Every two years the aviation world shows off its latest innovations at the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget. And for Saft's team, it's a highlight of the calendar.
The sleek, dart-shaped Concorde made its first public appearance at the International Paris Air Show in 1969, roaring into the air under the power of four large Rolls-Royce engines.
Crowds at that debut performance got to see two Concordes. The French prototype, Concorde 001, which had first flown in Toulouse in March 1969, was joined in the air by its British twin, Concorde 002. Le Bourget airport, where the Paris Air Show takes place, is now the permanent home of Concorde 001. It stands in the Air and Space Museum at Le Bourget, alongside an Air France Concorde.
The supersonic airliner, built by a partnership between France’s Sud Aviation (now part of Airbus) and Britain's BAC (now BAE Systems), wouldn't enter service until 1976. However, the aircraft, which used a Saft battery to start the engines and to provide emergency backup power, became a popular attraction at Paris shows for the next few years.
The Paris Air Show has its roots in the Aero Exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris, which was first held in 1909. The exhibition did not include a flying display until 1949, and it moved to its present site, Le Bourget, four years later, in 1953. Then, as now, the show was held every other year. Saft has been exhibiting at Le Bourget for more than 60 years.
That 1969 show was notable not just for the Concorde appearance: the Boeing 747, known affectionately as the Jumbo Jet, also made its public debut the same year. The 747 is still in use, almost half a century later, and it too is powered by a Saft battery.
Finally, the show saw the signing of an agreement between the French and German governments to start work on the first Airbus airliner, the A300. From there, Airbus would grow into a giant of commercial aviation to rival Boeing. The European company went on to launch its 'superjumbo' – the double-decker A380 – at the 2005 Air Show. Since Airbus debuted in 1969, each of their new aircraft has been equipped with Saft batteries.
Bernard Weber, former commercial aviation director at Saft, was there that day in 2005.
The first flight of the A380, which had a Saft battery in it, was something everyone wanted to see. All the booths were deserted when it was flying.Bernard Weber former commercial aviation director at Saft
Mr Weber, now retired, has fond memories of his time attending the Paris Air Show and watching Saft's involvement grow. When he first went to the show in 1973, the firm had a small booth of around 10m2. This year, Saft's stand will fill 60m2 and feature the battery for the ExoMars Rover, due to be launched in 2020.
"On the family days, we'd see our competitors come past our stand with their children. We could see them trying to get a look at what we were exhibiting," he says.
"It was all about networking and good relationships with customers," says Mr Weber. “When Alcatel was Saft’s parent company, we had only a small space to exhibit within their vast chalet. The chalet had one of the best views of the flight line so people were thrilled to be invited inside."
These days it isn't that unusual for an aircraft making its debut at the Paris Air Show to contain a Saft battery. The company powers 80 per cent of commercial airliners, for example. But new milestones are still reached regularly.
This year is expected to see the first appearance by the Lockheed Martin F-35, the multi-role fighter plane produced by a partnership of nine countries. Work began on the aircraft in 2001 and it took its first flight in 2006. The aircraft has the distinction of being one of the first to be powered by a lithium-ion battery.
"When we first exhibited the F-35 battery mockup, there was a lot of interest from customers who wanted to see what it looked like," says Mr Weber. "Even though it was just an empty box, we couldn't allow people to photograph it."
He adds: " We were extremely confident in our product, which was also going to be used in the Airbus A350. As a first a lot of people wanted to know how we had done it!"
Antoine Brenier, who took over in 2014 from Mr Weber as Saft’s aviation director, says: “Today, Saft is working with all the major aviation manufacturers in the world. We are excited by the innovations in lithium-ion batteries, which are making it possible for more functions on the aircraft to be handled electrically.”
A lot has changed since Concorde first wowed the Paris crowds, but Le Bourget remains the unmissable center of the air-show calendar.