““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Dassault Falcon 10/100
In the late 1960s–long before speedsters such as the Hawker Beechcraft Premier I, SyberJet SJ30 and Cessna Citation X were a glimmer in some engineer’s eye–Dassault gave the world a flying bullet: the Falcon 10. Then, from 1983 to 1989, it produced the Model 100, a slightly heavier version with first-generation electronic display avionics, an extra cabin window and an external baggage compartment.
Certified in 1973, the 10 is basically a 70 percent scale model of the Falcon 20. It incorporates highly swept wings, big fanjet engines (newly introduced by Garrett at the time and now part of Honeywell’s engine line) and airliner-style features such as full hydraulic flight controls, sophisticated (for its day) computers and a rugged build quality usually reserved for fighter jets. The 10 is faster than the 20 and leaves Learjets and Beechjets far behind in the contrails. Top speed is 492 nautical miles per hour–easily 10 to 20 percent faster than anything else in the Falcon 10’s class. Climb-out is at a rocket-like 4,600 feet per minute and maximum altitude is 45,000 feet. Yet, because of its leading-edge wing slats, which deploy to increase wing area and lift at low speeds, and flaps that extend to 52 degrees, the 10 can land on runways as short as 3,300 feet and launch from only slightly longer ones with full fuel, seats (two pilots, six passengers) and baggage–and then fly at least 1,560 nautical miles.
John and Martha King bought their Falcon 10 in 2001. The Kings, based in San Diego, founded one of the most successful flight-training schools in the world, King Schools, and are the only husband-and-wife team to hold every pilot rating offered by the FAA. They routinely use their 10 for cross-country trips. “Any pilot who has flown the Falcon 10 will tell you that it is their favorite airplane,” said John King. “It is fast and performs well and it is hard to fly the airplane without giggling.” However, he cautioned, “All of the complexity built into the airplane makes it harder to maintain and more expensive to operate.”
The Kings’ mechanic, Oded Moore of San Diego’s Jet Air, agreed. “You are getting one of the fastest aircraft out there, but it is the equivalent of buying a classic Ferrari: It is old and expensive. A lot of the parts have to come from Dassault. You don’t have the [parts] options that you do from Cessna or Hawker Beechcraft.”
That means when something breaks, the airplane can sit. And according to King and Moore, what breaks the most on the 10/100 are the hydraulic actuators that power everything from the flaps and slats to the brakes. There’s no safety concern–the 10 has a fully redundant and independent backup hydraulic system–but it is annoying. “You’ll watch an actuator start to drip and eventually the rate gets severe enough that you have to replace it,” noted King. Then they have to be shipped out to the one or two places in the country that fix them while your mechanic scrounges for a rebuilt or “on exchange” unit.
Conversely, getting support for the airplane’s Honeywell TFE731-2-1C engines (on the 100s, 3,230 pounds of thrust each) is no problem and many owners have their engines enrolled in Honeywell’s MSP hourly maintenance program.
Likewise, Rockwell Collins supports the Collins avionics. Most 10/100 operators had their avionics refreshed long ago. The Kings added a center multifunction display for moving maps, an RVSM altimeter and electronic flight information system displays at pilot and copilot stations.
However, most owners are loath to add much to their 10/100s now, given their recent low hull values, said Mark Wilkens, director of avionics sales at Elliott Aviation in Moline, Ill., a provider of Falcon Jet service and modifications. A used 10 fetches $280,000 to $575,000, while a used 100 commands on average between $675,000 and $900,000, according to aircraft valuation service Vref. Elliott offered several avionics upgrades within the last decade for the 10/100, including modern-looking Universal flat-panel displays, flight-management systems and wide area augmentation systems to enable precision GPS approaches under instrument flight rules. However, at an average price of $500,000 for the full smash, there are few takers today. “Since 2009, the airplane took a pretty big hit in its value,” Wilkens said. “The engines are the biggest value of the airplane now.”
Prospective buyers face another financial consideration: The maintenance inspections for this airplane, particularly the 12-year “C-Check” and landing-gear inspection, are horribly expensive. Wilkens said a C-Check can run $175,000 and gear inspection and rebuild another $300,000. If you want to get the airplane repainted during this inspection–theoretically not a bad idea–and corrosion is found, it can become a lengthy ordeal. “A few of those airplanes get hung up in C-Check and can stay there for a long time,” Wilkens cautioned. Because of that, he suggested using only paint shops that can also do detailed airframe repair.
