SEGA-Fairey-SONACA: celebrating 100 Years of aerospace activities in Gosselies
Part 1: 1920-1970, the first fifty years

   
Text: Pierre Taquet & Pictures: SONACA via Pierre Taquet Collection -  © sbap 2020
  
On 25 June 2020, we will record 100 Years of aerospace industrial activities on the exact Gosselies site of the today's SONACA. A birthday well worth celebrating, had the COVID-19 world pandemy not jeopardized any plan for a public event of any sizeable dimension. Nevertheless, one can wonder how the company could celebrate 100 years in 2020, when it celebrated 80 years of existence in 2011 ? The answer is simple: over the last decades, the precursor role of the SEGA had been largely forgotten, as well as several wrong assumptions made, such as its supposed demise when Avions Fairey was created in 1931. This was not at all the case, SEGA remained in legal existence and effective activity well later on, being intimately intermeshed into Fairey until 1968 as we shall explain further.

To make a long story short: If Fairey is the "mother" of SONACA, then SEGA is its "Grand Mother" without the slightest doubt. Such multi-generational lineages are quite common in aerospace, but industrial mergers do not always involve geographical persistence and manpower continuity as this is the case here, and over one century. It is this "historical continuity" between these three Gosselies-based companies that we will try to highlight here, focusing on their early days, more precisely the 1920-1970 "first half of a Century" period.

SEGA - short for Societe d'Entreprises Generales d'Aéronautique - was established on June 25, 1920 by a group of Charleroi gentlemen from various horizons:
- Fernand Loescher, industrialist;
- Victor Dupuis, trademan;
- Alphonse Jaumin, accountant;
- Désiré Jaumin, director of "Banque des Reports";
- Arille Carlier, lawyer, and to remain known by history as a supporter of the "Walloon identity";
- André Gobbe, engineer;
- Marius Loiselet, restaurant owner.

Contrary to the general belief, this initial group of shareholders did not involve famous air Ace Commandant Jacquet, who joined the company only the year after. Until his resignation by 10 January 1921, he was still under military orders, in a complex situation described further.

As described in the terms of the "Moniteur Belge", indeed SEGA had a wide scope of intended activities, ranging from air transport including any industrial and commercial related activities, management of airfield and aerodromes, and pilot graduation. On the contemporary Company letter paper, the activities are said to consist in a Pilot school, air tourism, publicity by air (leaflets dropping, "the most efficient advertisement" !) and air photography. "La Conquête de l'Air" magazine also quotes other activities, such as mail and passenger transportation (Charleroi-Paris and Charleroi-London).
 

1918 Cdt Fernand Jacquet 1920: SEGA's first Bessonneau hangars and Caudron C3 training planes
  
The most tangible materializations from this ambitious program are:

- the progressive acquisition of ground parcels from the local owners, a process starting immediately in 1920 and which continued even after Avions Fairey foundation, involving SEGA as such, but also individuals like E.O. Tips and Edouard Tollet, test pilot.

- The operation of the Gosselies aerodrome as a private entity, until taken over in 1947 by the RVA - Regie des Voies Aériennes.

- The acquisition of aircraft, as early as 1920. It was sometimes argued that SEGA was a simple "société d'encouragement" or even an "empty nutshell": certainly not so. Directly after the company's foundation in June, the following aircraft were the first procured and registered to the name of SEGA:
- O-BELA, LVG C VI, registered 28.07.1920 to SEGA;
- O-BOMA, LGV C VI, registered 28.07.1920 to SEGA
- 0-BANC, LVG C VI, initially registered to M. Lecorte on 17.05.1920 and transfered on 30.10.1920 to SEGA.

