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Wednesday, 16 January 2019 12:48

Reims Aviation & the French Cessnas Featured

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A History of Cessna Aircraft’s Partnership in France.

The French city of Reims is best known to aviation historians for the Grande Semaine d’ Aviation de la Champagne, the first international airshow, held in August 1909. The Grande Semaine rivaled today’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, with some 500,000 visitors over the course of a week. The Grande Semaine featured air races and exhibition flights, and was considered by many to be a coming-out party for the commercial viability of heavier-than-air aviation.

Fifty years later, Reims was the site for another meeting of international aviation minds; this one would shape European General Aviation for several decades to come. 

Looking for opportunity

General Aviation was booming in the United States in the late 1950s. Cessna Aircraft Co. had emerged as a leader in the light aircraft market, riding the success of the Cessna 140 and 170 series into the even more popular Cessna 172. 

Cessna was looking to broaden its distribution outside the United States, and saw opportunity in the quickly-growing European General Aviation market. Cessna had established a dealer network abroad, but transportation costs and high tariffs made it difficult for Cessna to bring price-competitive products to Europe. 

Executives began the search for a European partner which could manufacture Cessna products under license. The ideal partner would have spare production capacity and a trained workforce to facilitate a rapid spool-up of production of Cessna-licensed aircraft. 

French aircraft manufacturer Societe Nouvelle des Avions Max Holste was founded in 1933 by engineer Max Holste. Avions Max Holste had produced several airplanes (both of their own design and on license) in the postwar years. However, it had not found a large market for its flagship Broussard series of turboprop transports and by the end of the 1950s, the company was facing financial trouble.

France was Europe’s most active country for General Aviation at the time, with more than 3,000 aircraft in the air. A partnership with Avions Max Holste made good sense for both sides. Cessna would gain access to a skilled workforce and manufacturing facilities in the heart of France; Avions Max Holste could delicately extract itself from its financial woes by spinning off its turboprop line to Nord Aviation, and focus on producing commercially-proven Cessna aircraft.

Negotiations were brief, spanning only a few meetings. A partnership agreement was signed February 16, 1960. The agreement was approved by the French government in May of the same year. Cessna would own a 49 percent share of a new company, Reims Aviation, with the shareholders of Avions Max Holste retaining the balance of ownership. At the time of the agreement, Reims had 280 employees. The name change became official in January 1962.

Reims Aviation was granted the sole franchise to produce Cessna products in Europe. Cessna promised Reims Aviation access to their existing Cessna International dealer network. 

To start, Reims would produce the Cessna 172 and 175. Other models would follow after the completion of the initial production run, which was slated to begin in 1963 with full production by 1964. 

The first models

Production started on time. The first Reims Cessna aircraft was completed in April 1963 and rolled off the line bearing serial number F1720001, with the F-prefix denoting an aircraft assembled in France. This “F” nomenclature carried through to the model number—the 172Ds produced by Reims would be the Reims Aviation F172D. 

The F172D was essentially a kit version of the Cessna 172D. All airframe parts were manufactured by Cessna in the United States and shipped to Reims for final assembly and paint. The engine was a 145 hp Continental O-300-D produced by Rolls-Royce in England. With the exception of their data plates and flight paperwork, the first 18 Reims F172Ds were identical to their U.S. counterparts.

 

The F172 was a hit, and production ramped up quickly. By the end of 1964, Reims Aviation had produced 100 F172s, and a dozen aircraft a month were leaving the small Reims factory.

At the same time, Cessna attempted to import the rebadged Cessna 175, known as the “Powermatic” P172D. The Powermatic featured a 175 hp Rolls-Royce Continental GO-300-E engine with a geared reduction drive and constant-speed propeller. The P172D was pulled from Cessna’s U.S. lineup in 1963; and only three FP172Ds left the Reims factory. 

Another P172D airframe was received by Reims and converted into a prototype for a military liaison light aircraft; powered by a Continental IO-360. This prototype, bearing the model designation FP172M, provided a proof-of-concept for the Cessna T-41B training aircraft, later produced in the United States for the U.S. Army. The FP172M project was abandoned.

The transition from kit assembler to manufacturer was rapid. Reims Aviation began to manufacture subassemblies in early 1964. Nearly all components for the F172 were being made in France by 1965. The Rolls-Royce Continental engine and spring steel landing gear were the only imported parts in 1965’s F172E models.

Though Reims was bound by agreement to make their aircraft parts-compatible with U.S.-manufactured Cessnas, Reims made small improvements in their assembly process. Most importantly, all aircraft leaving the Reims factory after mid-1964 were corrosion-proofed. 

