Falcons Loom Large In Dassault’s Past and Future
Just over 50 years since Dassault Aviation’s first Falcon jet flew in May 1963, the business jet family has never been more crucial to the long-term business of the French manufacturer. Financial results covering the first half of 2013 showed group revenues and profits somewhat dented by factors including a smaller number of Falcon deliveries compared with the first six months of last year (29 aircraft versus 34). However, the company said it still projects a total of 70 Falcon deliveries for the whole of 2013, which would be four more than were delivered in 2012. Overall, the Falcon jets still account for almost three quarters of all sales at Dassault, with the rest comprised of its military activities.
In a July 25 press conference in Paris, Dassault Aviation chairman and chief executive Eric Trappier said the business aviation market still faces an “uncertain recovery” in an uncertain world economic situation. “Thus we must keep fighting on three fields”–sales, support and innovation,” he said. “By innovation we mean [cabin interior] completion as well as ongoing modification of our existing fleet and, of course, the SMS.”
Trappier was referring to Dassault’s long-awaited super-midsized jet, but LABACE show visitors are not expected to learn anything more about it this week. That will have to wait until the NBAA show in Las Vegas this October, when the company is expected to formally launch the new program.
One point about the SMS that Dassault (Stand 5102) has been keen to stress is that it should not be viewed as a replacement for the existing Falcon 900. The company’s attitude is that it leaves it to the market to decide when an aircraft has outlived its position in the current production line.
Certified in 2010, the 900LX’s winglets reduce fuel burn to allow for a 5- to 7-percent increase in range. The trijet has the same cabin volume as the latest Falcon 2000S. According to Dassault sales engineering manager Frédéric Recher, the 900LX is the “king of airfield performance” and is well suited to operating from key restricted airports like Cannes in the south of France.
“Its maximum takeoff weight is 70 percent higher [than competing aircraft] but the fuel burn of competitors is 50 percent more for the same performance and range,” Recher explained. He said this is particularly significant in situations where a mission involves making a short hop to collect passengers for a longer onward flight.
Despite the major engineering effort it is now embarking on to bring the SMS to market, Dassault also has set itself challenging long-term technology goals. Three key elements of this, explained the manufacturer’s vice president for research and technology Bruno Stoufflet, are making the Falcon family greener, more electric and more digital. The group’s engineers also have a strong focus on improving safety, making cabins more comfortable, improving the competitiveness of its products, reducing program risks, allowing its jets to operate from more airports and improving the availability of aircraft through more effective maintenance.
The main focus of the Greener Falcon project is noise reduction. Dassault has the ambitious objective that by 2025 its aircraft will be 20 dB quieter than they were in 2000. Stoufflet said the company is taking advantage of new aero-acoustic computation techniques that were not available a decade ago.
Further reducing fuel burn and carbon dioxide emissions are other important objectives. Here Dassault’s focus is on promising technologies such as more aerodynamically efficient laminar extended wings. “The challenge is to enlarge the laminar portion of the wing as much as possible to reduce drag,” said Stoufflet. “We’ve done flights with the 7X to measure where the [aerodynamic] transition occurs between laminar and non-laminar flow. We also need to master the manufacturing tolerances involved, but we think we can achieve a seven to nine percent saving [in fuel burn and emissions].”
Dassault’s efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its products extend to the design and manufacturing processes. It is also assessing how the Falcons could be made greener throughout their lifecycle.
The More Electric Falcon project is seeking to achieve a more efficient ratio between an aircraft’s installed power supply and its average use. With a typical power supply architecture today, average power use is seven times less than the total power supply capacity. By contrast, explained Stoufflet, in an all-electric aircraft the ratio drops to 2:1. This saves on power consumption and weight, as well as improving aircraft dispatch reliability. Dassault plans to start introducing more electric technologies on a step-by-step basis with most of the achievable improvements being in service by 2025.
Dassault’s Digital Falcon concept focuses on cockpit innovation driven by the need to capitalize on the operational flexibility available through the Sesar and NextGen air traffic management modernization programs. Stoufflet added that cockpit advances would also reduce pilot workload and potentially reduce operating costs.
Dassault engineers also are looking at how they can adapt the flush multifunction antenna developed for its Neuron UAV for use on the Falcon. This could improve connectivity while also reducing drag.
Engineers are also working on further weight reductions to Falcon airframes. One technique being explored is to make better use of automatic flight controls to control load and vibration in the aircraft. Stoufflet said this could result in a 2- to 4-percent fuel burn reduction by reducing the structural mass of the Falcons. Dassault also is investing in plans for a new composite wingbox, and a demonstrator has now been produced.