The French company Hispano-Suiza S.A, is a part of the SAFRAN Group, and a world leader in mechanical power transmissions, electronic engine control and control systems for airplane and helicopter engines. Hispano-Suiza translates to "Spanish-Swiss," and that's what carries through to Hispano-Suiza's badge. The name “Hispano-Suiza” still sets pulses racing because of the company’s legendary history in both automobiles and aviation. For more than a century now, whether in France or abroad, this brand has evoked an image of performance, quality and innovation, qualities that are just as much in evidence today.
Hispano Suiza [ "Hisso" ] was founded in Barcelona, but became a French brand in 1911. La Fabrica de Autom6viles La Hispano-Suiza was founded in 1904 by a group of Spanish businessmen, which took over the establishment of a Barcelona car constructor, a certain J. Castro. Marc Birkigt was a Swiss engineering genius, and after several failed attempts at building a car company, Birkigt was supported by Spanish financier Don Damien Mateu, who created Fabrica La Hispano-Suiza de Automovils, with Birkigt the "Suiza" component of the moniker.
The first model, boasting 15 HP, is named Alphonse XIII after its first owner, the King of Spain. Production was on a microscopic scale at the time, until King Alfonso XIII ordered several as a means of supporting the fledgling brand, and enticing young Spaniards to race under the banner. The early success of the company propelled Birkigt to the level of an Ettore Bugatti or a Henry Royce. The Hispano-Suiza cars - from the beginning - were among the fast, elegant, and prestigious automobiles for the few. Its indisputable advantages gave rise to different efforts to acquire its patents, such as the case of the House Skoda of Czechoslovakia.
In order to meet the increased European demand for the Hispano-Suiza, the company opened a factory in France in 1911, in Levallois-Perret, near Paris, and starts the design of luxury automobiles. The French branch was established at Levallois-Perret in the suburbs of Paris, to assemble the four-cylinder Spanish cars. The factory moved to Bois-Colombes in 1914.
By the autumn of 1914 it had become obvious that the German Mercedes aviation motor was better than any engine possessed by either France or England. This fired many engineers of allied sympathies with the ambition to build a motor to surpass the Mercedes, and one of the first actually to start was Marc Birkight, the Swiss engineer, who got to work on his drawings a month after the war's beginning. Birkight was engineer to the Hispano-Suiza Co., builders of automobiles with plants at Barcelona, Spain, and in Paris, but he was much more than a motor designer. Having a wide experience in machine tool construction, Birkight designed his motor with quantity manufacture considered together with performance. He produced an engine which would do the work better than anything else, and was also easier to make than any other.
Hispano-Suiza opens another plant near Paris, in Bois-Colombes, and supports the war effort by producing aircraft engines, especially for the SPAD VII flown by French ace Georges Guynemer. A cicogne (“stork”) drawn on his plane by an unknown artist during the liberation of Alsace will become the symbol of his squadron – and this emblem will soon be adopted by Hispano-Suiza in honor of the valiant pilots and their planes powered by the company’s engines.
At the end of 1915 the Paris factory of the Hispano-Suiza Co. began production and it is interesting to note that from that time on the production of essentially the same design of motor increased steadily right up to the end of the war. One after another different factories in France were ordered by the Government to give up their own experimental motors and produce Hispano-Suiza engines. American production began in 1916 and at the end of the war about 25,000 men were directly engaged on American production while there were fourteen big French plants, one British, three Italian, one Spanish, and one Japanese all making this engine.
Pegaso has been building buses since 1903; it was formerly known as Hispano-Suiza Corporation. In World War I, for example, all of Eddie Rickenbacker’s aircraft were powered by the Hispano-Suiza engine. Over 85 percent of the allied aircraft in World War I were powered by the Suizas. Though the first to fly, the United States fell behind other nations, especially France. World War I was a major impetus for the development of American aviation. The Wright-Martin company produced the Hispano-Suiza aircraft engine. The H in the designation of the Curtiss JN-4H trainer (the Jenny,) stood for the Hispano engine made by Wright. The Army, Navy, and Marines used the Jenny as a primary trainer.
At the 1919 Paris Auto Show, Hispano-Suiza introduces the elegant H6 32CV, nicknamed the “French Rolls Royce”. Until 1919, Hispano-Suiza was hardly known as a car manufacturer outside Spain, but from that year, the French factory produced a new model which was to become the most famous Hispano-Suiza of all, the B6. After the War a certain number of continental manufacturers appeared to be fascinated with the idea of building a car which will be recognized as the world’s best. In these cars price was naturally a matter of minor consideration. The leaders in this direction were Hispano-Suiza, Farman, Gnome & Rhone, Lancia, Lorraine Dietrich, Bellanger and Delage. Before the war, Hispano-Suiza specialized in a light, fast, sporting type of car, and gained a high reputation for this class of production. The firm entered an entirely new class after the War by the production of a six-cylinder model of 3.94x5.50 in., with engine entirely on aviation lines.
In 1926 Sadi Lecointre, flying a Nieuport-Delage with a 300-HP Hispano-Suiza engine, sets a new world speed record at 375 km/h (about 230 mph). Another plane made a non-stop flight from Paris to Omsk, covering 4,700 kilometers (2,920 miles) in 29 hours.
During the Spanish Civil War of 1936 the factories of Hispano-Suiza were collectivised, passing into the hands of the comittees of workers. After the war and due to the international isolation of the country, and the practical inability to obtain adequate supplies, it was extremely difficult to restart industrial activity, which was centered in the manufacturing industrial vehicles, trucks and coaches being the priority need. With the creation the State INI it was decided to enter the field of automotive production, creating the national company ENASA to which were transferred the factories of Hispano-Suiza and its industrial activities.