- The Pilot School, which was effectively the direct contribution of Fernand Jacquet, for which he is universally credited.
Clearly, Commandant Jacquet was bitterly disappointed by the sequence of events following the Great War which he covered as an airman "since day one", i.e. Aug. 1st, 1914 till the Armistice. He performed the largest number of missions (598) and air combats (126), being the first Belgian pilot to score an air victory and the first to become an Ace (5 victories), ending the war with a total of 7. He is also the single Belgian pilot to have received the prestigious Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) during WWI.
Early 1919, the "Groupe de Chasse", then stationed in Schaffen, is disbanded. This fighter group had been created by King Albert himself who gave the command to Cdt Jacquet. He is transfered to the 6th Reconnaissance Divisionnaire Squadron.

On 25.03.2019, the SNETA, for Syndicat National pour l'Etude du Transport Aerien is created, Nelis and Jacquet being its Co-directors. On 11.11.2019, the same acronym is used for a full "Societe Anonyme", Societe Nationale pour l'Etude du transport aerien, possessing a juridical identity. A decision of the Board ( Banque d'Outremer and other stockholders) nominates Nelis as its single director. Jacquet had honestly requested from his military authorities to participate in the constitution of the SNETA, and in the formation of a civil aviation school. By 16.10.1919, as a consequence or not, he is transferred to the "Services Annexes of the Aeronautique Militaire", not the most prestigious assignment. By 01.03.1920 he moves to the 5ème Groupe de Chasse based at Schaffen. By 08.05.1920 He leaves Brussels to Varsovia via Vienna, apparently to perform a military mission for the Polish Government. According one source, Jacquet had requested a 3-month leave to this purpose. At that time, the Russia-Poland war (feb. 1919 - March 1921) is at its heights; wearing the French "Légion d'Honneur" and British "DFC" he may well have been a welcomed participant to the French-British "Interallied Mission for Poland". Increasing difficulties - as seen by the Aeronautique Militaire Post-war chiefs - to conciliate his military and entrepreneurial careers even led to his transfer to the Ground Army, effective by 22.10.1920.

Early 1921, Fernand Jacquet quits the Belgian Army, rejoins the SEGA and creates the civil aviation school which he created as part of it. In July 1921, the ministry of Defense signs a contract with SEGA for the formation of 25 pilot trainees involving at least 25 flying hours and 40 solo landings, a course enabling to obtain the civil license before moving to the military flying school. The first instructors are former war pilots, Fernand Jacquet (Chief Pilot), Louis Robin (one of his observer/gunners in WWI who later graduated as pilot) and Albert Van Cotthem. From 1921 to 1932, the SEGA Flying School will train sixty promotions of future pilots, about 300 students. This agreement - non-exclusive as other civil flying schools such as the one of Jean Stampe in Deurne will emerge - will last until late 1932 when a military flight training Center will be opened in Wevelghem.

On 15.08.1921 and 19.08.1921 respectively, notarial acts for the purchase of land parcels are signed for and on behalf of SEGA by Désiré Jaumin, president, and Fernand Jacquet, Administrateur-Délégué .

On 28.08.1921, King Albert I visits Gosselies by air to celebrate the "birth" of the Pilot School, as related in detail by "La Conquête de l'Air". The most famous picture of this mass-event has been regularly miss-dated 23.08.1920, but no doubt is linked to the freshly signed military pilot formation contract. On 25.10.1921, O-BOTC is registered, the first of 8 Central Aviation CENTAUR IV A, that SEGA flying School will operate.

Everything looks fine so far for Jacquet's civilian career but one year later, on 11.08.1922 (Moniteur published 29.08) the SEGA Board votes to unanimity the nomination of Captain Commandant Franz Russchaert in quality of Director General of the Gosselies airfield, which seems to indicate a new adverse trend.
Three months later, in a letter dated 17.11.1922 to his old friend Edmond Thieffry, Jacquet explains that he had to leave Gosselies "victime de sa bonne foi et du jésuitisme de Van Cotthem", and that he now resides 189 chaussée de Louvain in Woluwe Saint-Etienne, where he is running a chicken farm !
 
