The aerospace industry has grown dramatically in Spain in recent years as local companies have contributed to projects both in Spain and abroad. Spanish industry provides cutting-edge technology which enables its companies to expand internationally. This is the fifth in an eight-part series highlighting new technologies in Spain and is produced by Technology Review, Inc.' s custom-publishing division in partnership with the Trade Commission of Spain.
As Spain has grown economically in recent decades, its aerospace industry has taken flight. Buoyed by an unusually strong investment in research, and by local representation from major international aerospace companies, smaller engineering, design, and technology companies have formed and grown to support the aviation and space sectors. Spanish firms have particularly advanced in the area of carbon fiber composites, a growing field in the push to decrease the weight and increase the efficiency of aircraft. At the same time, university research has increased in partnership with private companies to meet the needs of the aerospace industry in Spain and around the world.
Spaniards began taking to the air in the early part of the 20th century. Aeronautical engineer and pilot Juan de la Cierva invented the autogiro, a type of aircraft, in 1919. He continued experimenting for four years and eventually flew the world's first stable rotary-wing aircraft, the forerunner of today's helicopter.
Shortly thereafter, in March 1923, José Ortiz de Echagüe, the third Spaniard to be issued a pilot's license and the first Spaniard to fly a military plane, joined forces with colleagues to found CASA (Construcciones Aeronáuticas Sociedad Anónima), one of the country's first aviation companies. They built a production plant at Getafe near Madrid that same year and began construction of military aircraft. By the 1930s the company had begun developing its own models.
After the Second World War and through the 1970s, CASA established itself as a leader in transport aircraft. By the 1980s it had produced a popular design, the C-212, that it exported to air forces around the world.
In 1971, Spain, through CASA, became part of the Airbus consortium, responsible for the design and manufacture of specific structural components, including horizontal tail units, fuselage sections, access doors, and landing-gear doors. In 1999, CASA became one of the founding members of the European Aerospace Defense and Space Company (EADS), together with the German company DaimlerChrysler Aerospace AG and the French company Aerospatiale Matra. EADS includes Airbus and Eurocopter, the world's largest helicopter supplier, and is one of the largest suppliers for the European satellite navigation system, Galileo.
Recently, the entire landing gear for EADS-Airbus planes such as the 380 has been produced in Spain. In addition, since the 1970s CASA has been involved in space programs, producing parts and modules for launchers, satellites, and the International Space Station. EADS-CASA remains a major provider of airlift and transport aircraft, such as the CN-235 for the U. S. Coast Guard. The Airbus plant in Seville houses the final assembly line for a modern military airlifter, the A400, which replaces older planes like the C-130 Hercules and provides twice the load and volume.
Today, EADS-CASA, Airbus, and Eurocopter all have strong representation in the Spanish aerospace industry and in fact have driven the creation of literally hundreds of smaller engineering, design, and manufacturing companies around Spain. At the same time, other companies have grown to play a strong role in the aerospace industry both in Spain and overseas, meeting the industry's demands and creating solutions to pressing aeronautical problems.