Full production

Reims Aviation reached full production capacity in 1965. The F172’s price point (approximately $10,000) appealed to flight clubs and private owners. A French government program helped to boost sales—the program subsidized up to 50 percent of a French-built aircraft’s cost when purchased for flying club use. At the end of 1965, Reims was producing 15 F172s per month.

Even with brisk sales of the F172, Reims and Cessna saw additional opportunity in Europe. European customers clamored for a two-seat trainer: the Cessna 150. The model was extremely popular among U.S. customers. Cessna produced some 3,000 Cessna 150s in the United States in 1966 alone. However, tariffs and transportation costs made the F172 a cheaper option than an imported U.S.-made Cessna 150.

Plans were made to bring the Cessna 150 to Europe. Production of the F150 began in February 1967. In the first year of production, Reims Aviation produced 67 F150F aircraft.

Reims Aviation needed more space to meet the increased production demand, and broke ground in April 1967 on a 150,000 square foot factory at Reims-Prunay Aerodrome (LFQA). By June 1968, Reims had transitioned all production to the new facility, which soon expanded to over 200,000 square feet.

Cessna’s European dealer network had also grown to help distribute Reims and Cessna aircraft. Based in Brussels, Belgium, Cessna Europe had 38 dealers in 24 countries, including a distributor behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia. 

Reims Aviation’s CEO, former French fighter ace Pierre Clostermann, bragged in a 1968 Flying interview that Reims would soon be supplying Cessna’s European dealer network with most of its single-engine aircraft. He predicted Reims’ production would hit 1,000 aircraft a year by 1975. These bold estimates were based in part on a new product positioned to expand Reims’ portfolio beyond the F150 and F172. 

The FP172M concept, the 210 hp IO-360-powered prototype which had been mothballed in 1963, re-emerged at the 1967 Paris Airshow as Reims’ new flagship product: the Reims Rocket Model FR172E. This new high performance 172 would be produced exclusively for civilian sale in Europe by Reims Aviation. The Rocket was positioned to fill the niche between the F172 and the imported Cessna 182 Skylane. In this respect, it was similar to the fixed-gear Cessna 177 Cardinal, which was not produced in Europe. 

 

The FR172E Reims Rocket’s 210 hp Rolls-Royce Continental IO-360-D fuel-injected engine and constant-speed propeller produced a maximum of 2,800 rpm at takeoff and gave the aircraft a 125-knot cruise speed. The aircraft was at least 20 knots faster than comparable F172s, with only slightly increased fuel consumption and maintenance costs. 

The Rocket’s name was as much for its sound as its speed. An article in Flying described the Rocket as producing “a helluva racket—about 84 dB at 1,000 feet.” The Rocket also boasted a 2,500-pound gross weight (an increase of 200 pounds from the standard F172) and a useful load of approximately 1,000 pounds. The aircraft was in many respects superior to the early 177 Cardinals, and close in performance and payload to the Cessna 182. The Reims Rocket was produced through 1977. Reims built almost 600 Rockets in the ten-year production run.

Military customers also expressed interest in the Rocket. Reims produced eight specially-equipped FR172E aircraft in 1969 for the Irish Air Corps. These aircraft saw active duty fighting in Northern Ireland. 

Cessna’s eight-seat twin-engine Model 411 made a brief appearance at the Reims factory in 1967 and 1968. Eight aircraft were assembled from kit form and delivered as the Reims Cessna F411. 

As the 1960s came to a close, 400 employees of Reims Aviation were producing approximately 300 aircraft a year. The first five years (1965–1969) of full production at Reims were an overwhelming success. A total of 1,331 aircraft rolled off the line, compared with the production plan’s goal of 1,017. About two-thirds were F172s. The remainder was split between the F150 and the new FR172E.

1970s

The 1970s saw the continuation of F150, F172 and FR172E production, and the adoption of several other popular Cessna models.

Cessna’s 150 Aerobat was the next model to cross the Atlantic. The A150K Aerobat was produced by Reims Aviation starting in late 1969 as the FA150K. These FA150K Aerobats were powered by the same Rolls-Royce Continental O-200-A engine as the standard F150 models. A total of 120 FA150K and FA150L models were produced.

The Aerobat soon received a Reims customization and was upgraded with a Rolls-Royce Continental O-240-A engine producing 130 hp. This Aerobat, known as the FRA150L, has a high power-to-weight ratio and members of online European aviation forums often call it a joy to fly. Both L and M models were produced in fair numbers, for a total of 272 FRA150L and FRA150M models.

 

From 1968 to 1971, the Reims F172s differed somewhat from their U.S. counterparts. Cessna changed the 172’s powerplant to the four-cylinder 150 hp Lycoming O-320-E2D starting with 1968’s Cessna 172I model; Reims did not adopt the new engine until 1972’s F172L.

