More than 40 Falcon 7X trijets on production line

 - November 7, 2006, 5:57 AM

Certification of Dassault’s 69,000-pound (maximum takeoff weight) 7X remains on track for early next year. Although the 7X has yet to be certified, more than 40 of the $39.2 million long-range trijets are already in various stages of production.

Operators who fly out of shorter runways or airports at higher elevations, or who need unrestricted overwater routing, traditionally have gravitated toward Dassault’s signature three-engine design.

The 7X has a maximum unrefueled range of 5,945 nm and a top speed of Mach 0.90. (Typical long-range cruise speed is estimated at Mach 0.80 and sustained high-speed cruise is Mach 0.85. Final performance numbers will be released upon certification.)

During flight testing the aircraft has  reached a maximum altitude of 51,000 feet and speed of Mach 0.93. The range gives the 7X the ability to fly nonstop between New York and Riyadh, Paris and Singapore, and Los Angeles and Rome.

The order book before this year’s convention stood at 116, including a recent order from NetJets for 24. Additional orders will no doubt be announced here at the show. These strong bookings mean that a 7X ordered today would not be delivered until 2010. Dassault had previously forecast demand for 173 copies by 2012. Dassault estimates an initial production rate of three aircraft per month through next year.

The basic aircraft will be built at Dassault’s Bordeaux facility. Airplanes bound for markets in the Americas, Australia and Asia will be flown green (without paint and interior) to Dassault’s Little Rock, Ark. facility. Specifications for almost 20 customer aircraft already have been completed and the first 7X is due to arrive there this fall. Dassault Falcon Jet Little Rock is initially dedicating nearly 100,000 sq ft of production and hangar space to 7X completion, service and support. Dassault employs 1,800 at its mammoth Little Rock shop, a “vertically integrated” facility where the company builds its own cabin furniture, performs upholstery installation and does finishing and plating.

At Little Rock, Dassault will paint the exterior of the aircraft and install supplemental avionics, customer-specified interiors and in-flight entertainment systems, including high-speed Internet. “Our 7X business unit is up and running,” said Chuck Krugh, director of 7X production at Little Rock. Krugh said the facility’s 7X management team has been in place since June and that installation and maintenance teams from Little Rock are training in France on test aircraft. Krugh claimed that the 7X is substantially more maintenance friendly than previous Falcon models.

From the outside, the 7X may appear to be a Falcon 900 on steroids, but with a stretched fuselage, 12 to 14 seats (typical executive configuration) and longer wings there are substantial differences. The wing is more swept and more aerodynamically efficient than those of past Falcons. It also incorporates winglets to further improve performance and composites to save weight and add stiffness. Overall, Dassault claims that the 7X wing offers a “double-digit” performance improvement over previous models.

For the 7X, Dassault selected the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307A engine (6,400 pounds of thrust each). The PW307As offer a generous time between overhaul of 7,200 hours and are anticipated to meet new Stage 4 (ICAO Chapter 4) anti-noise standards.

The 7X will also boast a significantly quieter interior. The Lord Corporation designed new engine mounts and cabin isolators on the 7X that substantially reduce cabin noise and vibration. Special noise-dampening surfaces were also designed to ride between the cabin floor and the carpet. Dassault’s initial goal was an interior cabin noise level of 52 decibels speech interference level (dBSIL)– or quieter than many of the priciest new luxury autos at highway speed. While the final number will not be released until certification, Fred Nolfe, Dassault’s manager of interior specification and design, called the 7X “a very quiet airplane.”

The 7X’s cabin is a full six feet longer than that of the Falcon 900. The extra length provides room–depending on which of the nine major cabin configurations a customer selects. Options include forward and aft lavatories, a third flight deck seat, a crew rest area, more closet space and a 50-inch-long right-hand galley/work area. The forward galley, lav and crew rest areas can be closed off from the main cabin by deploying a pocket sliding door located in the forward cabin divider.

A typical cabin configuration includes the forward and aft lavs, galley and three distinct seating areas: club seating with four large executive seats and foldout sidewall tables; a conference grouping with four narrower seats, an electrically activated, folding hi-lo table and an opposite sidewall credenza; and an aft stateroom with one or two berthable divans (which fold out into beds) and/or executive single seat(s). These three zones have separate climate controls. The environmental system maintains a maximum cabin altitude of 6,000 feet and provides for even cabin heating.

Dassault turned to DeCrane to provide new-generation single and double executive seats on the 7X as the “standard option.” The seats come with a variety of new standard features, including dual-chamber electrically powered inflatable lumbar support. Other seat options comprise full or partial electric function, recliner-style legrests, choice of seat back height and style of headrest.

Dassault also took a fresh approach to cabin lighting in the 7X. The cabin windows were raised two inches and enlarged by 20 percent, enabling a significantly better passenger field of view and offering more natural cabin lighting compared to the 900. The 7X has a total of 28 passenger windows. Emteq’s LEDs replaces the traditional fluorescent lighting.

While changes in the 7X’s cabin systems are pronounced, the visual cues are subtle. The same cannot be said of the 7X’s cockpit, dominated by sidestick controls, trackballs and Honeywell’s EASy flight deck featuring four mammoth 14.1-inch flat screen displays. Dassault claims the EASy system substantially reduces pilot workload and improves situational awareness.

The 7X is the first all fly-by-wire (FBW) business aircraft. FBW, first popularized on jet fighters such as Dassault’s Mirage 2000 and Lockheed’s F-16, employs a sophisticated network of computer-calibrated, electrically actuated flight-control systems, as opposed to many of the old-style mechanical linkages and hydraulic systems. FBW produces an aircraft that responds faster and more precisely to pilot and autopilot inputs with crisper handling and increased system reliability.

Not only is much of the core technology on the 7X different from its predecessors, so too was the technology used to design it. Dassault used a sophisticated “virtual platform” and product lifecyle management to radically speed development, tooling and assembly times and eliminate the need for proof-of-concept or prototype aircraft. A case study done on the program by IBM showed that it reduced assembly time by 50 percent and tooling costs by 66 percent while virtually eliminating assembly errors. Lifecycle management also allowed Dassault’s 7X engineering team and more than 300 suppliers to collaborate in “real time” on the aircraft’s design. It is the reason Dassault can place 40 aircraft into the production pipeline before it achieves certification.