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MARCEL DASSAULT 1892-1986 BY THOMAS V. JONES MARCEL DASSAULT ctied on April I8, 1986, in Paris at the age of ninety-four. The father of French aviation ant! a gracI- uate of that nation's first aeronautical engineering school, Dassault was the longtime director of Avions Marce! Dassault-Breguet Aviation, one of Europe's largest aviation companies. In that capacity, he created and proclucecI such high-performance combat aircraft as the Mystere and delta- winged Mirage, a family of planes that today is among the most respecter! and widely operated fighter-bombers in the worIct. Dassault also made important contributions to com- mercial aviation with his Falcon family of executive transport Jets. From 1951 until his death, Marce} Dassault served as a member of the French Parliament. He helct France's highest military award, the Grant! Cross of the French Legion of Honor. He was elected a foreign associate of the National Academy of Engineering in ~ 976 for his "remarkable achievements in the clesign anc! clevelopment of new aircraft for military anal commercial use." Marce! Dassault's vision and extraordinary engineering tal- ents helped to shape the first century of aviation history. He was a true pioneer whose imagination, persistence, anc! man- agement of a(lvancecl aerospace technology are indelibly blenclect into the tricolor banner of the French nation. De- 119
120 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES spite the formidable obstacles and great personal dangers encountered in his ninety-four years, Marce} Dassault re- mained a man of uncommon strength and unwavering prin- ciple with a deep faith in the idea that technology and com- mitment can overcome almost any challenge. Born in Paris on January 22, 1892, Dassault developed an early interest in design and scientific inquiry. At the age of nineteen, he received a degree in electrical engineering and then began to specialize in the new, little-known field of aero- nautics. In the years just prior to World War I, Dassault put his technical skills and aviation ideas to work in the service of the French Corps of Engineers. He was selected to improve the design studies of the Caudron G-3 biplane and, later, to man- age its manufacture. He also developed new designs for more efficient propellers. By 1916 he was producing them, first for the Caudron G-3 and then for the Helice Eclair, the Spad credited with giving French fliers a distinct flying ad- vantage during World War I. After World War I, Dassault set out to fulfill a dream that had begun in the courtyard of his primary school with his first glimpse of an airplane circling the Eiffel Tower. French aviation was about to begin in earnest, and Dassault gathered a small team of design engineers and housed them in an old furniture factory. Soon he had built up a highly successful aviation company, Avions Marcel Dassault-Breguet Aviation, to the point at which the French government nationalized his operations in 1936. In 1940 he produced the Languedoc 6l, a four-engine civil transport plane. A somber shadow was cast on its maiden voyage, however: The Germans marched into Paris, and the occupation of France began. Authorities in Nazi Germany's aviation industry quickly of- L~_ ~ 1 ~~ 1, ~ ! A! ~ 1 _ _ - 1 1 ·1 1 ~ . rat ~ . rerea Assault a position to Resign and bully a Meet ot alr- craft in exchange for his personal freedom and protection. He defied the German high command, however, and refused their offer, spending the war years first in Vichy prisons and then at the Buchenwald concentration camp. At Buchen-
MARCEL DASSAULT 121 wald, he contracted diphtheria, and post-diphtheria paraly- sis plaguer! him throughout the remainder of his life. When the death camp was liberated on April 19, 1945, Dassault was frail and weak, but his dream was as strong as ever. With great courage and a fierce determination, Dassault began again, his first project the design and production of the Ouragan, Europe's first jet. Later he introduced the first European plane to break the sound barrier, the Mystere IV, which was followed by the Mirage ITI, the plane that opened the era of Mach 2 aircraft. The Dassault Mirage, with its pure aerodynamic shape, high performance, and uncompromis- ing attention to detail, became the standard for modern French combat aircraft. The rest is legend. With the introduction of the Mirage A! in 1956, France began to meet its military aircraft require- ments solely through domestic production. Today, it remains the only European nation with an air force equipped entirely with domestically built aircraft. In addition, Dassault's Mi- rage family of combat fighters remains one of France's best export successes. By 1986 Avions Marce! Dassault-Breguet Aviation had built six thousand aircraft for sixty-~?ne coun- tries. Dassault's contributions extend far beyond military avia- tion. His commercial business jets are noted for both per- formance and reliability, and his leadership and industrial management skills enabled Avions Marce! Dassault-Breguet Aviation to bring France to the forefront of the European manned spaceplane program. Always active in French poli- tics, Dassault served his country for thirty years, as a Gaulist deputy and as a senator for the Union des Democrats pour la Republique. In 1967 Marce! Dassault was honored with the Grand Cross of the French Legion of Honor, the nation's highest military award. He was also presented with the croix de guerre 1939-1945 for extraordinary wartime service. In paying tribute to Marce! Dassault, we also pay tribute to that small band of original aviation explorers whose ingenu-
122 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES ity and perseverance enabled the discovery of practical, en- during solutions to previously intractable aviation engineer- ing difficulties. Dassault was an industrial giant, an engineer of exceptional capability, and an aviation genius. Yet most important, he was an inspiration, a resilient man whose cour- age and insight, genius and spirit served the engineering profession, his country, ant! his fellow man with extraorcti- . . . nary ( lstlnctlon.