electronic department which had become an independent company, refocused on airframes alone, Marcel Dassault considered the name GAMD to be too general, and no longer justified and, on December 15, 1965, decided to restore the company’s original name, Avions Marcel Dassault.
Dassault becomes the main supplier to the Air Force
Having seen off all the competition from state-owned companies, the Dassault company had become the Air force’s main supplier. Dassault’s presence in the combat aircraft field came about as a result of both the quality of the aircraft on offer and produced, and a government choice.
On October 18, 1965, Pierre Messmer, the minister for the Armed services, notified Sud-Aviation’s chairman that his company was to continue to specialize in the field of transport aircraft, helicopters and missiles, adding that it would be damaging to national interests for military aircraft design offices to be set up or developed while the work load of the most active companies in this sector was not guaranteed.
In 1966, the Armed forces ministry, in a concern for industrial rationalization, wanted to continue to specialize companies. Nord Aviation was to devote itself to ballistic missiles, Sud-Aviation to business concerning civil and military transport aircraft and helicopters, and Dassault was to concentrate on combat aircraft and business aircraft.
Purchase of Breguet Aviation
The Government, worried about the development of the Jaguar program, asked Marcel Dassault to buy back Breguet Aviation. On June 27, 1967, the Société des Avions Marcel Dassault company acquired a 66% share in Breguet Aviation’s capital held by Sylvain Floirat and the Penhoet company. On the same day, Breguet Aviation’s Board of Directors appointed Benno Claude Vallières as its chairman.
A merger deal involving Breguet Aviation taking over the net assets of the Société des Avions Marcel Dassault company was signed on July 21, 1971.
The merging and dissolving of the Société des Avions Marcel Dassault company was finalized on December 14, 1971 (with a retroactive effect dating back to January 1, 1971) as a result of the resolutions adopted by Breguet Aviation’s extraordinary general Assembly which approved the merger project, the increase in capital and the resulting statutory modifications. Breguet Aviation’s extraordinary general Assembly also decided to change the company’s corporate name to Avions Marcel Dassault – Breguet Aviation (AMD-BA). Following Marcel Dassault’s death on April 17, 1986, AMD-BA’s Board of Directors appointed Serge Dassault as the new chairman on October 29 of the same year.
During the 1960s, the temperature of the cold War “rose” as a result of interposed countries, notably Vietnam and the Israel/Arab conflict intensified.
The conquering of space, a strategic and media-attracting challenge, supplanted the conquering of the air. During this period, the Dassault company took part in the national revival, by taking on programs, alone or in partnership, that contributed to pulling the French aviation industry up to third place worldwide.
Increase in State benefits
Civil and military sales on the export market allowed the State to buy aircraft at a more affordable price thanks to a longer production series. The final benefits for the national economy were also obvious, as stressed by Benno Claude Vallières:
“When you examine the case of the Mirage III and the amount invested by the State to produce it, and the tooling needed to build it, and you compare this amount to the export market turnover, the latter represents 1.58 %. In other words, for FFr 1.58 invested, the State earns FFr 100 from export sales“.
“For the Mystère 20, if the ratio is calculated taking account of the portion not reimbursed to the State, this represents 2.75 %, for the Mirage F 1 it is 8.12% and for the Mystère 10 it is 10.6 %.”
In 1976, AMD-BA was ranked as the number three French industrial exporter and the top aviation exporter. In 1977, the company won export orders worth French Francs 11 billion. If the orders resulting from AMD-BA’s orders, in other words the orders for the engines, radars and missiles fitted to aircraft (orders placed with Snecma, Thomson – CSF and Matra) are added to this, Dassault – Breguet won export orders worth more than French Francs 16 billion, in other words, a quarter of France’s annual oil bill.
The sale of a Dassault aircraft benefited the French aviation industry as a whole. In reality, the company only produced a relatively minor part of the aircraft bearing its name. It thus acted as an impetus for a complete industrial fabric, extending even further given that each of its components itself subcontracted part of its manufacturing.
The Rand Corporation Report
The Dassault company’s success has intrigued people. Its characteristics have been analyzed abroad, particularly in the United States. In 1973, the US Air force placed an order with Rand Corporation, a Californian research and analysis institute, to conduct a survey of AMD-BA, which was qualified as a company that “is widely accepted as being one of the most efficient western companies in the field of designing and building aircraft”. The aim was to examine and assess the Dassault company, identify its qualities and consider what could, after a certain adaptation, be transposed to the United States.
The report stressed “price, performance, fast delivery and adaptability to a vast range of applications” as being the Company’s “major assets”.
Zoom: The Six Day war
On June 5, 1967, at dawn, a handful of Israeli Mirage III aircraft, accompanied by Ouragan, Mystère IV, Super Mystère and Vautour aircraft, destroyed the main part of the Arab coalition’s aviation in a few hours. The Mirage III aircraft had won a war.
The exploits of the Israeli Mirage pilots had made Dassault a household name in worldwide aviation circles. From then on, Dassault and Mirage were names that were indissociably linked. Associated with France’s external politics, the Mirage III and its derivatives were then highly successful on the export market. Nine hundred and forty four aircraft had been sold or produced under license in twenty or so countries. The embargo decided on by the French government in 1969 put an end to the sales of combat aircraft to the State of Israel.
