Falcon 50/50EX Photo: International Aircraft Marketing and Sales, Inc.
Falcon 50/50EX Photo: International Aircraft Marketing and Sales, Inc.

Falcon 50/50EX

These airplanes offer a lot for the money, and winglets can significantly enhance their already excellent performance.

I had just landed on the short island runway, taxied to parking, and was going through my shutdown checklist. Then a radio call made me freeze. A Falcon 50 trijet—all 38,000 pounds of it—was on a five-mile final. Visions of this monster overshooting the end of the 3,500-foot-long strip, bursting into a conflagration, and tumbling down a cliff into a lake filled my brain. 

I exited the cockpit of my aircraft just in time to watch its performance. The Falcon touched down smartly in a puff of blue tire smoke; then I heard the simultaneous sounds of aggressive thrust reverser application and screeching brakes as the jet came to a full stop in a mere 2,000 feet. I had never seen anything quite like it before. 

This kind of short-field ability has made the midsize Falcon 50 a legend since Dassault first delivered it in 1980. Its fans include pilots ranging from singer Jimmy Buffett to preacher Franklin Graham, and even though it has not been manufactured since 2007, used models continue to sell well. 

Jack Kearny, a sales agent for International Aircraft Marketing & Sales, says his firm brokered 11 Falcon 50s last year. “The customers who buy these airplanes really value their short-runway capability,” he says. The Falcon 50, which stands nearly 23 feet tall from tires to tail, also has major ramp presence. “It looks bigger than it really is,” says Kearny, adding that few remain on the market longer than 100 days.

Falcon 50/50EX Photo: International Aircraft Marketing and Sales, Inc.
Falcon 50/50EX Photo: International Aircraft Marketing and Sales, Inc.

And the 50 has the dubious distinction of being probably the only business jet used to launch weapons. During the Iran-Iraq war in 1987, a specially modified Iraqi Air Force Falcon 50, code-named Susanna, fired two AM.39 Exocet anti-ship missiles into the U.S. Navy frigate USS Stark while it was on patrol in the Persian Gulf, killing 37 crew and injuring 21. The official explanation from Iraq, then accepted by Washington, was that its pilot had mistaken the Stark for an Iranian oil tanker. 

The 50 is an offshoot of the twin-engine Falcon 20 of the 1960s. Both airplanes are built like bricks, which is what you’d expect from the company that also produces the legendary Mirage fighter jets. It has the same cabin dimensions as the 20 but adds more aerodynamic “super-critical” wings with bigger flaps and leading-edge slats that allow it to have slower approach speeds and use shorter runways. The 50 also features a taller tail as well as an extra engine that give it more utility and range than the 20

A Relatively Roomy Cabin

At 700 cubic feet, the cabin volume of the 50 falls between that of a midsize Cessna Citation X (527 cubic feet) and that of the longer super-midsize Citation Sovereign (787 cubic feet). The typical cabin layout in a 50 features an entryway with a coat closet and galley followed by an executive “club four” executive seat grouping and then a three-place divan opposite two more single seats and then an aft lav. Filling all the seats can make for a “cozy” ride. Luggage capacity is 115 cubic feet (90 external), generous for an airplane of this one’s era. With its trenched center aisle, the 50 cabin measures 69 inches tall, 73 inches wide, and 23 feet long.   

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Dassault built 347 Falcon 50s during its 27-year production run; 248 were the model 50 and 99 were the 50EX variant with more modern Collins Pro Line 4 digital avionics and more fuel-efficient and better high/hot performing Honeywell TFE731-40 engines. The new engines increase range nearly 10 percent—to 3,400 nautical miles—and cruise speed by 30 knots; they also significantly cut climb times, and give the aircraft a higher ceiling of 49,000 feet. But even with this efficiency, the 50EX on average will still guzzle 310 gallons of fuel per hour.    

Prices range from $750,000 to $4.5 million, depending on vintage, updates, and options, which include aftermarket blended winglets from Aviation Partners. The winglets add ramp appeal and significantly enhance Falcon 50 series performance, according to Robert MacKenzie, sales director for the winglet manufacturer. They increase range by 5 to 7 percent, decrease fuel burn, reduce climb time by up to 25 percent, and usually eliminate the need to “step climb” to cruising altitude. Broker Kearny maintains that a straight 50 fitted with the winglets and the Dash 40 engine upgrade will actually outperform a similarly equipped Falcon 50EX. 

You can also upgrade a straight 50 with the Dash 40 engine kit and Pro Line 21 avionics in place of the older analog cockpit, or in the case of the 50EX, the original Pro Line 4. But those upgrades are expensive and may not make sense, given the airplane’s retail value. The winglets cost around $800,000 plus another $200,000 for paint and installation. Upgrading from the avionics to Pro Line 21 can run an additional $1 million and is required if you want to avail yourself of the most advanced avionics capabilities and the new FANS-1/A system that is now used for cross-oceanic routing. (A modern retrofit avionics suite is also available from Universal Avionics.)

Most owners also want Wi-Fi in the aircraft. Prices vary widely for that, depending on which system you select, but it can easily cost $200,000. A paint job and a new interior can run around $450,000, Kearny says.  

Falcon 50/50EX cockpit  Photo: The Dyer Group.
Falcon 50/50EX cockpit Photo: The Dyer Group.

A Bargain to Buy, But Maintenance Will Cost You

Unquestionably, the Falcon 50 and 50EX both offer a lot of airplane for the money, giving owners transcontinental and transoceanic range and the ability to squeeze in and out of tight spaces. And these aircraft are often priced millions less than same-year used twinjets with comparable range and cabins. 

But while the initial capital outlay may seem like a bargain, the costs associated with operating and maintaining an aging trijet can drill a deep hole in your wallet. The fuel burn is about the same as that of a gas-sucking Citation X speedster and actually more than that of larger-cabin twinjets such as the Challenger 350 or even the 604. 

Then there is maintenance. Scheduled inspections on the Falcon 50 series are pricey events. A “C check” inspection—required every six years—can cost anywhere from $160,000 to $450,000 depending on what gremlins, such as corrosion, are found. The mandatory landing-gear overhaul—every 12 years or 6,000 landings, whichever comes first—can also be a six-figure adventure, and the price of overhauling all three engines can easily top what you paid for the airplane. 

That said, you may well conclude that the bargain acquisition cost and the utility the Falcon 50 series offers are enough to compensate for the attendant maintenance bills. A Falcon 50 will dominate the ramp at smaller airports—and when landing short it puts on one heck of a show.