In medicine it goes by various names: restorative surgery, cosmetic surgery, transplant surgery. In the world of business jets it’s called anything from a rerag to a major refurbishment. By whatever name it goes, the process breathes varying degrees of new life into an airplane that is showing its age but worth rejuvenating.
Over the next four months we will be following the journey of a tired and relatively shabby 1991 Dassault Falcon 900, S/N 093, as it passes through Duncan Aviation’s facility in Lincoln, Neb., and emerges refreshed, modernized and significantly more appealing to not only its owner but also to the charter customers whose business takes some of the sting out of owning the trijet.
N780SP is managed and operated by Volo Aviation, based in Stratford, Conn., and was acquired by its current owner in December 2003. At that time the airframe had logged 9,800 hours and 4,300 cycles, the previous owner having flown it 1,000 hours per year on average. Volo has been flying the airplane about 400 hours a year, and as shown in these AIN pictures (taken shortly before it was admitted to Duncan’s team of surgeons in the heartland last month) Sierra Papa currently has just over 10,700 hours and 4,800 cycles. The jet could be described as functional but lackluster.
For a while even the functional part was elusive. “During the first few months of ownership the airplane experienced multiple avionics issues–none major, but certainly aggravating for a good while,” recalled Volo director of aviation Robert Tod.
About a year ago Tod and Volo’s director of maintenance, Kyle Slover, were discussing options for another Volo management customer who had expressed a desire to replace his Falcon 50 with a 900. “The only hurdle to that purchase was that the avionics in the Falcon 900 would have been a step backwards from his 50,” noted Tod. “Kyle mentioned that he had read in AIN about Duncan’s ‘Glass Box Project’ for older business jets (initially Challengers) and we started talking to Duncan about the Falcon 900 then.”
Tod and Slover convinced the owner of the Volo-managed 900 that they should explore the installation because of previous problems with the original equipment and because the aircraft would probably increase in value. Duncan, looking for a launch customer for the program, offered some price incentives and the players struck a deal.
So how is it that AIN finds itself chronicling this process? Full disclosure: Robert Tod’s wife, Vicki, and Volo director of operations Chauncey Webb’s wife, Jane, both work in AIN’s publishing office in Connecticut. Duncan Aviation has also agreed to give AIN sole dibs on showing the process as it unfolds before the completed airplane parks on the NBAA Convention static ramp in Orlando, Fla., in October for all to see.
In the coming months these pages will show the replacement of the early EFIS and steam gauges up front with a Honeywell Primus Epic avionics suite that will bring this 15-year-old airplane into the EASy era, even if it does fall a little short of the new-production factory level of system integration; the gutting and rebuild of the cabin with technology and materials to suit contemporary missions and tastes; and a complete makeover of the Falcon’s epidermis in the paint shop. The airplane’s Honeywell TFE731-5BR turbofans will soldier on unchanged.
As this is being written (in mid-May) the airplane is in Lincoln, and the first task will be removal of the cabin furnishings and wiring in the flight deck. The paint process will begin early next month, followed by installation of the interior beginning on July 21. Ground runs and first taxi tests are scheduled for August 4, the airplane will fly on August 14 and the finished airplane will leave Duncan on August 18.