Dassault Falcon 7X gets FAA and EASA approval

 - May 31, 2007, 5:08 AM

On April 27 Dassault hosted a formal ceremony at its Bordeaux facility to celebrate FAA and EASA certification of the Falcon 7X. Before the event took place, some industry observers believed it would be merely a public relations forum at which the airframer would proudly wave the paperwork it had received several days earlier. However, the planned ceremony coincided with the actual certification. In fact, certification remained a question until the 11th hour; the day before the long-planned ceremony, a representative of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) hinted to a Dassault employee that he was still reviewing some documents, adding, “It should be OK.”

At the late-April event Dassault CEO Charles Edelstenne accepted the type certificates from EASA executive director Patrick Goudou and FAA director of aircraft certification services John Hickey. These certifications cleared the way for first delivery last month, likely after the EBACE show, to a European customer. The approvals concluded a six-year effort.

Dassault also says that the 7X is “the first airplane ever designed and built in an entirely virtual environment using product lifecycle management philosophy.” Product lifecycle management uses software tools to manage design, manufacturing and post-delivery service processes.

While it’s true that Dassault Falcon engineers have made great strides in using Dassault’s Catia design software to design airplanes using the latest in digital engineering technology, the company isn’t the only general aviation manufacturer to employ the product lifecycle management process. Eclipse Aviation has used product lifecycle management tools for the entire development program of the Eclipse 500 VLJ, beginning in 1999.

Wheels Up
The company is now focusing on the entry into service of the 5,950-nm trijet, though certification work is often ongoing with new projects such as the Falcon 7X. In late March, almost a month to the day before the 7X received certification, the FAA published a petition exemption request from Dassault. The company was seeking an exemption from FAR 25.981(a)(3), which deals with lightning protection for wing fasteners. An exemption was granted April 20, with the condition that the company perform tests that “validate the independence and effectiveness of lightning protection features” within four months. If the manufacturer were to be unsuccessful in the tests, no further airworthiness certificates could be issued until the problem is rectified.

Ongoing certification tasks aside, pilot training began on April 27. Maintenance technician training is well under way, and completions are ramping up at the company’s Little Rock, Ark. facility. The first pilot training session is taking place in Morristown, N.J., where CAE SimuFlite provides Falcon 7X training to four or five crews (two pilots each) at a time. Dassault estimates that on average four pilots have to be trained for each aircraft delivered.

Before they fly in the simulator, pilots receive a four-hour lesson that focuses on the airplane’s fly-by-wire (FBW) controls. (The Falcon 7X is the first purpose-built business jet to feature FBW.) During the lesson, the simulator does not move but the pilot experiences the FBW in the entire flight envelope. “He thus can see how the system behaves to protect the aircraft,” Jeannine Lafon, a Dassault training expert, told AIN.

She acknowledged that some pilots are still apprehensive about transitioning to fly-by-wire. According to Lafon, however, all the pilots who have flown the 7X have become quickly accustomed to the new system and its sidestick interface.

The U.S. simulator has received interim level-C certification. Another pilot training center is to open in Burgess Hill, UK, in August. There, the simulator is expected to get full level-D certification from the outset.

Dassault started training mechanics late last year. There are two sessions per month, one in the U.S. and the other in Europe. Ten people attend each session. In total, some 60 maintenance technicians have been trained. “Enough people have been trained in our service facilities to support all the aircraft to be delivered this year,” Falcon 7X support manager Joffrey Quezin told AIN.

The Falcon 7X will feature extended maintenance intervals. The A check will occur every 600 flight hours or nine months, whichever comes first, instead of the previous 300 flight hours or six months. The interval for the B check has been extended to 2,400 flight hours, from 1,500 flight hours. The C check is every eight years or 4,000 flight cycles instead of the previous six years or 3,750 flight cycles.

The so-called integrated maintenance concept has helped Dassault to extend the maintenance intervals. For example, maintenance people can access a centralized fault-history database. “System status information is more frequently updated, so ‘on condition’ maintenance becomes commonplace,” Quezin explained.