Still, there are a few improvements, such as a soft-goods cabin refurbishment, that could make sense for this airplane. The inside of the 10/100’s cabin is tight: 12.9 feet long, 4.8 feet tall, and 5 feet wide. At 251 cubic feet, the volume is about the same as that of today’s entry-level jets. A typical layout features a cabinet opposite the entry door housing beverage storage and a slide-out potty drawer (intended for emergency use only) followed by two to four small single seats and a three-place rear bench seat. Behind and above the bench seat is a zippered fabric divider and cabinet door to the luggage shelf that sits atop the fuselage fuel tank. The shelf is about a foot tall, five feet wide and four feet deep and can hold 500 pounds. A second, external luggage compartment is an aftermarket option on the 10 and standard on the 100. Combined, both compartments yield about 48 cubic feet of space.
While small by today’s standards, the 10/100 cabin offers one big advantage, according to John King: You can’t overload it. “You would have to put lead bars in the airplane to get it over [maximum takeoff weight],” King joked. On his 10, maximum weight means both pilots, full fuel and 1,500 pounds of payload or six 200-pound passengers and 300 pounds of luggage. The slightly heavier 100 has a full-fuel payload of 1,243 pounds–still generous for an aircraft in this class.
There are ways to make that cramped cabin look larger and more appealing, according to Joe Daugherty, Elliott’s director of paint and interior sales. Daugherty mentioned aftermarket headliners that yield marginally more headroom and creative use of color, fabric and lighting. This type of soft-goods cabin refurb runs $80,000 to $120,000, depending on material selection.
Hourly direct operating costs for these airplanes, as you would expect, are highest in class.
“We close our eyes and try not to look at it,” John King said with a laugh, adding that he still flies his airplane 200 hours a year.
“Years ago, these were considered the Corvettes of the sky,” said Daugherty. In a sense, they still are.
Years ago, aircraft engineers were not always stifled by cost accountants.
At least, not right away. By the time production ended in 1989, Dassault had built 189 Falcon 10s and 37 Falcon 100s.
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What our readers had to say
I am very disappointed with your Falcon 10/100 article [Used Jet Review, December 2012/January 2013]. After reading it, if I were an uneducated buyer, I would never consider buying this airplane. That is just not good for aviation. Obama bashes general aviation enough. We don’t need to help him do it.
As an aircraft dealer for 33 years, I’ve learned to never bad-mouth any airplane. We don’t know of any airplane that doesn’t have things we would like to change. But we don’t dwell only on the less-desirable points.
We have never seen more buy for the money than the Falcon 10/100, especially at today’s prices. You will see just how great this airplane is if you consider its low acquisition costs; the fact that it is nearly 20 percent faster than most comparable jets, thereby taking many less airframe and engine hours to make the same trips; and its ability to take off and land on short runways.
Many statements in the article weren’t correct. We sold all our Falcon 10/100s at much higher prices than what was shown in the article. Also, to say landing gear costs $300,000 to overhaul is archaic; we can buy all three landing gear for under $50,000. And we can get a C check for less than $125,000. Plus, saying that the Falcons have the highest variable cost per hour in their class is not true; run the numbers on the Citation 650.
Bill R. Woods
President, Western Wings Corp.
The editors reply: Our goal is neither to bash airplanes nor to gloss over negatives. In our view, Mark Huber presented a fair and balanced review of the Falcon 10/100 and, in fact, made many of the same points that are in Mr. Woods’s third paragraph above.
Mark Huber replies: Regarding sale prices, we obtain our data from the objective pricing service Vref, which regularly surveys many brokers. Obviously, a particular airplane’s price reflects many factors, including, hours, condition and equipment. Regarding landing gear, we quoted prices from an experienced Falcon maintenance provider, Elliott Aviation. The price of a C check varies widely due to this model’s age and can be more or less than $175,000, according to Elliott. As for hourly costs, the Citation 650 and Falcon 10/100 really aren’t comparable. The Cessna is larger and has nearly 40 percent more cabin volume.