On 8 December 2020, just a few days after this Winter edition of EVA was completed, Dassault expected to roll out its all-new Falcon 6X. Carlos Brana, Executive Vice President Civil Aircraft, Dassault Aviation, talks about what the industry can expect from the company’s first ‘ultra widebody business jet’
On 7 May 1963, Dassault flew the prototype Falcon 20 business jet for the first time. The company’s supersonic, delta-winged Mirage III fighter was simultaneously entering l’Armée de l’Air (French air force) service and so began the precedent for ‘DNA sharing’ between Dassault’s fighter and business jet lines. It is a precedent that continues today and, according to Carlos Brana, Executive Vice President Civil Aircraft, Dassault Aviation, is among the company’s greatest strengths.
“Think about how fighters are built,” he says, “for manoeuvrability and survivability, with head-up displays and flight control systems that reduce pilot workload and help manage rapidly changing flight environments. Wouldn’t you want all of that in your business jet?
“The fact that Dassault has been flying not just fly-by-wire, but fully digital flight control systems for more than 40 years means we have accumulated more expertise in developing hardware and the critical software for these systems than just about anyone. Competitor fly-by-wire systems are purchased off the shelf. Dassault has made its own flight control systems since the 1950s.”
Which means today’s Rafale multi-role fighter and nEUROn uninhabited combat air vehicle (UCAV) are perhaps closer in spirit to the latest Falcon 6X than the legendary Mirage III was to the pioneering Falcon 20. And yet we are fortunate to have the 6X at all. The design has risen phoenix-like from the disappointment of the Falcon 5X, a twinjet projected for Safran’s troublesome Silvercrest and which proved to be just one of that engine’s victims. Switching to Pratt & Whitney Canada power, the Falcon 6X has emerged as a longer-ranged, altogether more modern machine.
Ultra widebody business jet
Dassault bills the aircraft as ‘the first ultra widebody business jet’ and among conventional business aircraft its 8ft 6in (2.58m) cabin is notably wide, but the ACJ TwoTwenty has emerged as an unexpected competitor in that respect. At 5,500nm, the Falcon 6X achieves similar range to the 5,650nm Airbus, although the latter was not designed to achieve the Falcon’s Mach 0.9 maximum speed. Brana remains predictably upbeat about the Falcon 6X’s sales prospects in the face of the newcomer from ACJ.
“The 6X is a big business jet, not a small airliner. It is designed for a wide range of missions best performed by business jets: routine operations at small and challenging airports, for example, even those with runways of less than 4,000ft; and approach speed is as low as 109kt – turboprop speed. Yes, the 6X and the ACJ TwoTwenty fly about the same distance, but the 6X is around half the weight, with related savings in fuel.
“It has the biggest cabin in the 5,000nm-range class among purpose-built business jets and the most advanced digital flight control system [DFCS] of any Falcon, benefiting from the 40-plus year heritage of digital flight control systems in Dassault’s fighters. Pilots love the precise handling of all Falcons and especially the DFCS aircraft. Among its many benefits, the DFCS in the 6X reduces pilot workload, allowing pilots to focus on the big picture of safely managing a flight. Pilots believe we build these airplanes around them, and they’re not wrong.
“With the 6X we’ve also built an unsurpassed passenger experience. Cabin pressure altitude is below 4,000ft at cruise and the cabin is at least as quiet as that of the 8X, which leads the industry. The 6X also has the ability to fly at 51,000ft, above traffic and turbulence. Owners who are not pilots also rightly feel the airplane is all about them.”
In fact, Falcon customers, pilots and passengers all take a key role in defining Dassault’s new aircraft. “One of our ‘secret weapons’ is the Falcon Operator Advisory Board, which is quite enthusiastic about supplying input on new programme development. Several pilots and potential owners have been in our flight deck and cabin mock-up and given it rave reviews. Also, our own pilots, beyond their flight test duties, are forceful representatives of the user community and have a strong influence on all aspects of the design, well beyond the flight deck.”
As these words were written at the beginning of November, Dassault was looking forward to rolling out the first Falcon 6X early in December, ahead of first flight in the New Year. Confirming the timings, Brana was quick to correct the assumption that the aircraft would be a prototype, asserting instead that it was the first of three pre-production aircraft destined for the flight test programme. “They are built on production tooling – there are no longer prototypes thanks to the accuracy of the digital design process. The first aircraft will initially be devoted to opening up the flight envelope before flying a variety of missions, including system tests.” Referencing the impact of COVID-19 on the programme, Brana spoke of Dassault’s staff and suppliers: “They kept to schedule all year and deserve immense credit”.
He expects the three-aircraft flight test programme to take more than 12 months, with certification in 2022. Data for certification will be collected from the first flight onwards. The timescale is typical for a clean sheet bizjet design and Dassault is ensuring continuity by equipping the first two machines to a similar standard.
“They will be outfitted with flight test equipment so they can be flown interchangeably. If one is in for service, the other will be ready to fly, a capability that will be particularly useful when the desired weather conditions develop for certain trials; it’s difficult to find just the right conditions for testing in strong crosswinds, for example. We’ll always have one aircraft ready to dispatch and that will help keep the programme moving.”