1974 marked the peak of Reims Aviation’s production. Reims’ 515 employees produced 474 aircraft at the 260,500-square-foot Prunay Aerodrome factory. The F172 was the most common aircraft, with a production rate of 150 aircraft per year at the end of 1974, followed by 105 F150s, 31 FR172s and 20 FRA-150s. 

While the fixed-gear Cardinal was not produced by Reims, the 177RG Cardinal RG retractable made a brief appearance in France. A total of 177 FR177RG aircraft were produced from 1972 to 1978. 

The Cessna 182 was not licensed to Reims in its early years, perhaps due to the success of the Reims Rocket. This changed in 1975, when Cessna granted Reims the license to produce the 182P Skylane and R182 Skylane RG. 25 F182P models, 145 F182Q models and 67 FR182 models were manufactured by Reims between 1976 and 1984.

 

The F150 was replaced by the F152 in 1978 and mirrored the Cessna 152s sold in the United States. Reims also produced a 152 Aerobat, the FA152. Reims manufactured 622 F152 and FA152s between 1978 and 1985.

The Reims Rocket was supplanted by the Hawk XP in 1977. The Hawk XP, also known as the FR172K, featured the same airframe and powerplant combination as the Reims Rocket, though the Rolls-Royce Continental IO-360-K engine was derated to 195 hp and 2,600 rpm on takeoff. This adjustment complied with new European noise regulations. The new aircraft was nearly identical to the U.S. model Hawk XP. Reims produced 85 Hawk XPs between 1977 and 1981.

The Cessna 337 Super Skymaster was licensed to Reims Aviation in 1969, with the first delivery in 1972. Reims produced almost 200 Super Skymasters between 1972 and 1980, divided nearly equally between pressurized and nonpressurized versions.

 

Approximately 60 of the pressurized Super Skymasters were equipped with special STOL modifications and provisions for carrying military ordinance. 21 of these FTB337G model Skymasters were sold to the Rhodesian Air Force. In 1980, Cessna gave full Super Skymaster production rights to Reims. However, Reims did not produce any Super Skymasters after 1980.

Reims Aviation employed 540 people at the end of 1979 and produced 373 aircraft that year.

1980s

As with many major aircraft manufacturers, Reims was hit hard by the downturn in General Aviation which started in the late 1970s. 

Production slowed to a trickle by 1983. Though Reims Aviation had 531 employees at the end of the year, only 92 aircraft left the factory. By 1986, Reims Aviation, like Cessna, was no longer producing piston singles. Reims directed its attention to the production of a new aircraft. 

The Reims F406 Caravan II, a twin-turboprop derivative of the Cessna 404, debuted at the Paris Air Show in May 1983. The Caravan II could carry up to 12 passengers at just over 250 knots, with a range of 1,030 nm. Cessna produced most of the parts in the United States and final airframe assembly took place at Reims Aviation’s Prunay factory. The first aircraft was delivered in April 1985.

By 1989, Reims Aviation was only producing one model of aircraft, the F406 Caravan II, at a rate of one per month. 

 

In May 1989, Cessna chose to divest from its interest in Reims Aviation; selling its shares to Compagnie Francaise Chaufour Investissement (CFCI) of Paris. As part of the sale, Cessna agreed to offer CFCI the right of first refusal to produce Cessna products in Europe if Cessna were to ever restart piston-powered aircraft production. 

1990s

The employees of Reims Aviation continued to work throughout the early 1990s, though much of their efforts were concentrated on producing parts for other manufacturers’ aircraft, including Dassault, Airbus and ATR. Reims saw a brief renaissance, reporting over 500 employees in 1991.

In 1991, Cessna considered relaunching the Model 425 Conquest I and contracting with Reims Aviation for production. Ultimately, this project fell through. A few years later, Reims’ maintenance department began to remanufacture used Reims Cessna light aircraft (primarily F172s), offering complete refurbishment for a fraction of the price of a new aircraft.

Cessna declared in 1994 that its single-engine restart program would not include a production license for Reims Aviation. In December 1995, Cessna reversed course, announcing that Reims would produce 200 airplanes a year for European and African markets. A follow-up announcement in 1997 indicated that Reims would also start to remanufacture Reims Cessna F150 and F152 airframes for use in flying clubs and flight schools. 

A trial production run was conducted in 1997 and three Cessna 172R Skyhawk kits were shipped to Reims Aviation. By September, Reims had booked 22 orders for new 172s and 182s. 

However, the CFCI investment group decided against restarting Cessna production and chose to focus on producing the F406 Caravan II and subcontracting for other manufacturers. The three 172R aircraft were returned unsold to Cessna. 

Caravan II production continued, and 80 aircraft were delivered to customers between 1985 and 1997. Most were configured for transport use, though customs and border protection agencies of several nations ordered surveillance versions. 

