PAST & PRESENT

Dassault Falcon Jet

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


Dassault acquired its facility at LIT (Little Rock AR) in 1974 to support completion and support of Falcon Jets. In the early days this facility also handled modification and support of FedEx and US Coast Guard Falcon 20 variants.

The order was conditional on design changes to the aircraft—substituting JT12s for more powerful General Electric CF700 engines, increasing wing area from 1271 to 1448 sq ft, adding 23.5 inches to fuselage length and upgrading avionics to Bendix and Sperry equipment.

Pan Am's Najeeb Halaby was instrumental in the business aircraft operation and worked closely with Pan Am Dir Business Jets James B Taylor—one of the industry's legendary marketing gurus.

It was decided that a new name was needed as Mystère was considered difficult for Americans to pronounce. Taylor suggested naming it "Citation." Dassault's decision, however, was to go with a suggestion from its New York ad agency and the Mystère 20 became known as the Fan Jet Falcon.

First flight occurred on May 4, 1963 and the twinjet (built in the Mérignac facility alongside Mirage III fighter jets) became star of the 1963 Paris Air Show.

In 1971 FedEx Founder Fred Smith ordered 33 Falcon 20s (modified with 6 ft 3 in x 4 ft 7 in cargo doors at Little Rock Airmotive). FedEx was soon flying Falcon 20s between 25 US cities (at utilization rates of 2200 hrs per aircraft per year).

Early sales on the special mission front went well for the Dassault Falcon Jet. Just 6 years later, in 1977, the US Coast Guard (USCG) ordered 41 Falcon 20Gs (as the HU25 Guardian) fitted with more powerful Garrett ATF3-6 engines.

Falcon 50 and beyond

(T–B) Falcon 50EX, 2000 and 900EX are designed to provide operators with reliable, efficient and comfortable longhaul capability. With particularly good short field capabilities these products are among the most versatile business jets in the sky.

By the end of the 1960s the Falcon 20 had become a benchmark for business aviation due to its size, operational efficiency and reliability. The Pan Am team, under Halaby, suggested creating a family of business jets based on the Falcon 20.

The smaller 4 to 6-passenger Falcon 10 first flew in May 1970 and this was followed by first flight of an early version Falcon 50 trijet in 1973.

In 1974 Falcon Jet acquired Little Rock Airmotive to take over interior completions and support USCG's HU25A program, recalls DeAngelis.

"Falcon 10, 20 and 50 hulls were built in France, ferried to LIT (Little Rock AR) green and completely outfitted on this side of the Atlantic," he says.

"It really helped us get the program going, to boost service and product support capability and to deliver more aircraft into the North American market."

Falcon 50s filled an important market niche, says DeAngelis. "The 50 had better range than the JetStar—and 1 less engine. It was a more efficient aircraft than the Gulfstream II with better range (at 3000 nm), lower fuel burn and improved short field ability."

In 1976 the Falcon 50 was reinvented with a non-supercritical wing as the Falcon 50B. Product line continued to evolve with the Falcon 200 (featuring coast-to-coast range) and Falcon 100 (with new avionics and an additional window) in 1981. In 1984 the Falcon 900 rolled out and in 1988 the Falcon 20-5 (retrofitted with Garrett TFE731-5AR engines) significantly boosted range and performance of the original Falcon Jet model.

In 1995 the Falcon 2000 (announced at the 1989 Paris Air Show) received FAA certification as a new business jet type under FAR Part 25. Designed with 3120-nm coast-to-coast range the TFE738-powered 2000 made use of the Falcon 900 wing and fuselage to limit development and production costs.

The "wasp waisted" sculptured aft fuselage of the 2000 (which is also evident on the 7X as well as Mirage 2000 and Rafale fighter jets) significantly contributed to reduced fuel burn and made this aircraft a winner from a fuel efficiency perspective. Today the Falcon 2000LX boasts 4000-nm range (6 passengers at Mach 0.80 cruise) and is one of the most fuel efficient, comfortable offices in the sky.

Investing in technology

Dassault Falcon Jet never strays far from the cutting edge of aircraft technology in both the civilian and military worlds. For several years—from the mid-1990s to early 2000s—journalists would keep their ears open wide during Paris Air Show Dassault press conferences in hopes of news of a possible Falcon supersonic business jet (SSBJ).

Falcon 2000EX EASy flightdeck—a man/machine interface designed by Dassault in partnership with Honeywell—features large displays and a user-friendly cursor control device (CCD) to select options from drop-down menus.

With its experience in building supersonic fighter jets, and a company culture that "impossible is just not in the vocabulary" Dassault seemed to be the most likely player in any SSBJ entry.

While Dassault did unveil a mockup of a supersonic Falcon project at the 1997 Paris Air Show there were simply too many practical difficulties to make such a program a reality. Environmental challenges, lack of suitable engines and high development cost of such an ambitious program seems to (for now at least) have put an end to Falcon SSBJ talk.

What did become reality, however, was a 3rd generation of Falcon Jet—the Falcon 7X (code named "FNX project" for years prior to announcement). There was verifiable market demand for a 5700-nm aircraft designed around a roomier cabin than that of the Falcon 900EX.

Achieving an operating range 25% greater than the 900EX required a new wing design with clear improvement in lift-to-drag ratio. Equipped with the world's first business jet FBW flight controls and 3 Pratt & Whitney PW307As, the 7X is designed to rapidly approach max speed of Mach 0.90 and cruise 5700 nm (Mach 0.80 with 8 passengers).
Into the future

While we may not see a supersonic Falcon emerge from Dassault's Mérignac plant in the near term the market can be comfortable with the fact that Dassault Falcon Jet will continue to push the limits of what is possible and makes effective technological and market sense. The 7X is 100% Falcon with the same style and presence as its mid-60s Falcon 20 predecessor.

Thoughtful design touches, such as the fact that the 7X has 27 windows (10% bigger than the 900EX to provide an exceptional amount of light to reduce travel fatigue) maintain the level of detail that's gone into every Falcon Jet over the past 50 years.

No doubt when Dassault does decide to unveil an SSBJ there will be owners and operators, just as smitten as their counterparts were 2 or 3 decades ago with then current technology Falcon 50s and 20s, who won't want to give up their 900LXs, 2000LXs and 7Xs.

Editor-at-Large Grant McLaren has written for Pro Pilot for over 20 years and specializes in corporate flight department coverage.

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