Dassault admits to quiet work on Mach+ bizjet

 - August 4, 2008, 7:10 AM
Dassault is working quietly on the design for what could become a supersonic business jet (SSBJ). In June the French aircraft manufacturer announced the creation of a “common working group” with Sukhoi to study such an aircraft. Although mainly aimed at military manned and unmanned jets, the memorandum of understanding signed at the Paris Air Show also foresees “cooperation in the civil aircraft field” between the French and Russian companies. Other details emerged recently, showing Dassault is investigating technologies that could give birth to an SSBJ.

Asked for details on the civil side of the agreement with Sukhoi, Dassault officials downplayed its significance. They said Dassault is talking to Sukhoi, as it is with other companies in the aerospace industry, about the feasibility of an SSBJ. Yet in May senior v-p Bruno Revellin-Falcoz specifically named Boeing and Sukhoi for current talks on that subject.

The French company has long made it clear that finding an American partner was strategic for SSBJ certification issues. In addition, Dassault wants to share risks on the program, if it is ever launched. What’s new is a possible French-Russian partnership on a civil supersonic transport. In fact, the agreement signed by Dassault CEO Charles Edelstenne and Sukhoi CEO Michail Pogosyan is not the only one announced by French (or partly French, such as EADS) and Russian companies at the Paris Air Show. These collaborations have been encouraged by French president Jacques Chirac and the right-wing government, and French authorities see Russia as a key partner for future defense programs.

At its Saint-Cloud headquarters near Paris, Dassault is understood to maintain a dedicated team of 10 to 15 SSBJ researchers and engineers. Since the company officially shelved the SSBJ project in March 1999, it has reviewed additional proposals from engine makers.

What could power the aircraft is still one of the two big issues. Available supersonic engines are military and do not meet civil criteria in terms of maintenance cost and simplicity. Moreover, they cannot sustain long-duration supersonic flights, typically three hours at Mach 1.6. Four years ago, Dassault asserted that lack of a suitable engine was the reason behind its putting civil supersonic studies on the backburner.

The second big issue is the sonic boom. Some Dassault engineers have recently been disappointed on this front. They had submitted a research proposal to the European Commission to obtain funds from the European Union’s sixth-framework research program. But their request was rejected. Dubbed HISAC, an acronym for high-speed aircraft, the proposal targeted technologies that could make a new-generation supersonic civil jet “environmentally acceptable.”