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The story of Safran Power Units


Microturbo, now Safran Power Units, is the world’s leading producer of power systems for civil and military aircraft. The company was founded in 1961 by James Gaston Bayard.

Assembly hall for the TRI60 on the Toulouse plant

Back to the beginning: the Nöelle 60 turbo-starter

Starter Noelle 60

James Gaston Bayard was born in 1914. After serving in the French navy for eight years, he earned an aeronautical engineering degree and worked for EERA, which would later become the Toulouse aeronautical test center. In 1945, he founded SEMCA (Société d'Etude de Matériel de Contrôle Aéronautique), which became the first French company to specialize in air conditioning for aircraft. 

During the 1950s, large jet engines were becoming so powerful that they could no longer be started with electric starters using the aircraft’s own batteries. SEMCA developed an air starter that operated for the few seconds needed to spool up the engine. The company quickly embarked on the design of a turbine engine offering continuous operation. On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1960, the first standalone starter ran on a test rig: in honor of the holiday, it was called Noëlle 60.

Starter Noelle 60 at the test bench with vibrations

This turbo-starter was based on a small gas turbine, itself started by an electric motor powered by the aircraft’s batteries, and using the plane’s jet fuel. With this system, pilots could start engines from the cockpit, without requiring any ground support equipment.

The Noëlle 60 starter was used on various versions of the ATAR jet engine powering the Dassault Aviation Mirage III, IV, V & FI, Etendard and Super Etendard aircraft. It was housed in the engine’s nose cone. This new technology reduced startup time to about 20 seconds for the ATAR – very fast for the time – giving the Mirage one of the fastest takeoff times in its class. Several models of the Noëlle 60 were then developed to match other variants and other engines: Noëlle 80 for the ATAR 9K and 9K50; Noëlle 180 for the M53 powering the Mirage 2000.

Tests on the ATAR 9C for the Dassault Mirage III B and C were so successful that James Gaston Bayard founded the company Microturbo on November 1, 1961. Based at the Pont de Rupé site in Toulouse, the company gradually grew from its initial team of 15 dedicated employees to a workforce of 337 by the end of the decade.

Microturbo : the factory in Toulouse
Production floor of the Toulouse plant
 4569MIC : Microturbo, Production floor of the Toulouse plant
4569MIC : Microturbo, Production floor of the Toulouse plant
© Espace Patrimoine Safran
Test bench on the Toulouse plant
4558MIC : Microturbo, test bench on the Toulouse plant
4558MIC : Microturbo, test bench on the Toulouse plant
© Espace Patrimoine Safran
Assembly hall for the TRI60 on the Toulouse plant
3797MIC : Microturbo, Assembly hall for the TRI60 on the Toulouse plant
3797MIC : Microturbo, Assembly hall for the TRI60 on the Toulouse plant
© Espace Patrimoine Safran

A pioneering decade

 Turbomoteur Emeraude au banc d'essais

Microturbo’s first decade saw the development of a number of landmark products.


1964: Development starts on a turbine engine for auxiliary and backup functions on the Concorde supersonic transport, called Emeraude. It would not go into production, but Microturbo engineers drew valuable thermodynamic, environmental and functional lessons from its development.

1965: Microturbo wins a binational competition to provide the starting system for the two Adour jet engines on the Sepecat project, which would lead to the French-British aircraft, Jaguar, Hawk and Goshawk.

1966: Endurance tests of the Saphir 4-2 auxiliary power unit (APU) for the Mystère 20 business jet, renamed the Falcon 20. This continuously operating turbomachine is the logical evolution of a starter that only operates during the first few seconds of the starting process.

Fauvel AV45-1 aircraft equiped with turbojet engine Eclair

1967: First flight of the Charles Fauvel A45-01 motor glider, fitted with an Éclair jet engine, adapted from the original Emeraude turbo-starter.

1968: Part of Microturbo’s design department joins competitor Sermel. The British Aircraft Corporation’s (now BAE Systems) Jaguar makes its first flight.

1970: Development of the TRS18, a small jet engine designed for the Caproni A21J motor glider, designed by Sermel, rated at 200 to 325 lb of thrust.

1971: Éclair jet engine powers the Diamant D18 motor glider.


Bede BD-5J aircraft equiped with turbojet engine TRS18

In 1972, Microturbo acquired Sermel and renamed it IDA – Innovation et Développement Aérothermodynamique (aerothermodynamic innovation and development).

