PAST & PRESENT

Dassault Falcon Jet

Decades of passion create stylish and efficient medium and large cabin business aircraft.

By Grant McLaren
Editor-at-large


Falcon 7X—the first business jet to use digital flight controls and a new high-transonic wing—is the culmination of 5 decades of Dassault design and manufacturing experience.

Dassault was a pioneer in the fledgling business jet industry in the early 1960s and has continually raised the bar over the years in terms of design, utility, efficiency and style. The Falcon 20, originally the Mystère 20 (which first flew in 1963), helped create a new class of purpose-built business jets during the pioneering days of the industry.

Today's large-cabin 5950-nm Falcon 7X, with first fight in 2005, maintains all the coveted features and performance of a traditional Falcon Jet with industry-leading technology and best in class fuel efficiency, performance and comfort.

But what's perhaps most satisfying is that this family of business jets has always been stylish, good looking and nimble in performance—something that always meant a lot to company founder Marcel Dassault.

Dassault business aircraft have been "engineered with passion" over the years and designed and marketed by some of the most colorful, one-of-a-kind personalities in the business aviation industry. The story of Dassault Falcon Jet is as much about the personalities—from Marcel Dassault to Pan Am's Charles Lindbergh, Najeeb Halaby and James B Taylor—as it is about the design excellence lavished on the product line over the past 50 years.

Personalities and innovation

Marcel Dassault, who devoted his life to aviation and always had an interest in building civilian aircraft, believed that an aircraft should not only perform well but should look elegant. "One of the golden rules in aviation is that high performance always pays off," said Dassault who's also known to have stated, "If an aircraft looks good it will fly well."

The Falcon 20 was Marcel's dream and when son Serge Dassault took a scale model of the Mystère 20 to the 1962 NBAA convention he returned with 140 business aircraft users registered to receive further information.

In the early 1960s many US corporations flew commercial as they waited for business jets with the right mix of performance, range and comfort to emerge. This situation, happily, was soon to change, thanks in part to the versatile and elegant 8-passenger Falcon 20 with its fast, 1-stop transcontinental capability.

Originally dubbed the Mystère 20, the Falcon 20 helped bring the jet age to the corporate world in the early 1960s. This design occupied a key position in the US business aircraft market.

Over the years Falcons have led the industry in effective application of latest technology. The Falcon 20 was a pioneer in leading edge devices for business aircraft, the Falcon 200 and Falcon 50 introduced first business jet EFIS flightdecks and the 7X was the world's first business aircraft with full fly-by-wire (FBW) digital flight control system.

Falcon jets have always led the industry in operational versatility, with high cruise speeds, excellent short field abilities and top-of-class fuel efficiency. Compared to competing products a Falcon is one of the "greenest" aircraft in the skies. The large-cabin (1024 cu ft) Falcon 2000LX, for example, consumes less fuel than many much smaller midsize jets. Here we seem to have the perfect combination of performance, versatility, elegant looks and fuel efficiency. What more can an operator want?

Operators love their Falcon jets

We've all run across owners and pilots who like their current Falcon Jets so much that they're often reluctant to change aircraft types. Sentry Insurance, for example, has been operating Falcons since the mid-60s. "Flying Falcons was one of my greatest pleasures," recalls Capt Dave Hughes. "It could do anything you wanted it to, the controls were so sensitive and dampened out."

Conductor Herbert von Karajan, a Falcon 10 owner and pilot, once wrote to Marcel Dassault, "Very few days go by without my thinking about [my Falcon 10] with emotion and enthusiasm."

Members of the Pan Am delegation which visited Dassault's Mérignac factory in 1963 to view the Mystère 20 prototype before ordering 40 copies, plus 120 options, later that year. (L–R) Dassault PR Dir Georges Brian and Export Marketing Dir Bernard Waquet, Pan Am Legal Adviser John Pirie and delegation members Jack Sibard, Franklin Gledhill and Charles Lindbergh, with Dassault Design Office Dir Paul Chassagne, Tech Dir Paul Déplante and Project Mgr René Lemaire.

Another Falcon aficionado, Film Director Francis Ford Coppola, says of his 7X, "Falcon achieves performance with more finesse. French engineering has its own style—you think of the Eiffel Tower or a Citroën DS—and it takes a more elegant, practical approach." Coppola, who owns several classic Citroën automobiles, refers to the 7X as his "company car but with an art déco interior."

Falcon Jet Chief Pilot Operations Dave DeAngelis joined Falcon Jet's Pan Am division in 1974 and recalls early market reaction to the Falcon 20. "It was a nice size," he says, "but not ostentatious, and one of the quietest business jets for its size. Pilots loved the flight controls and robust systems even though the original version lacked some climb performance and was not as fast as we would have liked it to be. But it was a great first step into corporate aviation!"

Debut of the Falcon 20

In the early 1960s Dassault launched the Mystère 20—a Pratt & Whitney JT12-powered twin jet. This was an exciting time for business aviation as other corporate options—including the 4-engine Lockheed JetStar, the de Havilland DH125 (initially the Jet Dragon), Learjet 23, North American Sabreliner, Jet Commander 1121 and HFB320 Hansa Jet—were either in concept, prototype or development phase. While the Mystère 20 was considered a daring project by many it benefited from Dassault's knowledge and experience in building jet fighters.

Pan American World Airways had made a decision to market business aircraft and Charles Lindbergh, as technical advisor to Pan Am Pres Juan Trippe, visited Dassault's BOD (Mérignac, Bordeaux, France) factory in 1963. That August, Pan Am signed a contract to purchase 40 aircraft plus 120 options for the North American market.

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