Just 50h into its flight test programme, Dassault Aviation's flagship Falcon 7X will be put through its paces for the first time at Le Bourget today, highlighting the unprecedented confidence the French manufacturer is demonstrating in its latest long-range business jet.
With more than 55 orders to date, the 7X has done better in the market than any other Dassault business jet at this stage of the programme and looks set to become one of its most successful offerings.
In terms of the way it is manufactured, the 7X is also the trendsetter for future Dassault business jets, the first of which is likely to be a replacement for the smaller Falcons, dubbed the 5X and 9X.
"This is a revolutionary aircraft in many ways", says Olivier Villa, Dassault senior vice-president, civil aircraft. "The Falcon 7X is the world's first fly-by-wire business jet and the first aircraft ever to be designed entirely in a virtual environment.
"We're extremely pleased with the way the programme has gone. The flight test programme to date has been flawless."
The 7X enters the market as the only European competitor to the two new long-range business jets from North America, the Gulfstream G450 and G500/550 and Bombardier Global 500 and Global Express. Announced at the 2001 Paris airshow, it is the largest, longest range Falcon to-date, seating up to 16 passengers in a new, ultra-quiet cabin - the result, says Villa, of years of groundbreaking research into bringing down cabin interior noise levels.
Those fortunate enough to fly aboard the 7X will also benefit from windows with 40% more area, a new airconditioning system bringing the equivalent cabin altitude down 2,000ft (610m) to 6,000ft, and a new forward toilet. Each of the three cabin sections is also larger and for the first time there is an optional crew rest area to meet US certification requirements for flights lasting more than 12h.
As the 7X flies around the Le Bourget circuit, onlookers will behold the first aircraft in the world to have been built "straight from the computer". Using the Catia three-dimensional computer-aided design system originating from sister company Dassault Systeme, Dassault has been able to avoid the traditional, time-consuming need to build an expensive full aircraft mockup. With the 7X, the design is sent directly from computer to the factory machines which cut the metal and composite materials used in the 7X.
For the first time, the company has created a new digital "product lifecycle management" process, essentially a digital mockup of the entire aircraft enabling all partners in the programme to have instant access to the design. In essence, this means that Dassault created a temporary "virtual company", something which chairman and chief executive Charles Edelstenne says points the way to all future programmes, both military and civil. "We're looking at a 'variable geometry' approach to future programmes", he says. "It's a way of bringing together the best skills available for a particular programme, as if there is a single design office".
Edelstenne says the "industrial revolution" represented by the 7X "has to be accompanied by a cultural revolution to adapt to the demands of electronic collaborative processes. We're the first company to achieve that transformation."
The direct result of the digital mockup approach is that Falcon 7X assembly time has been halved, from 14 months to just seven, while tooling costs are 50% lower because the huge metal jigs previously used are redundant.
For the preliminary design phase, Dassault assembled 400 people from 27 companies and seven countries at its St Cloud headquarters, just outside Paris. They then returned to their own companies to continue designing their own sections, connected to the unique 7X database by a permanent high-speed data link.
The 7X flies with a new fly-by-wire flight control system developed with the benefit of years of experience with the Mirage 2000 and Rafale fighters, both flying at Le Bourget. As with the combat aircraft, control is by sidestick, working through digital computers to move the aerodynamic surfaces.
This means that for the first time in a business jet Dassault has been able to provide flight envelope protection, allowing pilots the freedom to fly the aircraft without worrying about exceeding the allowable manoeuvrability margins. So, for example, faced with the need to fly the Falcon out of a potentially dangerous situation, all the pilot has to do is to apply full power and pull hard back on the sidestick. The control system does the rest.
With its three engines and a similar configuration to the Falcon 900, observers of the 7X could be forgiven for thinking there was little visual difference between the two. Look again - particularly at the wing, which is 44% bigger than that of the 900 and has 5.8m more span.
It is the first all-new wing to come out of the Falcon stable since the Falcon 50 some 30 years ago, from which all subsequent Falcon wings were derived and features increased sweep, for higher aerodynamic efficiency. The wing is designed to maintain the excellent low-speed performance of former Falcons with higher cruise speed - the Falcon 7X will be certificated (in late 2006) at Mach 0.97, although over its 10,000km (5,400nm) non-stop range it will typically fly at Mach 0.80.
Power for the Falcon 7X comes from triple Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307As producing 7,500lbs thrust (33kN) each. The engine is a member of the PW300 series which also, in PW308C format, powers the twin-engined Falcon 2000EX. It is the first application the Montreal-based manufacturer has won for a long-range business jet.
The Falcon 7X features the same EASy cockpit as the 900EX and 2000EX, pilot feedback on those applications having been "extremely good", says Brigitte Bonneville, deputy director of sales engineering at Dassault Aviation.
Source: Flight Daily News