From 1970 to 1986, the number of prototypes sent up into the air decreased. This normal phenomenon was due to changes in techniques which had reached a level such that virtually all possible configurations had been experimented.
The “trial and error” approach of the 1950s and 60s was no longer needed to find the best solution. The best configurations were already known, in particular thanks to the contribution made by computer technology (CATIA software) which made it possible to define the best characteristics of the models envisaged well before the first flight.
Composite materials were now in widespread use and electrical control systems provided significant improvements in maneuverability.
Computer-aided aircraft design and manufacturing
The Company developed this concept with a novel philosophy: from the outset, it set its sights on industrial manufacturing. These activities were included in the DRAPO (Définition et réalisation d’avions par ordinateur) program that entered industrial service at the end of 1975. In 1978, Jean Cabrière, the managing director, called for the development of a three-dimensional tool.
A new DRAPO system program, the CATI (Conception Assistée Tridimensionnelle Interactive) program was developed by the CAD Department. Used for the machining of complex parts, it was also designed for the manufacturing of wind tunnel mockup parts from outline drawings defined by DRAPO. CATI thus made it possible to design and machine the first wind tunnel wing in four weeks whereas the building of such a model previously took six months.
In 1981, CATI was renamed CATIA (Conception Assistée Tridimensionnelle Inter Active). This computer program made it possible reduce cycle times, improve quality and optimize production efficiencies. A company responsible for developing and marketing this computer program was set up on June 5, 1981: Dassault Systèmes. During the same period, IBM, which was seeking to include a three-dimensional design software program in its catalogue, tested CATIA along with other US and Japanese software programs. In July 1981, it selected CATIA and entered into a non-exclusive distribution contract with Dassault Systèmes.
As a leader in the CAD/CAM field, Dassault Systèmes quickly became one of the front runners in French export companies in the computer sector and even the leader in terms of export turnover.
The use of new materials
New materials emerged during this period. These materials made it possible to reduce structural weight by 30% at a cost price often comparable with conventional products. Dassault thus produced:
- a high-lift flap track made of titanium for the Mercure 100 (weight reduction of 20%);
- a rudder made of carbon laminate for the Mirage III (weight reduction of 23%);
- a curvature flap made of boron fiber laminate for the Mirage F1 (weight reduction of 27%);
- the fin of the Falcon 50 (first aircraft worldwide certified with a vital component made of composite materials);
- a wing of the Falcon 10 (first aircraft worldwide certified with a wing made of carbon).
Electrical flight controls and system integration
Falcon 900 flight control system The Dassault company began to design and develop so-called “fly by wire” flight control systems. This technique made it possible to design unstable aircraft, that could thus not be controlled manually in part of the flight envelopment, with their intrinsic instability being compensated for by computer-controlled flight management. Such computers, acting through an electrical transmission system, sent control signals to servo-actuators controlling the aircraft’s control surfaces in order to maintain complete flight stability.
The first electrical flight control systems were fitted to the Mirage IV, in 1959, but were backed up by a mechanical flight control system. In 1975, the Mirage 2000 was the company’s first “all electric” aircraft to be mass produced. The design of the Mirage 2000 made it possible to operate the flight control system and the radar together. With a terrain-following radar, the pilot no longer touched the controls which were slaved to control signals given by the radar through a computer. The first integration of systems thus came into being. The next stage was to arrange for all systems to be integrated around the central processor as in the case of the Rafale.
From the mid 1960s onwards, the State encouraged a general concentration process in order to promote companies able to rival their international competitors.
In the airframes field, two companies were still be business at the time: Société nationale industrielle Aérospatiale (SNIAS) and Avions Marcel Dassault-Breguet Aviation (AMD-BA).
As a result of the government directives of the minister of the Armed forces, Pierre Messmer, they became specialized in 1965:
- Aérospatiale in civil aviation, helicopters, missiles and satellites,
- and Dassault-Breguet in combat aircraft and business aviation.
Via SOGEPA, the State takes minority interest
In view of these considerations, the Prime Minister, Raymond Barre, announced the State’s decision to acquire a minority share (20 %) in AMD-BA’s capital, at the 1977 Bourget air show. Two years after the Bourget air show announcement, a decree set up the Société de gestion de participations aéronautiques (SOGEPA) company.
As a Société anonyme, it’s role was to manage the shares allotted to it by the State in Société nationale industrielle Aérospatiale’s capital and in AMD-BA’s capital. SOGEPA has a 20% share in Dassault-Breguet’s capital and a 25% share in Aérospatiale’s capital in which the State kept a direct 75% share.
As the nationalization of AMD-BA was one of the first measures envisaged in the parties of the left’s joint Program, François Mitterrand’s election as President of the Republic on May 10, 1981, brought about its implementation.
In 1981, the State increased its stake
Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding signed on October 8, 1981, Société Centrale d’Études Marcel Dassault (SCEMD) transferred 26% of the shares it held in AMD-BA’s capital, to the State free of charge. As the company’s main customer, by way of national defense, the French State was omnipresent as its role was to:
- define the missions to be carried out by the military aircraft it ordered and thus their main technical features;
- finance part of development design studies;
- control the hourly rate used as a basis for billing.
For export sales, the State acted as an essential go-between in relations with foreign countries. CIEEMG (Commission interministérielle d’études des exportations des matériels de guerre), placed under the Prime Minister’s direct authority, allowed it to supervise and authorize the Company’s relations with foreign buyers of military aircraft.