The third jet will have a full interior, for cabin system trials, and Brana says the intention is to expose it to a wide range of flight conditions and extremes of temperature. “We’ll be able to cold soak it on a 10-hour flight, for example, and use infrared cameras to map cold spots and adjust insulation, if necessary. We’ll also be able to map the interior acoustically. All the test aircraft will assess function and reliability, but the third in particular will fly long missions intended to evaluate the aircraft in as wide a range of conditions as possible.”
Modern flight test programmes are generally more concerned with verifying aircraft behaviour and data compared to computer models and ground-based rig trials; manufacturers expect little in the way of surprises. Brana confirms: “We have multiple ‘iron bird’ test rigs for all systems, including those in the cabin. And we have two test benches for the flight deck, one in our engineering centre at St Cloud, outside Paris, and the other in our flight test centre at Istres, in the south of France. Our pilots and engineers already have thousands of hours of experience with these. They function as simulators and procedures trainers, and before the 6X flies, our test crews will have rehearsed all the normal mission and emergency scenarios.”
Now that the industry is adjusting and adopting new ways of working around COVID-19, there is much talk in business aviation of a restart, a new beginning in which sustainability takes precedence. The Falcon 6X will be among the first all-new jets to appear in the post-COVID world and therefore ought to be setting a sustainability standard. According to Brana, “Fuel efficiency and low emissions are strengths of the entire Falcon line. They are optimised for efficiency, with the most advanced aerodynamics and low weight.”
Living up to the sustainability challenge ought not to be a challenge for the new jet then. Brana promises that the Falcon 6X’s engine, the Pratt & Whitney PW812D, from the PurePower PW800 family, “delivers a cleaner burn and lower emissions thanks to its advanced combustor, which also ensures double-digit improvements in fuel efficiency.”
After first deliveries in 2022, the Falcon 6X will quickly enter service on a global basis, at which point customer support becomes as important as delivering a quality product. It’s an area of its business in which Dassault has made considerable strides and regularly wins awards. “These days it’s not enough to build a great airplane if you want to sell everywhere in the world,” Brana says. “You have to have a great support infrastructure. We now have more than 60 locations for factory and authorised service. The Dassault-owned ExecuJet MRO facility in Kuala Lumpur, for example, just received Falcon maintenance authorisations for Vietnam-based aircraft. That’s typical of how we are ensuring strong support all over the map.”
Dassault has taken dramatic steps to improve its customer support in recent years, especially through MRO acquisitions, including the Kuala Lumpur facility. The 6X will be the first jet newly introduced into this regime, which goes beyond having expert technicians and spare parts readily available in the field. The aircraft has been configured to work with Dassault’s worldwide support network, actively collaborating with it to improve safety, increase availability and reduce maintenance costs.
Brana explains: “The 6X is the first business jet with an on-board server that collects diagnostic data. FalconScan monitors more than 100,000 parameters, generating an amazing amount of data even without including that from the advanced engine diagnostics. And if a Falcon needs a replacement part, we have around US$1 billion in spares located around the world, ready to be dispatched within hours.”
Providing a real-world example, he says: “Recently we had a Falcon 8X AOG in Minsk, with a trip to the Philippines scheduled for the next day. We dispatched parts and technicians on one of our two Falcon Airborne Support Falcon 900 aircraft in a few hours and the 8X departed on schedule.”
Twins and trijets
Examine the Falcon portfolio in detail and it’s clear the 6X offers almost the range of a 7X trijet and certainly has the legs to cover most 7X missions. Meanwhile, the 6X out-ranges the 900LX with one engine fewer and, presumably, reduced fuel burn. It begs the question of how the 6X’s arrival will affect the market prospects of the 7X and 900LX. Brana has a sensible answer.
“These are different airplanes for different missions, budgets and preferences. We now offer twin and trijet aircraft for long-range missions. Customers have a big say in the Falcon product line and some of them are aficionados of trijet airplanes. We’ll continue manufacturing our airplanes according to market demand.”
Meanwhile, the Falcon 6X is introducing new technologies and cabin developments to the range; might we expect to see some of these appearing as welcome additions to existing models? “Very possibly,” Brana responds. “The 6X just won the International Yacht & Aviation Award for interior design. We wouldn’t be surprised to see some of those design elements flow into other models.”
Customers have a choice of aircraft from other manufacturers as well as from the Falcon portfolio, but there’s no denying, whatever an individual’s preference, that Dassault builds particularly distinctive, elegant machines in a market where aircraft tend to look quite similar. Perhaps it’s down to the fighter DNA, or something else uniquely Dassault. Brana has a theory.
“If it were easy, anyone could do it. Developing new technology for more capable, more efficient, safer aircraft is challenging. Dassault is unique in having the same design organisation developing its combat and civil aircraft. It’s a depth of experience you won’t find elsewhere. Yes, business jets do look similar, but Falcons are unique.”
All of which promises exciting possibilities for the next aircraft in the Falcon line. Might we expect a supersonic Falcon 9X? A Falcon 10X hybrid? Perhaps an all-electric Falcon 11X? Brana won’t be drawn on the subject. “You’ll see,” he says.