1921 August 28th, King Albert I inaugurates the airfield and SEGA flying school
 
The circumstances are unclear, but the move is confirmed by the 03.01.1923 issue of FLIGHT stating that A. Van Cotthem is now the Chief Pilot of SEGA Flying School, now using exclusively Central Aviation Centaurs. And by the way, another Notarial Act dated 15.10.1923, also for land purchase on behalf of SEGA, now quotes JosephTirou, the Burgmester of Charleroi, as its Administrateur-Délégué .

Fernand Jacquet's days in Gosselies seem to be over, but this is only the beginning of the story. His next aeronautical venture takes place on the Belgian Coast, with the creation on 11.01.1924 of ACAZ - Ateliers de Constructions Aeronautiques de Zeebruge. Fernand Jacquet is its Administrateur-Délégué . The objective, unfortunately short-lived, was to develop and produce a novel metallic aircraft for replacement of outdated WWI surplus types. On 04.06.1924, the ACAZ T1 performs its first flight in the hands of Lieutenant Etienne Hage. Twenty days later the plane was destroyed at the end of an Ostend-Brussels flight, due to bad weather. In December 1924, the ACAZ T2 obtains its Navigability Certificate. This derivative of the T1 has a more powerful engine (70 HP), and foldable wings for storage and transport. Due to lack of customer's interest, it will eventually join the SEGA fleet in 1931.

Curiously, in its 21.02.1924 issue, FLIGHT described several aeronautical construction activities taking place in Belgium. The Gosselies Aviation School - SEGA under Commandant Russchaert is building a semi-cantilever monoplane to be equipped with an Anzani 45 HP (sport version) or 70HP (school version - double commande). Fernand Jacquet is said to be at work on a twin side by side seater, all metal aircraft with high wing of thick section, able to be equipped with floats.

The two projects seem to have met the same ill fate, with similar direct or indirect consequences for their initiators: by 13.12.1924, the SEGA board accepts the resignation of Russchaert as General Director. He is replaced ad interim by M. Tricot, Technical Director, whereas Edouard Tollet is empowered for the daily management. The Administrateur-Délégué is Jules Henry.

In the following years, SEGA continued its Flying School activities, complemented by repair work and by 1927, under contract from the Ministry of Defence, assembly of aircraft: AVIA BH-21. In the same year, SEGA also constructs two René Bulté RB.1 prototypes, that apparently were appreciated and sturdy enough to stay several years in the Belgian Register.

On 04.10.1926, during an Extraordinary General Assembly of ACAZ, Fernand Jacquet resigns of his Administrateur-Délégué function. Exactly one month later, on 04.11.1926, a new company, ZACCO - for Zeebrugge Aeronautical Construction Company - is established by incorporation of the ACAZ tangible assets, valuated for 4000 shares, two new investors bringing fresh funds valuated for 3000 shares each. Fernand Jacquet is no longer "part of the play".

A third aircraft type, ACAZ C.2 biplane, had been registered O-BAFX in July 1926 to ACAZ with Jacquet still "in command" before the company dissolution into ZACCO. Intended, but not selected as a new military observation/ fighter aircraft, it was heavily transformed (including a spare propeller under the fuselage) into a raid aircraft. After the disastrous Brussels-Leopoldville raid tentative of Edmond Thieffry by 09.03.1928, ending by a crash merely after a 200 Km distance, the C.2 aircraft was transferred to SEGA, together with the T-2 discussed above, and as stated in a letter to the DTAé dated 27.03.1931. It probably never flew again.

Then follows for Fernand Jacquet something like a come back to Gosselies. There had been some management turnover at SEGA, but his friend Edouard Tollet was still well present. In a 08.04.1930 newspaper article, Jacquet is interviewed as the "Chief of the Gosselies aérodrome", precisely after Edouard Tollet walked out uninjured of a SEGA produced Avia BH-21, following a severe crash landing due to controls failure. Little before, Tollet and Jacquet had suffered together another flight accident, after an engine failure at night in the sector of Bruly-lez-Couvin (close to his home country), also without fatal consequences. However, in the 1930-1933 period, we see no trace of Fernand Jacquet in SEGA Board proceedings, the decision powers being in the hands of Charles Mulder (administrateur) and George Lemaigre (Administrateur-Délégué).
   
