SNECMA Museum — Villaroche (1)

Images and Narrative by John Martin

At the end of March 2007, my friend and colleague at EuroProp International (EPI), Jean-Louis Eyraud, who is a long-time employee of SNECMA, invited me to visit the wonderful museum attached to the SNECMA plant at Villaroche, south-east of Paris. It is located on the edge of the airfield which itself has a long and interesting history having been a Luftwaffe base during World War 2 and a centre for French aviation research since then.

The museum is housed in a large building outside the secure area of the factory which also houses a large auditorium as well as the workshops associated with the museum. It traces the history of the companies which eventually became SNECMA from their roots in the very earliest days of European aviation.


The two oldest companies that became SNECMA are Gnome and Le Rhone, both of whom made the earliest and most successful rotary engines for aircraft at the dawn of European flying. Early products from both manufacturers feature heavily in the first section of the museum which is populated entirely by rotary engines. Some have been sectioned to illustrate the construction of this configuration. Most of the exhibits are well labelled with information about the engines and their applications. I have included many of the labels where they are helpful. The labels are not always photographed straight on as I was trying to minimise reflection of the flash. There are also several wall charts highlighting particular events which I have included, together with translations.

As well as just engines, hanging from the roof there is a replica of a Bleriot XI, though not the Anzani powered version in which crossed the Channel. It is a later version with a Gnome engine. There is also a large model of the Fabre Hydravion, a very early seaplane.

Until I read the article in a recent issue of Torque Meter, I had thought that all rotaries were simple single-row machines but in the Villaroche museum are examples of two types of two-row engines, the Le Rhone 18C and 18E and the extraordinary Le Rhone 28, a four-row machine. According to the labels, none of these engine types ever flew.



The Gnome and Le Rhone companies were merged and produced engines under the name of Gnome & Rhone, then Gnome-Rhone. They moved on to produce conventional radial engine and included a licence built version of the Bristol Jupiter. Post World War 2, SNECMA continued the connection with Bristol by licence building the Bristol Hercules for the Nord Noratlas transport. All these are represented at the museum.



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