First Flight: Three OEMs make four first flights

 - October 11, 2006, 5:02 AM

In the 16-day period between April 27 and May 13, three OEMs started flight testing four of their latest aircraft. Two of the aircraft–the Falcon 7X and the Airbus A380–are equipped with fly-by-wire (FBW) primary control systems, but it is the Falcon 7X that is introducing this advanced technology to corporate aviation in a clean-sheet business jet design.

At press time the Falcon 7X had logged approximately 20 hours in seven flights since its May 5 first flight. During these flights, the trijet reached Mach 0.82 and 41,000 feet. The test pilots made turns with 80-degree bank angles to test buffet and handling qualities. Low-speed performance was evaluated at 105 knots and 15 degrees angle of attack. Test pilots have pulled 2 gs during various maneuvers.

During the fifth flight, the pilots shut down an engine to test relighting characteristics. On another flight, they used water ballast to test the handling qualities of the aircraft at maximum aft and forward cg. “The fly-by-wire controls did their job, giving the pilots the impression the c.g. was still at its nominal position,” said test pilot Philippe Deleume.

On handling qualities, Deleume said engineers have started looking for a way to dampen the roll rate, considered a bit too aggressive.

One of the two degraded modes of the FBW control system is the “direct” one, or the worst-planned-failure case. The direct mode has been tested and, according to Deleume, the aircraft proved “very stable.”

The second test 7X is scheduled to arrive for flight preparation in the next 30 to 45 days, and the third test aircraft is expected to arrive later this summer. Falcon 7X S/N 3 will be outfitted with a full interior and will be used for long-range and endurance tests, as well as for interior sound level validation. FAA and EASA certification are expected late next year.

Announced at the 2001 Paris Air Show, the 7X is the first Falcon to receive orders for more than 50 aircraft before first flight, according to Dassault. With a delivery backlog into early 2009, Dassault said it expects to increase production of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307A-powered Falcon 7X from 2.5 to three aircraft per month.

IAI Starts Gulfstream G150 Flight Tests

Test flying of the midsize Gulfstream G150 has been under way in Israel since May 3. The aircraft is built by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and designed and developed in collaboration with Gulfstream. During the 4.5-hour initial flight, the pilots tested handling qualities, performed initial systems checks and cycled the landing gear and flap/slat system. The aircraft was taken to 20,000 feet and 250 knots.

G150 certification is scheduled for the first quarter of next year, with customer deliveries expected to follow in the third quarter. Production G150s will be flown from IAI’s Tel Aviv manufacturing plant to Gulfstream’s Dallas facility for completion.

The G150 is a wider-cabin derivative of the G100 (itself the redesignated Astra SPX). Gulfstream describes the $13.5 million G150 as designed primarily to “transport eight or fewer passengers between cities within a continent.” When Gulfstream first unveiled the airplane in September 2002, fractional provider NetJets announced an order for 50 and options on 50 more. Gulfstream has not provided any additional G150 order figures.

Falcon 900DX Takes to the Air

Dassault’s Falcon 900DX was in its second week of flight tests at press time, having flown initially on May 13, eight days after the Falcon 7X first took to the sky.

During the initial approximately three-hour sortie, the 900DX reached 41,000 feet and 370 knots. Test pilots checked low-speed handling qualities down to 130 knots in the clean configuration, and down to 100 knots in the landing configuration.

The 4,100-nm-range, $32 million 900DX will fill a niche between the 3,800-nm, $25 million Falcon 2000EX and the 4,500-nm, $35 million Falcon 900EX.

Scheduled to replace the 900C starting late this year, the 900DX features a partially redesigned fuel system, an EASy avionics system (based on a Honeywell Primus Epic platform) and other improvements over the 900C. The 900DX has the same fuel tank structure and forward fuselage as the 2000EX and shares the 900EX’s Honeywell TFE731-60 engines, avionics and other cockpit and cabin equipment.

Airbus A380 Flies; Exec Version Coming?

The world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380, made its first flight on April 27. With water ballast and flight-test instrumentation aboard, the A380 took off at 938,300 pounds, making it the heaviest civil airliner ever to fly, according to Airbus.

Powered by four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 turbofans, the airplane initially flew for nearly four hours, during which test pilots explored the flight envelope. The A380 is expected to enter service with launch customer Singapore Airlines in the second half of next year. Airbus claims it holds firm orders for 154 aircraft from 15 customers.

Airbus said it already received inquiries for an executive version of the quarter-billion-dollar airplane. At the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition last month in Geneva, Airbus showed an A380 model cutaway with one concept for an executive interior.

Additional reporting provided by Thierry Dubois.