Henri Deplante first met Marcel Dassault in 1930, when he applied for an aircraft-designer job that Marcel Bloch (the company that later became Dassault) had posted in Les Ailes, an aviation periodical. His early assignments included the first metal planes, and he was on the team that built the triple-engine MB 60 for the postal service in a staggering seven months. From 1930 to 1940, he worked on the MB 80 air ambulance and myriad prototypes.
After the Armistice, Deplante successively withdrew to Bordeaux, Châteauroux and Mandelieu with a team of engineers. The invasion of the free zone in 1942 prompted him to leave France for Spain. A suite of events then led him to England, where he joined Britain’s SAS shock paratrooper squadron. On June 6, 1944, he was parachuted into Brittany with Colonel Bourgoin.
He fought to thwart the German retreat, and served in several high-risk missions. He was released from military duties in March 1945, and joined SNCASO as technical director. He reshuffled the engineering department and built the first jet-powered fighter planes (the Triton, Espadon and Vautour), as well as the SO 30 Bretagne transport plane. A succession of four SNCASO chairmen in the four ensuing years disheartened him, and in 1949 he finally agreed to take Marcel Dassault up on his offer to join the Dassault ranks again. He ran the engineering department here for 32 years, until 1981.
At the age of 42, he was promoted to technical general director and teamed up with Jean Cabrière, a young engineer. Together, they kicked off the splendid epic of Dassault planes. Deplante headed the aircraft’s development skillfully – and successfully. No detail of the Falcon, Mercure, or indeed any aircraft between the Ouragan and Mirage 2000 programs, escaped his attention.
He is remembered as a hard-working man who mentored his team with tactful authority and enthusiasm. He was the motor behind much of the company’s quality-driven expansion which Marcel Dassault often recalled as packed with hurdles. Deplante negotiated every one of those pitfalls ; his success at doing so earned Dassault a high-ranking place among the worldwide military and commercial aircraft sector’s leading firms.
Henri Deplante was awarded the title of Legion of Honor Commander, held a Resistance medal, 39-45 War medal with 3 bars and 1 star, Britain’s Distinguished Service Order, and an Aeronautical Service medal.
He died on March 16, 1996.