1927 Bulte RB 1 1927 Avia BH-21 in front of SEGA installations
 
The next major aeronautical event in Gosselies happens in 1931, with the arrival of Fairey (Hayes) in Belgium, following the selection of their Fairey Firefly IIM as the next Aéronautique Militaire (AeM) fighter. After unsuccessful negotiations with SABCA for the construction of the aircraft to be performed mostly in Belgium, as required by the Government offsets contractual clauses - probably a first worldwide! - The British company decides to establish its own subsidiary to this purpose, la Société Anonyme des Avions Fairey, established 27.08.1931.

The Gosselies site is quite readily selected, due to the pre-existing SEGA establishment, with experimented workmanship and facilities available, and an aerodrome which is its private property. Following the WWI German invasion, Ernest Oscar Tips had expatriated from Belgium to UK where his mechanical skills made him easily employed by an aeronautical subcontractor, then at Short Brothers where Richard Fairey Sr was Chief Engineer. The two became good friends, and Tips followed him when he created the company under his name at Hayes. There E.O. Tips performed a number of duties, reflecting his wide range of competences and skills, and including several export commercial missions. He is "the right man for the Belgian job" and is chosen by Richard Fairey as General Manager of the new Belgian subsidiary. Fernand Jacquet himself is recruited as Commercial Director, either by Ernest Oscar Tips himself - we have no clues concerning a previous relationship - or by consensus of the Fairey Board in view of his military WWI prestige.

The industrial start-up is really successful, and by 26.02.1932, the first Gosselies-constructed Fairey Firefly leaves the factory, merely 6 months after the Belgian subsidiary establishment. Until 1936, 63 Fireflies IIM (for Metallic) will be constructed by the Belgian subsidiary, following the 25 initial machines delivered by the mother factory of Hayes. The Fairey Fox II M, a twin seat light bomber evolution of the Firefly single-seater, fast for the time, did equally attract interest from the AeM, placing an initial order for 12 UK-produced aircraft. The following Fox batches totaling 191 A/C were all produced at Gosselies. The first Belgian-produced machine was rolled-out on 21.04.1933, an event recorded by a famous "Company family picture". Over the years, this type covered various roles for the AeM (advanced training, reconnaissance, liaison) with different configurations and powerplant evolving as needed. Fox IIM types remained in service till the outbreak of WWII, even if at that stage, it had become totally obsolete in view of the rapidly evolving aeronautical technology. The Fantôme and Feroce prototypes, that are sometime referred as "the epitome of biplane design" were the swansong of this lineage.
 
1931 Fairey Advertisement pure Art Deco Style 1931 Fairey logo
 

To complete the pre-WWII military aircraft production at Avions Fairey, let us first clarify that all AeM Fairey Battle A/C were entirely produced in Fairey UK, and did not involve Avions Fairey. The next military aircraft to involve the Belgian subsidiary was the Hawker Hurricane: In 1939, recognizing the need to boost its fighter equipment, the AeM ordered an initial batch from UK, and in July placed an order to Avions Fairey for production of 80 aircraft. By 10 May 1940, only three has been completed, one (H-42) delivered to the AeM., one (H43) test flown 9 May 40 just before the invasion, and one airframe waiting for its Rolls Royce Merlin engine. These were only scarcely delivered to Belgium, Royal Air Force home priorities being absolutely privileged.

Coming back to SEGA, on 30.01.1934, its Administration Board replaces the Mulder-Lemaigre duo by three new administrators: Fernand Jacquet as General Director, Edouard Tollet and Pierre Penninck. This trio will remain in charge over the next pre-war years, at least until the 29.05.1939 General Assembly. One explanation of this move can be that SEGA has run out of the lucrative military flying school business, and knows that its future lies in a strong synergy with Avions Fairey, from which Jacquet is a key man.