In addition, MSG 3 (Maintenance Steering Group standard 3) working groups thoroughly analyzed each piece of equipment, and their analyses were translated into times between overhauls. The basis was looking for the right interval, considering the usual 10-9 likelihood of a catastrophic failure.

Separately, the high level of system integration, including fly-by-wire, helped make maintenance easier. “Some job cards are as simple as ‘check on centralized maintenance computer at each A check,’” Quezin said. The challenge, when plenty of data becomes available from a single computer, is to display only relevant information.

Dassault has targeted a 98-percent service level for spare parts and has positioned some $100 million in 7X spares in various warehouses in Le Bourget, France; Teterboro, N.J.; Singapore; Brazil; and China.

At the company’s facility in Little Rock, Ark., seven aircraft were undergoing completion as of late last month. Jean-Claude Demay, a layout and completion specialist, emphasized how beneficial new design tools are to cabins. Even though each aircraft’s interior is unique, each of its components can be seen as a “cabin brick.” One galley can be made of several bricks, for example. Once defined, a new brick can be stored for re-use in another configuration. The brick reuse concept eases the production process.

“Aircraft number 15 has a 45-percent rate of reuse,” Demay told AIN. Dassault’s target is to reach an average rate of 60 to 70 percent. The more bricks in the cabin brick database, the higher the completion throughput.

Acoustics experts have managed to reduce the cabin noise to 52 dB SIL (speech interference level).

The Falcon 7X features the new standard of the EASy flight deck. Built on a Honeywell Primus Epic avionics suite, it is more integrated with other airplane systems. For example, the crew can activate or deactivate all circuit breakers via the primary flight display.

The digital flight control system (DFCS, Dassault’s new designation for fly-by-wire) brings a host of benefits. First, it eliminates trim and is said to provide a smoother ride for passengers. Also, the designers could save weight. “For example, the vertical fin is smaller because the DFCS can move other control surfaces to compensate for the reduced size,” program manager Jean-Louis Cuvillier explained.

Dassault launched the Falcon 7X program in 2001, following earlier feasibility studies. Civil aircraft vice president Olivier Villa recalled that the new wing was first studied between 1996 and 1997 as a “technology brick.” The size of the aircraft was decided in 2000, after study of several iterations.

The Falcon 7X is the first in a new line. According to Dassault, the wing can be used on another design, and extra fuel tanks could increase the airplane’s range.

Last year Dassault announced a significant range improvement, from 5,700 nm to 5,950 nm. Winglets, an additional fuel tank and an aerodynamic change in the vertical empennage produced the increased range. However, Dassault is now giving performance figures with a crew of three rather than the four in earlier predictions.  

Ian J. Twombly contributed to this report.

Falcon 7X Hits 165 Sales Mark

As of early last month, Dassault had booked orders for 165 Falcon 7Xs. Approximately 15 will be delivered this year. S/N 30 is on the assembly line, and the production rate is ramping up to 35 to 40 per year. Dassault is therefore planning to expand the 7X final assembly hangar at the company’s Bordeaux factory. Roy Elsasser, director of aircraft specifications, confirmed the aircraft is sold out through 2011. “Never in the past 40 years have we seen this kind of volume,” he said.

The 7X sells for $41 million with a standard interior. “Over the life of the program, our objective is to sell 400 to 500 jets,” Dassault Falcon CEO John Rosanvallon said. The break-even point is said to be 300. 

Falcon 7X by the numbers

Range: 5,950 nm (eight pax, three crew, NBAA IFR reserves, Mach 0.80)

Typical cruise speed: Mach 0.85

Approach speed Vref: (eight pax, three crew, NBAA IFR reserves): 104 kias

Balanced field length: (eight pax, three crew, full fuel, sea level, ISA): 5,505 feet

Mtow: 69,000 lbs

Engines (3): Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307A, 6,402 lbs of thrust each (ISA+17°C, sea level)

External length: 76 feet 1 inch

Wingspan: 86 feet

Height: 25 feet 7 inches

Note: These performance figures are with three crewmembers. Earlier performance figures assumed four crewmembers.