““[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.’” ”
The Falcon 7X trijet, which Dassault announced back in 2001, appears ready to fly into the spotlight. Certification seems likely before the end of 2006 and more than 40 of the $39.2 million long-range 12- to 14-seat models are already in production.
Operators who fly out of shorter runways or airports at higher elevations, or who need unrestricted over-water routing, traditionally have gravitated toward Dassault's signature three-engine design. The 7X gives them more reasons to do so.
The aircraft-which has an estimated long-range cruise speed of 0.80 Mach and reached an altitude of 51,000 feet during testing-has an unrefueled range of 5,950 nautical miles (6,842 statute miles). That means it can fly nonstop between New York and Riyadh, Paris and Singapore, and Los Angeles and Rome.
Dassault at one point forecasted demand for 173 Falcon 7Xs by 2012, but at press time, orders had already been placed for 116. (Twenty-four of them will go to NetJets Europe, whose $1.1 billion order reportedly represents the largest business jet purchase in European history and Dassault's largest-ever sale of private jets.) Its popularity means that a 7X ordered today won't be delivered until at least 2010. The company estimates a production rate of three aircraft per month through 2007.
Dassault will manufacture the 7X in Bordeaux, France. Those bound for the Americas, Australia and Asia will be flown "green," or without paint and interior, to the company's mammoth Little Rock, Ark. facility, where Dassault builds its own cabin furniture and does upholstery, finishing and plating. Specifications for almost 20 customer aircraft already have been completed and the first 7X is due to arrive in Arkansas this fall. Dassault is initially dedicating nearly 100,000 square feet of production and hangar space there to 7X completion, service and support.
At Little Rock, Dassault will paint the exterior of the aircraft and install supplemental avionics, customer-specified interiors and in-flight entertainment systems, including equipment for high-speed Internet access.
Not Just a 900 on Steroids
While the aircraft may appear from the outside to be a Falcon 900 on steroids, with its stretched fuselage and longer wings, there are substantial differences. The wing is more swept and more aerodynamically efficient on the 7X than on past Falcons; it also incorporates winglets to improve performance and composites to save weight and add stiffness. Overall, Dassault claims, the 7X wing offers a "double-digit" performance improvement over previous models.
For the 7X, Dassault selected the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307A engine, which offers a generous 7,200 hours between overhauls and is anticipated to meet new Stage 4 anti-noise standards.
The 7X will also boast a much quieter interior than its predecessors. The Lord Corp. designed engine mounts and cabin isolators for the aircraft that substantially reduce cabin noise and vibration. Noise-dampening surfaces were also designed to ride between the cabin floor and carpet. While the cabin's noise level won't be reported until certification, Dassault's goal was for the decibel speech interference level (dBSIL) to not exceed 52-quieter than many of the priciest new luxury autos at highway speed.
The 7X's cabin is six feet longer than the Falcon 900's. The extra length provides room-depending on which of the nine major cabin configurations a customer selects-for forward and aft lavatories, a third flight-deck seat, a crew rest area, more closet space, passenger legroom or a 50-inch-long galley/work area. The forward galley, lav and crew rest areas can be closed off from the main cabin by deploying a pocket sliding door in the forward cabin divider.
A typical cabin configuration includes the forward and aft lavs, galley and three seating areas, including a club seating section with four facing larger executive seats and foldout sidewall tables; a conference grouping with four narrower seats and an electrically activated, folding hi-lo table and opposite sidewall credenza; and an aft stateroom with one or two divans that fold out into beds and/or executive single seats. These three zones have separate climate controls. The environmental system maintains a maximum cabin altitude of 6,000 feet and provides for more even heating than on earlier models.
Dassault turned to DeCrane Aircraft to provide new-generation single and double executive seats on the 7X as the "standard option." The seats come with a variety of new standard features, including a dual-chamber, electrically powered inflatable lumbar. Options include full or partial electrical function, recliner-style leg rests and choice of seat-back height and style of headrest.
Dassault also took a fresh approach to cabin lighting in the 7X. Its 28 passenger windows are two inches higher and 20 percent bigger than the windows on the 900, enabling a significantly better field of view and more natural illumination. Emteq LEDs replace traditional fluorescent lighting.
While changes in the 7X's cabin systems are pronounced, the visual cues are subtle. You can't say that about the cockpit, which is dominated by new sidestick controls, trackballs and Honeywell's EASy flight deck with its four mammoth 14.1-inch flat-screen displays. Dassault claims the EASy system substantially reduces pilot workload and improves situational awareness.
The 7X is the first all "fly-by-wire" (FBW) business aircraft. FBW, first popularized on jet fighters such as Dassault's Mirage 2000 and Lockheed's F-16, employs a sophisticated network of computer-controlled, electrically actuated flight-control systems, as opposed to many of the old-style mechanical linkages and hydraulic systems. FBW aircraft respond faster and more precisely to pilot and autopilot inputs, with crisper handling and increased reliability.
Not only is much of the core technology on the 7X different from that on its predecessors, so is the technology used to design it. Dassault employed a "virtual platform" and product lifecycle management (PLM) to radically speed development, tooling and assembly times and eliminate the need for proof-of-concept or prototype aircraft. A case study done on the program by IBM showed that it cut assembly time by 50 percent and tooling costs by 66 percent while virtually eliminating assembly errors. PLM also allowed Dassault's 7X engineering team and more than 300 suppliers to collaborate in "real time" on the aircraft's design. It is the reason Dassault can place 40 aircraft into the production pipeline even before it achieves certification. PLM will also simplify maintenance tracking over the life of the aircraft.