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Thales Bordeaux: 40 years of innovation and success

Jan 09. 2016 

The end of 2015 marked the 40th anniversary of the Thales facilities in Le Haillan and Pessac, near Bordeaux in south-western France. The milestone is a significant one a few months ahead of the activities of the two sites coming together within Thales’s new industrial campus, set to open during the fourth quarter of 2016 in Mérignac. Onboard looks back over those 40 years at Thales, and the parallel development of the city of Bordeaux.

Thales sets up in Bordeaux – 1975


Despite the prevailing crisis of the mid-1970s, the city of Bordeaux is developing and expanding. The new Mériadeck business district, with its high-rise buildings and elevated walkways, heralds a new era of prosperity. The first section of the Bordeaux expressway, dual carriageway in each direction, links the Pont d’Aquitaine suspension bridge to the suburb of Bruges in the west. The only way to cross the city from north to south is to take the Quais de Bordeaux running either side of the Gironde river. The region’s wine sector is slowly recovering from the ‘winegate’ scandal, when inferior-quality wine was bottled and sold as Bordeaux.

Our facilities operate under the banner of Thomson-CSF (Pessac) and Thomson AVS (Le Haillan). At Pessac, work is focusing on the Cyrano IV multifunction Doppler radar for the Mirage F1. At Le Haillan, the teams are gearing up for production launch of the VE120E, the first electronic sight for the Mirage F1.

Picture: Rue Sainte-Catherine – April 1975 (source: Sud-Ouest)

10 years of Thales in Bordeaux – 1985


Rue Sainte-Catherine has been pedestrianised along its entire length for a year now, much to the delight of the throngs of shoppers who flock there every weekend. The expressway on the left bank of the river is now complete. For the city centre, mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas is studying plans for a VAL (light automated vehicle) type of metro system, which he prefers to the proposed tramway supported by Michel Sainte-Marie, mayor of nearby Mérignac and president of the Bordeaux urban community. FC Girondins de Bordeaux are at the top of their game, ending the season as French league champions and making the semi-finals of the European Champion Clubs Cup — only to be knocked out by Juventus.

At Pessac, the first series production RDM multimode Doppler radars and RDI pulse-Doppler radars are delivered for the Mirage 2000. Le Haillan secures its first contract for Airbus, with the FCD 55 full-colour cockpit display.

Picture: Alain Giresse and squad about to take on Juventus – April 1975 (source: Web Girondins / Footransferts.com)

20 years of Thales in Bordeaux – 1995


The Pont d’Arcins bridge, later renamed Pont François-Mitterrand, has been open for two years, completing the expressway on the right bank of the river. In a ceremony at City Hall, Prime Minister Alain Juppé launches the first ‘Projet Urbain de Bordeaux’, a major urban development project for 1995 to 2005. It includes the redevelopment of the famous Quais de Bordeaux and public spaces alongside the river and the return of a tram network to the city. The future looks promising for the people of Bordeaux, who must nonetheless endure a general strike organised in December to protest against a Juppé plan of a different nature — social security and pension reform. For three long weeks, the city is without trains, buses, refuse collection, mail delivery and fire services.

At Le Haillan, the avionics business is now called Sextant Avionique and busy producing the FCD 66 display for the A320 and A330. This is followed by launch of the AHNG new-generation helicopter avionics suite, which is in service on the entire range of Airbus light helicopters to this day. At Pessac, the teams deliver the first RBY multimode, multi-target radar for the Mirage 2000 and are developing the RBE2 PESA (passive electronically scanned array) radar for the Rafale. The company will soon become Thomson Detexis.

Picture: Place de la Bourse – 1993 (source: Sud-Ouest)

30 years of Thales in Bordeaux – 2005


The first three lines of the tram system are completed in 2005 after five years of work, transforming the travel experience throughout the Bordeaux urban community. The Quais de Bordeaux are undergoing a major transformation, though it will be another year before people can dip their toes in the Miroir d’Eau, the world’s largest reflecting pool, located next to Place de la Bourse. Bordeaux’s renaissance has also made the right bank a more attractive destination, particularly now it is connected by the tramway. It is home to the city’s new botanical gardens, which take visitors on a journey through the landscapes of southwest France.

Our two facilities are now operating under the Thales banner. At Le Haillan, Thales Avionics is supplying LCDU displays for Airbus transport aircraft and is developing the PDU 6.8 display for civil and military markets. The TopOwl helmet-mounted display is a flagship product, attracting keen interest from the US Army. Thales Systèmes Aéroportés at Pessac is diversifying with the development of UAV systems, among them the MAGIC ATOLS automatic take-off and landing system for the UK’s Watchkeeper programme. The teams are also developing the RC400 and RDY400 radars for upgraded Mirage F1s.

Picture: Official opening of the Bordeaux tramway – 2003 (source: Sud-Ouest)

40 years of Thales in Bordeaux – 2015


As work continues to widen the Bordeaux expressway to three lanes each way, the new 43,000-seat Bordeaux-Atlantique stadium is opened (later renamed the Matmut-Atlantique after the insurance group). Bordeaux’s credentials as a tourist destination, which already received a boost when the city was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, gain further recognition when the city is voted European Best Destination 2015. Major events throughout the year include the Rugby Top 14 semi-finals, the river festival and the fireworks festival, set against the backdrop of the new Pont Chaban-Delmas vertical-lift bridge.

Dedicated innovation spaces open at Le Haillan and Pessac, offering a highly creative working environment for employees and a fantastic technology showcase for customers. In avionics, the flagship programme of the decade is the A350 XWB, with the Thales-designed IWDU (Integrated Wide Display Unit) replacing two displays and a computer on previous aircraft. Thales Systèmes Aéroportés has delivered the first production RBE2 AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar for the Rafale, which has made its début in exports markets this year.

Picture: Fireworks over Bordeaux (source: Sud-Ouest / xdenecker.blog.lemonde.fr)

After another 40 years in Bordeaux, it will be 2055


This city of a million people has a high-speed link to Paris, now just two hours away by train, and a huge multi-purpose indoor arena at Floirac. The Cité du Vin centre for wine tourism, situated at the heart of a district famed for its Sunday walks, attracts visitors from all over the world. FC Girondins de Bordeaux are a force to be reckoned with in Europe, with their run of victories in the Champions League.

At the Thales Bordeaux site in Mérignac, the teams continue to combine complementary skill sets to take innovation to new heights. The high-tech campus is a real showcase for Thales’s capabilities and one of the anchors of the Bordeaux-Mérignac Aeroparc. It is universally recognised for its technical achievements, including the world’s most advanced cockpit solutions and the latest cutting-edge radar technologies, and for its custom-designed and highly original workspaces, which have continued to evolve over the years as new needs emerge.

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