ONERA lifts the veil on 70 years of its history: 1996 to the present day - A period of major changes

Transition in the late 1990s

During the 1990s, the defense sector learned lessons from conflicts (Gulf War, ex-Yugoslavia) that had thrust into prominence weaponry of precision and stealth. ONERA had been getting to grips with these topics even before these events occurred.

Chambre anéchoïque BABI © ONERA
BABI anechoic chamber © ONERA

It pursued its work in this field, developing experimental stealth measurement resources (BABI chamber), and studying stealth materials, while progressing in the fields of reconnaissance and very high optical resolution imaging, optronics and radar, with the synthetic aperture radar (RAMSES).






The period was also marked in France by reform to the defense armory and a steep drop in the budget assigned to defense research. The restructuring this involved for the DGA, the French armament procurement agency, had a knock-on effect for ONERA. All the same, these difficulties did not prevent it from developing very long range detection radars, in particular transhorizon radars. Likewise, in the second half of the 1990s, the GRAVES (Grand Réseau Appliqué à la Veille Spatiale) radar-based space surveillance system - unique in Europe - was developed.

Radar GRAVES : vues des antennes sur site d’émission et de réception © ONERARadar GRAVES : vues des antennes sur site d’émission et de réception © ONERA
GRAVES radar: views of antennas on transmission and reception site © ONERA

En 1997, sont créés à l'ONERA 17 départements scientifiques thématiques réunis en 4 branches placées sous la houlette d'une direction scientifique générale. Une part croissante de l'activité se tourne vers la réalisation de contrats.  Des collaborations de longue durée seront développées, par exemple avec MBDA et la SNECMA (devenue SAFRAN), dans le domaine des turboréacteurs (matériaux à haute température,  modélisation des écoulements internes moteurs), ou avec SOFRADIR (caractérisation et développement de nouveaux concepts de détecteurs infrarouge). Par ailleurs, pour répondre aux besoins de l'Armée de l'Air, l'ONERA, a créé en 1992 un centre à Salon de Provence, consacré à des activités de recherche et d'enseignement dans les domaines du radar, de l'optronique et de la mécanique du vol.

Moteur M88 du rafale © ONERA
M88 engine of the Rafale © ONERA

Aube du M88 © snecma
Blade of the M88 © snecma

Caméra infrarouge Scorpio (ONERA/SOFRADIR) © ONERA
Scorpio infrared camera (ONERA/SOFRADIR)


Centre de Salon de Provence, LIPS : Laboratoire d'étude des interactions pilotes-systèmes © ONERA
Salon de Provence center, LIPS: Laboratory for research into pilot-system interactions © ONERA


An evolving environment (2002-2016)

The end of the Cold War brought with it not a safer world, but an increasingly complex one. A growing number of countries had aerospace ambitions, in particular focused on defense. To address these new challenges, the French government sought to initiate new collaborative modes between public research and businesses, which in 2005 began to be manifested in the form of competitive clusters. Study and research would receive less funding from the major national agencies, which implied thematic collaborations combining different partners. The aerospace stakeholders would also be bolstering their own research capacity, and their computational resources. ONERA had to adapt to this new state of affairs.

During this period research continued apace, in particular in the field of materials, the lightening of structures, crash resistance and equipment service life. ONERA explored innovative concepts aimed at reinforcing the performance of the strategic forces, and pursued its investigations into stealth, air intakes and ammunition holds. With Airbus, it took part in studies of the A380, then of the A350, in the fields of aerodynamics, structures and avionics. It also contributed to the development of the Neuron, the tactical drone demonstrator, led by Dassault Aviation.

At the vanguard of an aerospace sector that is decisive for national sovereignty, ONERA continue to play its part, more than ever, in ensuring the dynamism and competitiveness of this high-stakes industry.

Maquette d'une structure d'AIRBUS pour essais de crash
AIRBUS structural mockup for crash

Maquette d’Airbus A350 XWB en soufflerie
@AIRBUS/ONERA: Airbus A350 XWB mockup
in wind tunnel


Simulation numérique de l'écoulement autour d'une maquette fuselage- voilure, CAT3D conçue par l'ONERA pour l'étude du contrôle actif des écoulements © ONERA
Numerical simulation of flow
around a fuselage-wing mockup,
CAT3D designed by ONERA for studying
active flow control

Maquette d'avion de combat futur sans pilote dans la soufflerie F1 du Fauga-Mauzac, © ONERA
Mockup of a future unpiloted fighter jet
in the Fauga-Mauzac F1 wind tunnel, © ONERA



Visualisation pariétale des écoulements par enduits colorés dans la soufflerie F1 du Fauga-Mauzac, AVE aéronef de validation expérimental © ONERA
Flow visualization of near-wall region
with color rendering in the F1 wind tunnel
at Fauga-Mauzac, AVE experimental validation
aircraft © ONERA


Vue d’artiste du Neuron en vol © Dassault-Aviation
Neuron in flight © Dassault-Aviation