The Seguin brothers and the industrial adventure of the Omega engine: Safran gets back to its roots
Louis and Laurent Seguin came from a long line of engineers who had played a large part in developing French industry. Their grandfather, Marc Seguin, for instance, was responsible for the very first French railway line which made it possible to experiment with steam-powered locomotives.
In the early 1900s, the Seguin brothers, both newly qualified from the Ecole Centrale de Paris, joined forces to build engines for various industrial applications. In 1905, they set up "La Société des Moteurs Gnome" and, together, set themselves a challenge: to make the first airplane engine that really works. Indeed, up until then, the majority of engineers had tried to adapt automobile engines for the aerospace sector – but to no avail. Thinking outside the box, the Seguin brothers decided to start from scratch and to invent a lightweight, robust and powerful engine, specially designed for airplanes.
The first airplane engine that really worked
In 1907, they initiated the project to make a rotary engine for airplanes: the Omega. Novel on the account of its architecture (the engine cylinders radiated outwards from a central crackcase), the engine was, above all, an incredible feat of engineering! To make it work, the Seguin brothers went as far as to design their own type of steel, capable of resisting the centrifugal force.
From the moment it was released, the Omega proved to be extremely popular. In 1911, the French Air Force adopted the Gnome engines and, as early as 1912, the first manufacturing licenses were sold abroad. As a result, in 1914, the company of the Seguin brothers held a third of the global aircraft engines market and the Omega accounted for 60% of engines powering airplanes used in France.
The unit price was ₣13,000 (which would equate to more than €40,000 in today's currency).
More than 30 records broken!
In addition to being a commercial success, the engine enabled some of the heavyweights in the aviation industry to flaunt their stuff by breaking several records.
- 1909: Henry Farman broke the world record for distance and duration using an airplane manufactured by Voisin that was powered by the Omega engine: 180 km in 3 hours and 5 minutes.
- 1910: Henri Fabre got the world's first seaplane powered by this engine to take to the skies from the Étang de Berre.
- 1910: Léon Morane became the first pilot to fly at 100 km/h in a Blériot monoplane powered by an Omega engine.
In a nutshell, the Omega engine broke more than 30 records!
In 1915, the Société des Moteurs Gnome merged with its main competitor Le Rhône to become Gnome & Rhône. In 1945, the company was nationalized and renamed Snecma. In 2005, the merger of Snecma and Sagem resulted in the creation of Safran. The Group now inherits this long tradition of research for the benefit of increasingly efficient air transport. The latest-generation LEAP® engine* is something of a distant successor to the Omega…
* Developed and produced in partnership with GE within CFM International.