2000s

In 2003, Reims Aviation declared bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court split the company into Reims Aerospace, which would focus on subcontracting; and Reims Aviation Industries, which would produce the F406 Caravan II. 

The Type Certificates for most of the Reims-produced Cessna aircraft were transferred to Cessna in 2006. This allowed owners of Reims Cessnas to register their aircraft on the U.S. N-number registry with minimal difficulty. In the eyes of the FAA, Reims Cessnas are “considered domestic products for the purpose of design certification and continued airworthiness” per Type Certificate A4EU.

Reims Aviation Industries continued production of the F406 Caravan II until 2013 when the company went into receivership, leaving its 70 employees out of work. 

In March 2014, the remains of Reims Aviation Industries were sold. The Type Certificate and production rights to the F406 were transferred to ASI Innovation. Continental Motors has since partnered with ASI Innovation with the intent to restart production of the F406, but to date, no aircraft have been built.

Reims Aerospace was bought and renamed in 2011 by Austrian investors to Novae Aerospace Industry. This company continues to operate in the former Reims Aviation facility at Reims-Prunay Aerodrome, producing parts for Airbus, Dassault and others.

Vive le avion!

Reims Aviation’s partnership with Cessna followed the same arc as Cessna’s business in the United States. 1965 to 1975 were the golden years at Reims Aviation, followed by gradually waning demand in the mid-1980s. By 1986, both Reims and Cessna had abandoned light piston singles; choosing instead to focus on multi-engine aircraft.

Over the course of its 23-year run of producing Cessna singles, Reims Aviation helped bolster the growth of European General Aviation by bringing affordable aircraft to the European market en masse. 

Reims Aviation built more than 6,300 aircraft, including 12 different Cessna single-engine models and four twins. Reims Aviation no longer exists, but thousands of Reims aircraft continue to ply the skies over Europe and around the world.

Scott Kinney is a self-described aviation geek (#avgeek), private pilot and instructor (CFI-Sport, AGI). He is a technical editor for Cessna Flyer. Scott and his partner Julia are based in Eugene, Oregon. They are often found buzzing around the West in their vintage airplane. Send questions or comments to .

Sources Online:
Marais, Frédéric. “Novae Aerospace Industry, ou le spectaculaire redressement d’un avionneur historique de Reims.” Traces Ecrities News, May 9, 2017. www.tracesecritesnews.fr/actualite/novae-aerospace-industry-ou-le-spectaculaire-redressement-d-un-avionneur-97202

 
“GECI Aviation, an organisation making a place for itself on the world twin turboprop aircraft market.” GECI Aviation. April 5, 2010. www.geci.net/files/UKPDF20100405_CPAGE_RAI.pdf


“Divestiture of Reims Aviation Industries and bankruptcy of GECI Aviation.” GECI Aviation. April 28, 2014. www.geci.net/files/UKPDF20140428_GA_PLAN_RAI_LIQUIDATION_GA.pdf


Pope, Steven. “Continental To Build Former Cessna Cabin Class Twin.” Flying, March 27, 2014. www.flyingmag.com/aircraft/turboprops/continental-build-former-cessna-cabin-class-twin


Flying. Apr. 1965, Jan. 1966, Sep. 1967, Apr. 1968, Jun. 1969, Jun. 1970, Jun 1977, Oct. 1979, Sep. 1980, Aug. 1983, May 1989, Jul. 1989, Dec. 1991, May 1993, Dec. 1994, Jan. 1996, Mar. 1997, Sep. 1997. [Note: many back issues of Flying, including all cited above, are available free on Google Books, books.google.com]

FAA listing of Reims Cessna
TCDS documents (past and current):
rgl.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgMakeModel.nsf/WebSearchAll?SearchView&Query=Reims%20AND%20Aviation%20AND%20S.A.&SearchOrder=1&SearchMax=0&SearchWV=TRUE&SearchFuzzy=FALSE&Start=1&Count=1000#

Print:

Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1967, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1985, 1988, 1996, 1999.


Murphy, Daryl. The Planes of Wichita: The People and the Aircraft of the Air Capital. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2008.


Schoenberg, Eyvinn Hansen. Plane Talk: Cessna Export Tales. Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris, 2003.


Simpson, R.W. Airlife’s General Aviation: A Guide to Postwar General Aviation Manufacturers and Their Aircraft. Shrewsbury (UK): Airlife Publishing, 2000.


Simpson, Rod. The General Aviation Handbook. Hinckley, MN: Midland, 2005. 


Smith, Ron. Cessna 172: A Pocket History. Stroud (UK): Amberley, 2010.


Shiel, Walt, Jan Forsgren, and Michael R. Little. T-41 Mescalero: The Military Cessna 172. Lake Linden, MI: Slipdown Mountain Publications, 2006.

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