American kit plane manufacturer Jim Bede ordered 2,000 TRS18 engines for the Bede 5J minijet – but the project was cancelled, despite earning certification in 1975. This small jet engine with a centrifugal compressor was first intended for small jet trainers, but would eventually find another application, on the Meteor Mirach 100 target drone.

Turbojet engineTRI60

Marc Faury, Ingénieur Général de l’Armement (Chief Scientist, Defense), joined Microturbo in the early 1970s, spurring development of the TRI60, a small jet engine for target drones and missiles. A small-diameter single-spool turbojet with a three-stage axial compressor, it developed about 675 lb of thrust. It was initially intended for the Aerospatiale C22 target-drone. First ground tested in 1974, the TRI60 would prove very successful, including applications on the BAE Dynamics (now MBDA) Sea Eagle, the Saab RBS15 Mk11 and the Beech AircraftDynamics (now Raytheon) MQM 107B.

IDA was folded back into Microturbo in 1977.

From a family-owned business to an international company

Mirage 2000 aircraft equiped with Microturbo Noelle 180

In 1978, Microturbo launched development of the Noëlle 180 starter for the Mirage 2000’s M53 engines, designed and built by Snecma (now Safran Aircraft Engines). Deliveries started five years later, in 1983.

That same year, Microturbo kicked off the design of the TGA15 APU for the Gripen fighter from Swedish company Saab. This auxiliary power unit provided compressed air to start the engine, as well as generating electrical and hydraulic power to check flight controls on the ground.

The TRI60 family would undergo various upgrades during the 1980s, including a version with four axial compressor stages.

James Gaston Bayard sold Microturbo to Labinal in 1985, making it part of a large international company. Microturbo continued to grow, with more than 600 employees by the end of the 1980s.


Advertisement for Microturbo APU aiborne applications

In 1990, Microturbo transferred operations and personnel from the former Sermel facility (“Micro 2”) to an expanded Pont de Rupé site. However, the company launched two restructuring plans (in 1991 and 1998) to better match capacity to business volume, reducing the workforce to 398 employees by the end of the decade.

1992: Bombardier selects the Saphir 20/327 APU for the Canadair CL415, which makes its first flight the following year.

1994: First flight of MBDA’s Apache cruise missile, powered by the TRI60-30.

1995: The Rubis 3 APU is designed for ground air conditioning and ground or in-flight starting of the twin M88 engines powering France’s new Rafale multirole fighter. It also supplies 6kVA of alternating current on the ground. That same year, Eurocopter chooses the Saphir 20/095 APU for its Super Puma/Cougar helicopter (AS332/AS532).

1997: The TRI60-30 is chosen to power MBDA’s Scalp EG and Storm Shadow cruise missiles, while derivative engine TRI60-20 powers the first flight of the Raytheon Super MQM target drone.

1998: The TRI40 powers the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) from KDA (Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace) of Norway.

Innovation and growth, with an increased focus on civil aviation

Snecma acquired Labinal in September 2000, making Microturbo a subsidiary of Turbomeca; in 2005, both become part of Safran, created by the merger between Snecma and Sagem.

APU Saphir 100

2002: Eurocopter chooses the Saphir 100 APU for the NH90 helicopter from NHIndustries, which made its first flight in 1995. Alenia Aermacchi selects the Opale-3 APU and ATS-346 starting system for their M346 trainer.

2004 : Microturbo enters the civil aviation market. Snecma chooses the ATS-337 system for the PowerJet SaM146 engine powering Russia’s Sukhoi Superjet 100 regional jet, as well as the ATS-334 starting system for the TP400 turboshaft engines powering the A400 military airlifter.

2005: First flight of the Naval Strike Missile from KDA (Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace), powered by the Microturbo TR40 jet engine, also chosen for MBDA’s Exocet Block III missile, which will make its first flight the following year.

2006: 1R60-5 turbojet engine chosen to power the RBS15 Mk3 missile from Saab Bofors Dynamics.

2007: Launch of a “more electric” e-APU project for new-generation business jets. This new APU heralds an emerging family of APUs that will enable Microturbo to further diversify into the civil aviation sector. 

2008: First flights of pre-production aircraft, the Alenia Aermacchi M346, and the Sukhoi Superjet 100, powered by SaM146 engines using the ATS-337 starting system. A TR60-5 jet engine powers the supersonic BQM167X target drone from CEi.

2009: Agusta-Westland chooses the e-APU for its AW149 helicopter, then for the AW189 in 2011.

2011: Partnership with Hamilton Sundstrand kicks off on APUs for business jets, especially the Bombardier Global 7000 and 8000.

2016: Microturbo becomes Safran Power Units, as Safran changes its company names.