The Fairey UK mother company seems to have repeatedly considered its Belgian subsidiary - its single foreign one at the time ! - as a painful obligation to be fulfilled at lowest possible cost, i.e. with minimum investment in the facilities to be developed, not created (hence the SEGA/Gosselies choice) . The supply of fabrication and assembly tools was valorized to the high price in terms of shareholding, and fresh money for the Avions Fairey start-up only reluctantly transferred. Hence a structural lack of cashflow to cope with the unavoidable time lag between advance procurements, personnel salaries to be paid weekly, and invoices actual settlement following acceptance of delivered aircraft.

 
1931 Firefly Assembly team 1932 Brand new Fairey Firefly rolled-out of hangar with Foxes inside
 

At its creation on 27.08.1931, the initial capital was only 100.000 BEF - compare with the initial 500.000 BEF at SEGA foundation in 1920 ! One year later, by 20.09.1932 (Moniteur Belge publication: 29.09.1932), an Extraordinary General Assembly decides a capital increase of 400.000 BEF, under 400 shares of 1000 BEF each. These shares are immediately allocated to the Fairey UK company, in return of the various "in kind" investments made in the Gosselies plant, and valorized at 469.829,92 BEF... There being no small profit, Avions Fairey has to refund the balance in two sums of 9152,03 BEF and 60.677,89 BEF to the mother company. Therefore no tangible cash supply, to the contrary. Avions Fairey's finances remain desperately weak.

Then happens a "coup de théâtre" at the 25.09.1934 Extraordinary General Assembly: A new capital increase of 1000 shares of 1000 BEF, tripling the previous number of 500. All are subscribed by Fernand Jacquet who, including premium, just invested 1.150.000 BEF of his own personal wealth as a landlord, in the Avions Fairey whom he immediately becomes an administrator, on top of his Commercial Director mandate. Besides that, he simply owns 2/3 of the company which employs him. Being also the deciding power at SEGA since the beginning of this year 1934, one understands the "fusional coexistence" of the two companies in Gosselies, that will last well after WWII.

From 1931 onwards, Avions Fairey started to construct facilities on the airfield of which SEGA remained the full owner except for marginal parcels - renting it as well as the pre-existing buildings to FAIREY under a long-term contract dated 16/04/1934. This agreement would go through WWII. After the Liberation, the two parties would confirm, first unformally by 03/08/1945, then officially by 01/02/1946, their will to proceed further under the existing basis by tacit consent. Unfortunately Jacquet did not live long afterwards. He died on 10.10.1947 from the sequels of his imprisonment at the Huy citadel in 1942, after being arrested by the Germans for active resistance.

 
1933 April 21st, Avions Fairey Family Picture less known
Another one of the Fairey team 1933 circa Fairey Firefly busy work
1935 Fairey Fox Another view of an Aeronautique Militaire Fairey Fox
A1939 Hurricane MkI from the Aéronautique Militaire
(Courtesy "Bobby" Bladt collection via Jean-Marie (son) & Laurent (Grandson)
1939 visiting the Wevelgem Flying School
(Courtesy "Bobby" Bladt collection via Jean-Marie (son) & Laurent (Grandson)
Winter 1939-1940 taxi in the snow at Wevelgem
(Courtesy "Bobby" Bladt collection via Jean-Marie (son) & Laurent (Grandson)
Albert Van Eeckhout in the Hurricane and a Fairey Kangaroo on the left
(Courtesy "Bobby" Bladt collection via Jean-Marie (son) & Laurent (Grandson)
Take off at Wevelgem just before the begin of WWII
(Courtesy "Bobby" Bladt collection via Jean-Marie (son) & Laurent (Grandson)
The H42 in landing configuration
H42 was the first Belgian-produced Hurricane, and delivered to the AéM just before the outbreak of the war.
  
