Roger Béteille, a key figure in the founding of Airbus and the shaping of its first aircraft, has died at age 97.
Béteille was appointed the chief engineer of the A300 program and developed a fuselage cross-section for its first aircraft, the A300B, with a hold big enough to accommodate two LD3 freight containers side-by-side.
Along with initial production director Felix Kracht, he also drew up the workshare program that still forms the basis of Airbus’ European production system.
Born in Aveyron, France, in 921, Béteille studied at Supaero in Toulouse before joining the forerunner of Sud Aviation in 1943.
He gained his pilot’s license in 1945, becoming the company’s flight engineer in 1952 and was part of the flight test team on the Caravelle’s first flight.
In early 1968, he started work in secret on what would become the 250-seat A300B.
The plane was formally launched in 1969 — flying for the first time in 1972 — and its innovative fuselage system is still in use on the A330 today.
After the creation of Airbus Industrie, Béteille became senior vice president of engineering and pushed for the company’s headquarters to be near the final assembly line in Toulouse.
In 1977, He was instrumental in gaining the A300’s first US customer, Eastern Airlines, through a strong relationship with the company’s then leader, former Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman.
He was also was convinced Airbus needed an aircraft family to convince potential customers it would survive.
“His dream truly came to fruition towards the end of his career, when in March 1984 he managed the formal launch of the A320,’’ Airbus said in a tribute.
“Roger Béteille was instrumental in developing its fly-by-wire (FBW) controls, with increased flight safety and wider fuselage, all of which were key to its huge commercial success.
“Fly-by-wire also enabled the start of cockpit commonality and cross-crew qualification for pilots across Airbus aircraft.”