The Story of Safran Landing Systems
Safran Landing Systems, formerly Messier-Bugatti-Dowty, is now the world leader in aircraft landing and braking systems. Its history dates back to the creation of the Société Française de Matériel d'Aviation by George Messier and René Lucien Lévy in the late 1920s.
The Société Française de Matériel d'Aviation
Since the early 1920s, George Messier has been studying pneumatic and oleopneumatic devices for shock absorption and remote control. He scored a huge success with the invention of an oleopneumatic suspension system for cars that provided great comfort and good road holding at high speeds. In 1923, he set up Messier Automobiles to market his own "springless" cars, which enjoyed brilliant success in racing. However, they did not enjoy the same commercial success and Messier decided to apply his invention to another field: aeronautics.
After several studies of landing gear shock absorbers and the first patents registered in 1927, George Messier and René Lucien Lévy founded SFMA - Société Française de Matériel d'Aviation.
Levasseur and Farman were the young company's first customers, and then the decision to fit all Potez 25 with Messier shock absorbers in 1932 confirmed its success. In the meantime, SFMA diversified its business by manufacturing wheels and brakes. It was the first company to use cast light metal (aluminium and then magnesium) for aircraft wheels, and then to use this technique for landing gear structures. Nieuport 741, Morane-Saulnier 230 and Bernard aircraft: a growing number of manufacturers, keen to ensure greater safety, incomparable comfort and lower maintenance costs for their aircraft users, adopted messier landing gear and brakes.
In 1929, George Messier built the world's first machine for testing landing gear at constant sink rate. In 1931, he also began work on a laboratory aircraft, the results of which would place him at the forefront of technical progress in the field of landing gear and hydraulic servo systems.
Georges Messier died on 23 January 1933 without seeing the results of his laboratory aircraft, but the company continued to prosper under the management of René Lucien Lévy. Other ancillary activities complemented its main area of production: underflap controls, remote pneumatic or hydraulic controls for weapons, torpedo and bomb release, etc. Alongside aeronautical applications, SFMA also produced hydraulic brakes for cars, lorries and railcars in its new department.
At the beginning of the 1930s, the success of retractable landing gear put the company at the forefront of progress in the undercarriage field by adopting the use of high pressure (150 kg).
SFMA becomes Messier
Messier landing gear and brakes were so well known that it was envisaged that only this name would become that of the company producing them. On April 18, 1935, the newspaper Les Ailes carried an advertisement featuring for the first time an eagle landing on the M of Messier's name, with the name SFMA omitted. The slogan read: "Messier designs - produces - develops the complete landing gear for every aircraft".
In 1935, a government decision required the aeronautical industry to decentralise its activities south of the Loire. René Lucien Lévy decided to set up a manufacturing unit in Arudy (Basses Pyrénées). The workshop covered an area of 400m² and started with a foreman and four Parisian workers, a workforce that quickly grew to 80 employees. The Compagnie Mécanique de la Seine, where more than 150 Messier cars were manufactured between 1925 and 1931, also moved to Pau and worked for SFMA on a contract basis.
By January 1937, SFMA was equipping 90% of French aircraft, a large proportion of Romanian aircraft, and various types of aircraft in Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Portugal, Holland and Poland. It also sold licences in Switzerland, Italy (where it equipped all modern Savoia-Marchetti aircraft), Belgium (to LACEBA) and Romania (to SEMAT).
In April 1937, Louis Sylvio-Marie Armandias, director at SFMA since 1934, opened an office in London called the "Messier Aviation Engineering Company" to promote Messier products. The first result was that Bristol chose Messier landing gear to equip its British bomber, the Blenheim.
On 13 December 1937, SFMA officially took the name of its founder and became Société Messier. Yvonne Bonnami, George Messier's widow, was appointed Chairman, while René Lucien Lévy remained Chief Executive and Technical Director.
The Second World War led René Lucien Lévy to abandon the development of non-aeronautical patents. In July 1938, Messier was producing 25 to 30 landing gear units per month; in May 1940, the last month of production, the company delivered 520 landing gear units. To achieve this, decentralisation stepped up in 1938 with the creation of the Bidos plant and in 1939 with the aluminium foundry at Arudy. Then in November 1939, an underground assembly plant was set up near Saumur.
With the armistice, the Saumur factory was abandoned, and René Lucien Lévy set about reorganising a design office on the orders of the French Air Ministry before joining the Free French Forces in October 1942. After his departure, the company was completely requisitioned by the occupying forces, the teams were dispersed and most of the equipment disappeared.
After the war, it took Messier ten years to rebuild its teams, get its factories up and running again, recreate its manufacturing techniques to adapt them to new needs, and finally regain its equilibrium.
In the early 1950s, the Bidos plant became prime contractor for the manufacture of landing gear. In 1959, production of equipment for the Mirage IIIC and IIIR began, followed in 1964 by the launch of the Concorde programme, which required the development of advanced machining, heat treatment and surface treatment facilities.
From Messier-Hispano-Bugatti to Messier-Bugatti-Dowty
Founded in 1909 in Molsheim (Alsace) by Ettore Bugatti, the company of the same name is best known for its automobile manufacturing. In July 1963, when Hispano-Suiza, which had been designing, developing and manufacturing landing gear since 1951, bought the Bugatti brand and factory, the Molsheim site was converted to accommodate aerospace workshops. Hispano-Suiza's landing gear business was transferred to Bugatti. In 1968, when Hispano-Suiza became a division of Snecma, Bugatti became a direct subsidiary of the group.
In the 1970s, the landing gear businesses of Messier and Hispano-Suiza merged to create Messier-Hispano, while wheels and brakes were transferred to Bugatti in Bois-Colombes. The automotive business was sold in 1974. In 1977, when Bugatti was also taken over, Messier-Hispano-Bugatti was created, with 3,000 employees and owned at 71.8% by Snecma.
In April 1987, the company was reorganised into five operating divisions: Technology, Research and Space; Civil Landing Gear; Military Landing Gear and Hydraulics; Systems and Braking; Logistics and Repairs. Activities relating to repairs, hydraulics and medium structures are gradually being brought together at Molsheim. The transition to an organisation based on specialised workshops, which had begun in 1986, continued.
The company was renamed Messier-Bugatti in 1990, and in the same year Messier Services was created to provide technical support and distribute spare parts. In 1993, Snecma and TI Group reached an agreement to merge the landing gear businesses of Messier-Bugatti and Dowty. Messier-Dowty was created in 1996 and acquired by Snecma in 1997.
In the summer of 1998, maintenance and customer service activities were combined to create Messier-Services, owned equally by Messier-Bugatti and Messier-Dowty. Snecma's landing systems activities are divided between three entities:
- Messier-Dowty: landing gear
- Messier-Bugatti: brakes and hydraulics
- Messier-Services: repairs and customer service
In 2005, Snecma merged with Sagem to form the Safran group. In 2011, Messier-Bugatti, Messier-Dowty and Messier Services merged to form Messier-Bugatti-Dowty, which changed its name again in 2016 to Safran Landing Systems.