Dassault Falcon's 900LX exterior reminded me a bit of a lady caught without her makeup when I first saw her outside Epps Aviation at Atlanta's DeKalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK), site of the NBAA Convention static display this year. The aircraft, F-WWFB, had just completed the ferry flight from the Merignac, France assembly facility. Later, after a two-hour flight, it was clear the winglet-equipped bird will be a worthy successor to the 900EX once she's painted and interiored. The LX's winglets–the same ones used on the 2000–are in fact, the only noticeable differences between the LX and EX. Even the aircraft maximum takeoff weight remains 49,200 pounds. July certification of the $39 million LX, however, means the end of the production line for the 900EX.
More perfect first-flight weather could not have been had (it was clear and 20 miles visibility) as I began the preflight of "Whiskey Foxtrot Bravo" with Dassault's Merignac chief pilot Frédéric Lascourréges at my side. To be fair to 900LX competitors, the interior-free aircraft I flew at NBAA was extremely light; its basic operating weight (BOW) was only 24,000 pounds. Even with our planned 10,000-pound fuel load, the airplane was still 15,500 pounds under max gross. The BOW on standard-equipped 900LXs should end up closer to 26,500 pounds.
The triple-engine 900LX will carry a substantial load from London City Airport, as do all Falcons, with enough fuel to make Gander non-stop. Long range in the LX translates into 4,750 nm over the EX's 4,450 nm.
A walk-around of the LX goes quickly, because there's little sticking out in the slipstream other than temperature and airspeed probes. After making sure all external doors are locked and that no critters have crawled into the gear doors, it was time to climb into the left seat. Since this is a Falcon 900, engine startup has not changed and we were quickly taxiing toward Runway 20 Left at PDK. At this weight and even at idle, releasing the brakes meant the aircraft would accelerate on the taxiway.
With dual Fadecs, line up meant three throttles to the stops, and the 900LX quickly accelerated. Even with a mere eight degrees of nose-up pitch in the climb, it was tough holding the airplane speed down until 10,000 feet. After that, the aircraft was a rocket. With a few ATC restrictions, we leveled at FL200 in seven minutes where I set up for steep turns to test handling.
Given a chance, all Falcons demonstrate their fighter aircraft heritage. In a 50-degree bank and even with the "Bank Angle" warning yelling in the background, the pilot can easily trim an LX to fly hands off. I tried the same thing at FL350 just to be sure there were no differences up high.
Still hand flying back to PDK, ATC asked for a rapid descent. I complied with flight idle, nose-down trim and speed brakes at two. The rate down was around 10,000 fpm when I looked over to check the pressurization; it was keeping up easily. Vibrations from the speed brakes were minimal; in the clouds, the folks in back would never know they were out.
It was time for a few landings, including a touch and go with the center engine shut down. Idle thrust at 50 feet above the runway and the airplane wanted to float just a tad the first few times, but eventually I figured it out. Pitch angle at takeoff rotation was still steep and the aircraft raced to traffic pattern altitude once again. Lascourréges said relatively heavy takeoffs, even when considering second-segment climb restrictions, are a breeze, including even out of LaPaz, Bolivia, where the field elevation is 13,300 feet.
On the crossing from France, the ferry pilots flew F-WWFB at Mach 0.83 as high as FL430. They left the factory in France with 18,000 pounds of fuel and landed eight hours later at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey with 4,000 pounds remaining. Sweet.