In 1936 automobile manufacture comes to an end, as Hispano-Suiza concentrates on the production of aircraft engines and builds a wind tunnel in Bois-Colombes for engine testing. The Hispano-Suiza aero-engine plant in Paris was twice struck by the 8th Air Force in 1943. After the bombing, the plant ran on a very limited scale.
Cannon had been used in fighter aircraft in the Great War and development of aircraft cannon continued between wars, but it was not until World War II was well along that the French-designed Hispano-Suiza 20-mm cannon became available in quantity. The P-61 interceptor, specially designed for air defense use, mounted four of these cannon. The P-6l, however, did not see much service during the war.
During World War II, no self-destroying ammunition was made for 20mm Hispano-Suiza guns used by the R.A.F. Regiment for anti-aircraft defences. Approximately 2,500 of these guns were issued, but only a small percentage remained in operation by 1945. The early replacement of these guns was contemplated, and it would not have been justifiable to divert technical resources from more pressing needs in order to give priority to the development of a self-destroying fuse for the 20mm. shell. There was no general restriction on firing over land, although Commanders-in-Chief may at their discretion impose local restrictions.
In the immediate postwar period the British government preferred to grant licenses for the newly acquired jet engine technology to Hispano-Suiza. After the war, Hispano-Suiza was determined to resume its business as an aircraft engine manufacturer. It acquired a license from Rolls-Royce in 1946 to manufacture the Nene jet engine with centrifugal compressor (which will power the Mistral and Ouragan), followed by the Tay. Hispano-Suiza produced jet engines under license from Rolls-Royce, including the famous Tay engine, which it began building in 1954. Based on the Tay, Hispano-Suiza developed a more powerful engine known as the Verdon. This engine will power the legendary Dassault Mystère IVA. Through 1970, Hispano-Suiza continues to develop a series of innovative solutions for the aviation, rail, naval and nuclear markets.
In 1957 the German Government wished to place an order for a private venture tracked vehicle designed, developed and manufactured by the Hispano-Suiza company. Half of their order was placed with one of the continental subsidiaries of the firm. Early in 1957 the West German Government placed with the British subsidiary of the Hispano Suiza Company, viz. the British Manufacture and Research Company, Limited, a contract to produce 2,800 vehicles to the design of the foreign parent company. Much of the work was sub-contracted to Leyland Motors Limited. In August 1957 the Federal German Government communicated to the main contractor their intention to cancel the contract for 1,800 of these vehicles.
In 1960-1970, Oerlikon-Contraves and Hispano Suiza separately tested DU ammunition in Switzerland, in the cantons of Schwyz and Geneva. The Federal Military Department (former Swiss Federal Department of Defence) tested DU ammunition between 1975 and 1980. In all, 176 g of DU were fired in an enclosed test tunnel. DU was not deemed to show significantly better results than Wolfram. The DU tests were accordingly brought to an end.
In 1968, Snecma took control over Hispano-Suiza, which included the mechanical engineering firm Bugatti, the landing gear manufacturer Messier, and the engine maker Berthiez. The Hispano-Suiza Bois-Colombes plant became a division of the company. All of these were at the edge of ruin. According to allegations in the mid-1980s, the French Government encouraged public authorities by ministerial letters and circulars to purchase goods made in France. There appeared to be some evidence that this practice is effective. The French Transport Network is alleged to have reversed a decision to buy a U.S. product and instead will purchase generators made by the nationalized aeroengineering company, Hispano-Suiza, even though they are considered to be more costly and of lower quality.
By 1970 Hispano-Suiza was no longer an engine manufacturer, and staked out a position as top-tier equipment supplier. Hispano-Suiza merged with CNMP (Compagnie Normande de Mécanique de Précision) in 1977. This Le Havre-based company had actually been working closely with Hispano-Suiza since 1969, to develop components for the CFM56. In 1979 Hispano-Suiza was named prime contractor for production of transmission systems in the group. The Le Havre plant enters the thrust reverser business, making its first model in May 1979.
In 1984 Hispano-Suiza was selected as supplier of the thrust reverser for the A320, as well as accessory gearboxes and flex-shafts for the M88 engine powering the Rafale fighter. And in 1989 Hispano-Suiza was chosen to design and produce the power transmission for the Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engine. Hispano-Suiza also wins a contract for the lubrication unit on the power transmission for the Tiger helicopter.
Since taking over Hispano Suiza's gas turbine line in 1990, MAN GHH adapted the combustion system to take the Siemens hybrid burner and has demonstrated the same NOx level on a 10 MW machine as has been achieved in service on 150 MW-class machines. In 1997 a consortium of Pratt and Whitney, Northrop Grumman and Hispano-Suiza offered a new aero-engine, the PW6000, specifically designed to power the AE-100 transport, and were planning to establish an aero-engine joint venture at Chengdu, Sichuan Province.
In 2005 the merger of Snecma and Sagem created the Safran group. Hispano-Suiza becomes a subsidiary of Safran, an international high-tech corporation. In July, Snecma Polska becomes a subsidiary of Hispano-Suiza and is renamed Hispano-Suiza Polska. This production plant produces gears for the company’s power transmissions.
In 2006, Hispano-Suiza Canada, previously part of Messier-Dowty International, becomes a subsidiary of Hispano-Suiza. This company is specialized in the design, development and production of electronic control units for business aircraft. Effective February 1, 2009, Hispano Suiza Regulation Systems Division was acquired and changed its name to Snecma SA. Hispano-Suiza’s engine control system operations transferred to Snecma, enabling the company to offer total expertise in aircraft engine systems and technologies. Snecma and Hispano-Suiza were both of the SAFRAN group.
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