By 21/12/1953, SEGA represented by MM. Tollet and Tips, and AVIONS FAIREY represented by MM. Wright and Broadbent, agreed upon the terms of a new renting contract replacing the former one, for 27-years, starting retroactively 01/02/1953. This term would never fully be completed, as by 27.06.1968, SEGA was purely and simply liquidated and absorbed into Fairey SA by share transfer, 2 SEGA shares giving right to 3 from Fairey.

This simplified and clarified the industrial structure in which the same persons were often operating "with two hats". A good example is a letter on SEGA letterhead paper proposing to FAIREY an indexed rental charge, written by Arthur Talbott on 15.03.1961, and then approved by himself on 20.03.1961 in quality of Administrateur-Délégué of both companies.

Following WWII, the detailed breakdown of war damages, based on the repairs performed between 30/09/1945 and 31/03/1947 on their respective properties, lists 4.910.155,63 BEF to Avions Fairey and 2.104.436,02 BEF to SEGA. The document is interesting as it shows how intricate the installations lay-out was between the two, a real "industrial patchwork", one could say. It gives also an idea of the amount of work to recreate adequate facilities for the restart of military aircraft maintenance and production, initially Harvard, Spitfires, Mosquitoes and Dakotas.
 
Mid 1939: Jacquet(L) and Eyskens (R) presenting the Tipsy M (OO-POM) to AéM pilots (center)
1948-50's Overhaul of Harvards and Mosquitoes Other view of the overhaul hangar
1948-50's Spitfire Overhaul
1948-50's Spitfire reconstruction 1948-50's Spitfire XIX reconstruction and Dakota floor panels
EO Tips on the right
 

The Gloster Meteor jet was the next stage in manufacturing technology evolution. Following the direct order on 12.03.1949 by BAF for 49 A/C of the F.4 version, a large assembly hall was erected in 1951 to support the production in Gosselies of a total of 67 aircraft of the MK. 8 version until 1954, based on components supplied by Fokker (30) and then Gloster (37). In the same period, Fairey also reconstructed 20 T.7 two-seaters from surplus F.4, with Gloster-supplied two-seat fuselage kits, plus another 7 aircraft, nicknamed "Mulet", incorporated an F.8 tail section.

The Meteor was quickly followed by the Hawker Hunter contracts, also with large number of aircraft produced by Avions Fairey (58 of the F.4 type and 61 of the F.6), the other Belgian Air Force machines being supplied by SABCA and Fokker.

The early Sixties brought big changes for the company: In March 1960, E.O. Tips retired at the age of 68, and was replaced as General Manager by Arthur Talbott, also on the SEGA Board. The two sons Maurice and Martin Tips were no longer belonging to the company. Richard Fairey junior also retires on 30 June 1960, deceasing shortly after, and is replaced by Geoffrey Hall as president of the Fairey S.A Board. In the meantime, on 31.03.1959, the mother company had completely restructured into a holding company, and regrouped its aircraft and associated activities under a new subsidiary Fairey Aviation Limited. A little more than one year after, this was taken over by Westland Aircraft as part of the British government requirement for aero industry consolidation. Gosselies thus remained the sole entity in the group still involved in aircraft manufacturing.

 
1952 Meteors 8 (& 4) Flight Line in front of new assy hall 1953 Meteor 8 Assembly (see Spit and GE-E)
1955 Hunter section delivered to Gosselies by Bristol Freighter 1955's Assembly Hall filled with Hunter Sections
1956's Hunter F.4 ready for flight (seat armed)
1957's Hunter late batch assembly 73 1957's Hunter late batch assembly ID-132
 
Following its selection late 1959 as the next Belgian Air Force fighter, the F-104G was another technological "game-changer" in the Belgian aeronautical industry, the licence production contract being signed on 20.06.1960. Many Fairey staff people went to Lockheed for hands-on training on state-of the art manufacturing technologies, and were certified for each and every process to be applied in this revolutionary aircraft production and quality control. Despite its commercial interest, the Nipper, last of the lineage of the classic Tipsy aircraft- "E.O. Tips Secret Garden" as an insider put it - could not compete with the Starfighter in the industrial priority list, either for shop floor space or manpower resources. It was spun-off to a small company named Cobelavia.

