By Murdo Morrison
The interior of 7X serial number three - I was on board the aircraft's first "public" flight last Friday from Merignac to Farnborough - only hints at the grandeur in which future occupants of the world's first fly-by-wire business jet will be transported non-stop from the likes of Dubai to New York.
The leather seats - hand-stitched at Dassault's completion centre in Little Rock, Arkansas - share the cabin with cages of test equipment. In size terms, the 11.9m-long and 2.34m-wide cabin is similar to its Global Express and Gulfstream 550 rivals: 19 passengers (and a crew of three) can fit comfortably. But, in reality, the cavernous interior will in most cases be used to provide luxurious living, sleeping and working space for smaller gatherings of the global economy's biggest hitters.
These big hitters, however, are growing in numbers. While ultra long range business jets are hardly a volume market - the 7X's pricetag is $41 million - Dassault Falcon boss John Rosanvallon believes there will be over 1,000 of the in the skies by 2013, 40% of which will be 7Xs. And this does not count the bigger airliner derivatives: the Airbus Corporate Jet and Boeing Business Jet.
The greens may not like it but the fact is these personal transports for the ultra-rich and ultra-powerful fuel the global economy and drive technological advancement in aerospace - often, as is the case with the 7X's digital flight controls - providing a stepping stone from military to civil aviation.
Back to the flight. With company test pilots Bill Kerherve and Jean Louis Dumas at the controls, we took off from Dassault's Merignac factory at Bordeaux airport at around 14:45 local time, climbing sharply to reach our cruising altitude of 28,000ft and speed of 300nm (0.73.M) within four minutes. The cabin was incredibly quiet - how much of that was due to the three 6,402lb-thrust Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307A engines and how much to noise insulation - is unclear. But even during take-off we could chat without raising our voices even slightly.
Sixty five minutes later, after a flight which took us over eastern Brittany and Cherbourg and into UK airspace near Portsmouth, we were inside the Tag Aviation terminal at Farnborough. The short hop was hardly typical of the sort of missions the 7X will be used for when it goes into service in early June, but it illustrated the comfort and performance of arguably the most exciting arrival on the business jet market for some years.
After depositing its handful of aviation journalists, 7X number three was shortly on its way back to Merignac, its take-off with the empty Farnborough air show site behind it extremely quiet. With seven of its siblings currently in completion at Little Rock, and another 30 on the assembly line at Merignac, aircraft three will remain as a demonstrator until October, before flying to Little Rock ahead of customer delivery at the end of the year.