The Dassault Systemes Success Story – Part 2

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Dassault Aviation

If you were an ambitious engineer in the 60’s the best place for you to be in Dassault Aviation was the Design Office.

The Design Office in the 60’s

That was where you learned how to design a new aircraft, using a pencil, a paper and a drawing board. But I preferred to join a newly created department called “Advanced Studies Division”. There the engineers optimized the performance of the airplane through theoretical and experimental aerodynamics. In such a department, you had to enjoy playing with sciences and mathematics.

During the 60’s and the 70’s, the work activity at Dassault Aviation was incredible. We designed and built a new military airplane for the Air Force almost every year: Mirage III, Mirage IV, Mirage V, Mirage G, Mirage F, Alpha Jet… This is quite different from what happens nowadays. During the cold war, the threat from the East was strong enough to justify the launch of new airplanes, either for advanced demonstrations or for mass production, nearly every year. Nowadays, the time span has been extended to decades and may become a half century! Also Dassault developed a new generation of advanced business jets: Falcon 10, Falcon 20 and a commercial mid-range, twin engine jet: Mercure. The commercial jet was a unique attempt of Dassault to enter into the commercial airline market and is now in the hands of Airbus. These days, due to the decline in the military market, the main and very successful business of Dassault Aviation is the Falcon product line.

An airplane must be optimized to fly securely as fast as possible, as far as possible, at the lowest possible cost and according to its mission. This means that we needed to be at the leading edge of technologies and innovation, to compute and optimize the behavior of the airplane. We were therefore the first enterprise in France to massively invest in computers and software in the early 60’s. In 1968 we installed the first two interactive graphic terminals in Europe, called IBM 2250, connected to the first generation of the IBM mainframe computers.

But with the first computers, there was no software to run any application. They were just huge hardware devices with a basic operating system. We knew how to manipulate mathematics. We knew how to predict a theoretical aerodynamic flow with a set of equations. But we had only a rudimentary knowledge of software development. Therefore, we progressively learned how an aerodynamics specialist must become a software developer to resolve aerodynamics problems.

We also had another challenge. How do we use a computer to define the shape of an airplane which is the input to aerodynamics analysis? How do we define a curve, a surface, with mathematics and then with software? This is where I found my mission: To invent the mathematical algorithms, and then to develop the computer programs to define, manage and use complex shapes like the wing profiles and surfaces, the fuselage. Basically, the entire skin of the airplane. This was the emergence of CAD (Computer Aided Design).

Aerodynamic analysis

A solid structural part

CAD, born from an aerodynamics requirement, becomes a mandatory tool within the company. In the early 70’s, I headed a team to define numerically the shape of the airplane, for the aerodynamics specialists and the stress analysis specialists, and finally also for the Design Office. Here, it was an input from the 3D master geometry of the airplane to the 2D drawings defining all the details of the structure and components.

Part 3 >>