For Fairey, the F-104G "Golden Years" were intensive, highly productive, but relatively short: from late 1961 to mid-1965, Fairey participated actively to the assembly of 189 aircraft, and produced the same number of Forward Fuselage Sections. The Fairey tasks involved not only sheet metal and NC-milled parts, but also flight controls, hydraulic piping, complete electrical harness representing 20 KM of cable per A/C, and a number of composite material and welded parts (oil tanks and filters). In charge of the "part 1" of the final assembly, Fairey performed the mating of all fuselage sections including landing gear, canopy & instruments and installation of the Vulcan M61 gun. Mating of the J-79 engines with their reheat and accessories, including hydraulic functional tests were also done prior installation into the fuselage, and finally transfer to SABCA. Afterwards, from 1964 till 1971, the company was still involved in Starfighter maintenance work for the Belgian and German Air Forces, but not in as significant volume as SABCA until the early Eighties. This highlighted the company's vulnerability to the cyclical nature of military orders and need for diversification. Following the Britten-Norman Islander hiatus (1972-1977), this was successfully achieved later on (1979 onwards) with participation to the civil AIRBUS programs.
 
 Bernard Neefs test pilot, on Fairey's payroll from 1958 till the end of the F-104G production in June 1965.
Arthur Talbott succeeded E.O. Tips in 1960 at the head of Fairey till its transformation in SONACA in 1978.
1961 December 4th, Bernard Neefs starts his flight demo to the Belgian press under foul weather
April 18th, 1962: Assembly of an early F-104G 1962 April 18th, F-104G FAL
1963: Engine test on SN9051 delivered in January 1964 as FX-23, with company Bristol Freighter at the rear.
1963 September 30th, F-104G Forward Fuse Assy line 1963 F-104G Assy Line
1963 F-104G Day 812 1963 F-104G Forward Fuselage Assy
1963 Fuselage of SN 9027 (FX-10 delivered in July 63) 1965's F-104G maintenance 1964-1971
 

By 1970, the aeronautical industry presence in Gosselies was only 50 years old, which means we are only half into the complete 100 years story of aerospace industry in Gosselies . The next 50 years involve many more events, like the transformation of Fairey in the present SONACA, its participation in the F-16 production (1976 onwards) and its continuous involvement in the AIRBUS spectacular success. Since the A310 in 1979, SONACA is the single source for the development and production of the wing leading-edge slats for all types. The company evolved from "build to print" status with limited engineering resources in support of production. This major strategic evolution enabled to create a full scope capability with large design, development and structural test facilities. This new status enabled partnership with EMBRAER for the -145 and then the 170-190 series, Dassault, BOMBARDIER, and participation to many ESA, CNES and NASA space programs. From year 2000 onwards, SONACA also evolved into an aerospace group with a worldwide footprint, of Tier-1 size enabling to deal directly with all major OEMs.

 
1982 Airbus A310 & General Dynamics F-16 together at Farnborough, a symbol for a new era of the company
 
Over the years, the company had its ups and downs and had to meet some dramatic situations shared with the whole sector, like the First Oil Shock (1973) and the 9/11/2001 tragic events, which nearly meant the end of the EMB-145 due bankrupcy of most of its US regional airlines. The present COVID-19 crisis and its economical consequences on the world's airlines is the latest challenge to meet, but history gives us all reasons to trust in the resilience of the company, responsible for so many brilliant achievements.

To be continued...
  

We wish to thank and acknowledge for their various contributions: Bernard Cuchet, René Coquelet, Charlie de la Royère, Yves Duwelz, Serge Van Heertum, Vincent Jacobs, Daniel Brackx, Luc Wittemans, Walter Pieters, Dominique Van Impe and Alphonse Demoulin.

Any new information or corrections concerning these facts is obviously welcome.

 

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