At the origin of the aeronautical French industry

100 years ago, Henry Potez laid the stone foundation of the Méaulte factory

It is in his hometown that Henry Potez gave birth to a lifetime project: building a factory that would allow industrial aeroplane production. A revolution on the 1st of July 1922. A winning vision was a must to create such an adventure.

From the beginning, a young voluntary engineer

Passionate from an early age by the aeronautical industry, he chose an aeronautical engineer degree by joining the Supérieure d’Aéronautique et de Construction Mécanique in 1911 which later became ISAE SUPAERO. During his military service, he met Marcel Bloch (future Marcel Dassault) with whom he designed the Hélice Éclair (lightning propeller), used on most Allied warplanes from 1917 onwards.

In 1918, the duo founded the Société d’études aéronautique (aeronautical formation society) and then, after the war, Henry bought out his partner’s shares and created Société des Aéroplanes Henry Potez in 1919. Back then, each aircraft was handcrafted. The firsts offices were so small in the previous Aubervilliers slaughterhouse, (he has transformed them very well now), that an aircraft must be, occasionally, assembled on the adjacent sidewalks. However, nothing stops him. He could have been disheartened by the army’s orders to stop which gave the final blow to his first association. A visionary, Henry Potez perceives the growing need for freight transportation. With the technical support of Louis Coroller, he decided to invest in order to conceive a modern industrial tool which would allow the production rates to increase and ensure a better economic balance. He built a factory that is dedicated to Méaulte, on its lands. The 1st of July, the first foundation stone was set.

A local fabric transformed by the industry

In the region, we remember “A shudder in the crowd: they all understood that this was not at all an engineer’s whim, but an exceptional vision for the future of this land, often battered, but always reborn stronger than the phoenix” writes Jean-Pierre Dehondt, President of the aeronautical association history of Méaulte.

“The future of this often-battered land”

Jean-Pierre Dehondt

In 1936, the Méaulte factory was nationalized under the Front Populaire and integrated into the Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Nord (SNCAN). After a spell as managing director of the nationalized plant, Henry Potez was dismissed in 1940 and concentrated on his engine plant in Suresnes, until he launched a new aircraft manufacturing business in 1950 with the creation of Groupe Henry Potez, followed by the 1958 takeover of Air Fouga. That same year, the Méaulte plant became Nord-Aviation. The company’s aerostructures activities became part of today’s Airbus Group in 1970: Société Nationale des Industries Aéronautiques et Spatiales (SNIAS), Aérospatiale, EADS, Airbus, Aerolia and, in 2015, Stelia Aerospace. On November 30, 2021, the Stelia Aerospace plant in Méaulte will change its name to become one of Airbus Atlantic’s key production sites. It remains a real economic lung for the whole region.

“It’s July 1, 1922, in Méaulte, in the middle of the fields in an area called “Le Carcaillot”, along the road from Albert to Bray sur Somme. A young Picard, Méaulte native, 31 years old, surrounded by a crowd of friends, relatives, builders, and transporters of building materials: the Restani, the Capron… and so many others, is going to lay the 1st stone of an aircraft manufacturing plant. “ Jean-Pierre DEHONDT. Discover the centenary exhibition organised by the Association aéronautique histoire de Méaulte from June 28 to July 1, 2022, at the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume in Albert (80300).

Still today, Anthoine and Henry Potez like to remind themselves of their grandfather’s motto “motivation added to expertise is equal to success”. This lovely quote reflects the ambitious and challenging mindset which continues to live within the group’s life.

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