Falcon 7X: from Catia screen to certified reality
Dassault Aviation comes to Geneva this week on a wave of exhilaration generated by having achieved simultaneous European and U.S. certification less than a month ago. The French manufacturer has completed the long, meticulous development of the world’s first fly-by-wire (FBW) business jet.
Some journalists may have believed Dassault had staged a public relations exercise in which the key paperwork would be signed simply for ceremonial purposes. But April 27 and the Bordeaux factory where the 7X is assembled were the true date and place for the certification of the new trijet. The day before the long-planned ceremony, a representative of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) had even told a Dassault staff member, “It should be OK,” hinting that he was still reviewing some documents.
So the next day, when Dassault CEO Charles Edelstenne was handed both the EASA and the FAA type certificates, his broad smile was anything but artificial. Patrick Goudou, EASA’s executive director, and John Hickey, the FAA’s director
of aircraft certification services, had just signed them. This has cleared the way for the first delivery this month to a European customer, probably right after EBACE’07.
The certification concluded a six-year effort. The development fleet of four aircraft flew 1,600 hours in 590 sorties. Serge Dassault, the company’s patriarch and main shareholder, noted the high level of risk in the 7X program. According to director of certification Alain Picard, the most challenging issues were fuel tank flammability and bleed-air temperature. Serge Dassault himself has bought aircraft number-four.
The Dassault team is now focusing on the 5,950-nm aircraft’s entry into service. Pilot training started immediately on April 27 and maintenance technician training was already well under way. Meanwhile, completions are ramping up at Dassault’s Little Rock, Arkansas facility.
The first pilot training session is taking place in Morristown, New Jersey, on a full-flight simulator delivered in April. There, CAE SimuFlite provides Falcon 7X training to four or five crews (one crew is two pilots) at a time. A second 7X simulator is to be delivered to CAE’s Burgess Hill training center in the UK during August.
The full initial training course lasts the usual 22 days. Dassault expects that an average of four pilots will have to be trained for each aircraft delivered.
Before actually flying the simulator, pilots are given four hours of instruction focusing on the FBW controls. During the lesson, the simulator does not move but
the pilot experiences the FBW in the entire flight envelope. “This way, he can see how the system behaves to protect the aircraft,” Jeannine Lafon, a Dassault training expert, told EBACE Convention News.
She admitted that some pilots are still nervous about transitioning to fly-by-wire. However, according to Lafon, 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 an interim level-C certification. The Burgess Hill simulator is expected to get the level-D certification as soon as it is online.
Dassault began 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 and, in total, approximately 60 maintenance technicians have been trained.
“Enough people have been trained in our service stations to support all aircraft delivered in 2007,” said Falcon 7X support manager Joffrey Quezin.
The Falcon 7X will feature extended maintenance intervals. The A-check will occur every 600 flight hours or nine months, whichever comes first. This used to be 300 flight hours or six months.
The B-check’s interval 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. This formerly was six years or 3,750 flight cycles.
The so-called integrated maintenance concept has helped a lot in extending these 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. This safety analysis was translated into times between overhauls with the goal of establishing the correct interval, considering the usual 10-9 likelihood of a catastrophic failure.
Separately, the high level of system integration, including fly-by-wire, helps make maintenance easier. “Some job cards are as simple as a check on centralized maintenance computer at each A-check,” Quezin said. The difficulty, when plenty of data become available from a single computer, is to have only relevant information displayed.
For spare parts, Dassault has targeted a 98-percent service level. Some $100 million in 7X spares have been positioned in various warehouses located in Le Bourget, France, and Teterboro, New Jersey, as well as Singapore, Brazil and China.
At Dassault’s facility in Little Rock, Arkansas, seven aircraft were undergoing completion as of late last month. Jean-Claude Demay, a design and completions specialist, emphasized how beneficial new design tools are to cabins. Even though one aircraft 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. At the end of the day, the brick re-use concept eases the production process.
“Aircraft number 15 has a 45-percent rate of re-use,” Demay told EBACE Convention News. Dassault’s target is to reach an average 60- to 70-percent rate eventually. The more bricks you create in your cabin brick database, the higher the completion throughput, he said.
Acoustics experts have managed to quiet the cabin down to 52 db SIL (speech interference level). This way, they ensured that no parasite noise has influenced the result. For example, all the furniture was mounted on flexible suspensions.
The Falcon 7X is equipped with the EASy flight deck. Built on a Honeywell Primus Epic avionics suite, it is more integrated with the other aircraft systems than previous applications. For example, the crew can activate or deactivate all circuit breakers from the primary flight display. Honeywell itself has ordered a 7X and is scheduled to take delivery in July 2009.
The digital flight control system (DFCS, Dassault’s new designation for fly-by-wire) brings a host of benefits. First, there is no trim. Second, passengers are supposed to enjoy a smoother ride. Also, designers could save weight. “For example, the tail fin is smaller because the DFCS can move other control surfaces to compensate the reduced size,” program manager Jean-Louis Cuvillier explained.
The program was launched in 2001 but feasibility studies started even earlier. As a “technology brick,” the new wing was first studied in 1996-1997, civil aircraft senior vice president Olivier Villa recalled. The size of the aircraft was determined in 2000, after several iterations were studied.
The Falcon 7X is only the first member in a new family. “The wing can be re-used on another design,” Villa said. The 7X’s range could still be increased as there is room for extra fuel tanks.
Last year, Dassault announced that winglets, an extra fuel tank and an aerodynamic change in the vertical empennage boosted range from 5,700 to 5,950 nm. However, Dassault is now giving performance figures with three crewmembers; formerly it was four.
Falcon 7X Hits 165 Sales Mark
Dassault has received 165 orders for the Falcon 7X trijet and approximately 15 examples are to be delivered this year. Aircraft Serial Number 30 is on the assembly line and the production rate is ramping up to 35 to 40 units per year. This rate of activity will entail the expansion of the 7X’s final assembly hangar at its Bordeaux factory.
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 Jet CEO John Rosanvallon said. Breakeven is said to be at around 300 deliveries.
The largest customer for the program to date is the NetJets Europe fractional ownership provider, which ordered 24 Model 7Xs last fall. Rosanvallon said Dassault is gratified by the number of orders received from customers who have never previously owned a Falcon. More than 50 orders have come from the U.S. and about the same number from western Europe.