The Story of Safran Aero Boosters
Safran Aero Boosters designs, develops and produces sub-assemblies, equipment and test benches for aerospace engines. However, the original business of this Liege-based company had nothing to do with aeronautics, it was specialised in the manufacture of weapons.
The Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre
A group of Liege gunsmiths with particularly recognised expertise founded the Fabrique Nationale d'Armes de Guerre (FN – National War Arms Factory) on July 3, 1889 in Herstal, in response to an order from the Belgian army to manufacture 150,000 repeating rifles. In 1897, FN began working with the American arms designer John Moses Browning.
Two years later, FN began designing motor vehicles: cars, motorbikes, lorries, trolleybuses and military vehicles. The new Pré-Madame plant, built in 1928, was designed for automobile manufacturing.
In 1929, at the request of the Belgian government, FN built a factory for military ammunition and artillery casings near Bruges; at the same time, it set up a firing range, which had been established at Houthalen but was transferred to Zutendaal on the eve of the Second World War. After the war, the American army entrusted the FN with the refurbishment of light weapons for American troops in Europe. In one year, more than 2,100,000 weapons were overhauled in this way.
From the Engine Division to Techspace Aero
Created in 1949, FN's Engine Division began building turbojet engines, becoming the only engine manufacturer in Benelux. It manufactured Rolls-Royce Derwent jet engines for the Gloster Meteor twin-engine aircraft used by the Belgian air force. It went on to produce other engines, including those for the Fouga Magister and the F-104 Starfighter. The latter are powered by a General Electric J79 engine, which FN manufactures under licence. A test bench for these engines was inaugurated at the Liers factory in 1961.
FN took its first steps in the space industry in 1964. It took part in the ELDO (European Launcher Development Organisation) programme and, in collaboration with Rolls-Royce, manufactured parts of the Blue Streak engine for the first stage of the Europa rocket. Ten years later, FN signed an agreement with the Société Européenne de Propulsion (European Propulsion Company) to manufacture various engine components for the Ariane 1 rocket. The Engine Division participated in various Ariane programmes in the years that followed. In the mid-1980s, a specialised department was created, with staff entirely dedicated to space activities.
Between 1968 and 1973, the Engine Division subcontracted the partial production, assembly and testing of Snecma ATAR engines for the Mirage V planes ordered by Belgium. The short duration of the programme did not prevent the introduction of new techniques into the company, and marked the first contact with Snecma, which later became a majority shareholder in Techspace Aero. In the early 1970s, the Engine Division also took part for the first time in a civil aircraft program: the development of the CFM56 engine.
In 1977, Belgium's purchase of more than a hundred F16 aircrafts gave FN the opportunity to carry out partial production, final assembly and testing of the Pratt & Whitney F100 engines fitted to these aircrafts. The investment in this programme led to the relocation of the assembly site to Milmort, a few kilometres from the historic Herstal site and in the immediate vicinity of the Liers test centre. The new facilities were inaugurated in 1979.
At the end of the 1980s, FN refocused on the arms industry and decided to divest part of its activities. FN Moteurs became an independent company in 1987. Two years later, Snecma became the majority shareholder, and in 1992 the company changed its name to Techspace Aero.
Joining Safran Group
From the 1990s onwards, the company specialised in the design and production of jet engine parts and sub-assemblies, the design and manufacture of equipment, and services (maintenance, repair, testing).
The Snecma group merged with Sagem in 2005 to form the Safran group. In 2016, Techspace Aero changed its corporate name to Safran Aero Boosters.