On May 28, 2018, the aviation community the world over was shocked by the news of the demise of one of the living legends of the global aviation industry, Serge Dassault, former Chairman of Dassault Group. This is a France-based group of companies established in 1929 and today, is a global leader in the production of both military aircraft and business jets. Born in Paris on April 4, 1925, Serge Dassault was one of the richest men in France and a conservative politician who also ran a conservative media house.
Donning several hats and battling adversities in his long and eventful life of 93 years, Serge also faced the Nazi Gestapo who imprisoned his family in 1944 at Montluc near Lyon, later at Drancy. Like many people who survived imprisonment in Nazi camps and turnout winner in their lives, Serge Dassault not only tasted success, but established a legendary professional track record. A man so passionate about his work that he breathed his last in his office in Paris which sums up his life perfectly.
Serge inherited his wealth and business from his father Marcel (Bloch) Dassault, an aviation legend, who started the Dassault Aviation, a company better known for its Mirage and Rafale jet fighters. His father designed Éclair propeller, used in Spad VII, was one of the three propellers selected by the French government to power its military aircraft during World War-I. This was the commercial beginning of the company. During the Second World War, the company built aircraft for the French Air Force.
During his family’s internment, Marcel was pressurised to put his aircraft designing skills to use for Hitler’s government. But, like a true nationalist, he declined. Learning a lesson from the family history, Serge, through his company ensured French self-reliance in military aviation. He fought and won many a battle to ensure private holding of his company.
After completing his education from the École Polytechnique and the École Nationale Supérieure de l’Aéronautique, in 1951, Serge joined the design office of his father’s company. After becoming the Manager of the flight test department in 1955, the company saw the arrival of some of the most famous of their fighter aircraft such as Super Mystère B2, Étendard, Mirage III and Mirage IV. Most outstanding of these were the Mirage series which went on to join many of the Asian Air Forces and they are still in use in Iran and Pakistan well after 60 years since their arrival. The Mirage 2000-5 the latest version in the series, is one of the best fourth-generation fighters of the world.
Even after 70 years, Dassault Aviation has not lost its edge in designing cutting edge fighter. Their latest Rafale recently won competitive bids against comparable fighters in India, Qatar and Egypt. In addition to the aircraft, under his leadership, Dassault came up with the firts European combat drone demonstrator ‘nEuron’.In line with the military aviation, under his leadership Dassault witnessed proliferation of the civil aviation fleet of Falcon business jets which now includes the 7X, the 8X and now, the 6X.
In 1967, Serge took over the post of Chief Executive Officer of the electronic arm of the group and held it until December 23, 1986. Subsequently, till April 2000, he was the Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation.
He was a business leader who not only led his company, but also provided leadership to the European defence and aviation industry. He was the President of GIFAS (French aviation industry body) from 1993 to 1997 and the French Council of Defence Industries (CIDEF) from 1994 to 1996 as also the Vice President of the European Association of Aerospace Industries (AECMA) from 1994 to 1997. He had also been a Mayor and a Senator.
He expanded his inheritance of aviation business to auction house, media, property and vineyards. He is survived by his wife, four children and grand children.