NBAA Convention News

Few new details emerge on Dassault super-midsize jet

 - September 30, 2008, 11:04 AM

Some outlines of Dassault’s future super-midsize Falcon, codenamed SMS, are beginning to emerge, although the French manufacturer said it has no plan to unveil the aircraft here. Nevertheless, among industry observers there is still plenty of speculation about price and cabin size.

The new airplane, possibly called the Falcon 5X, will have fly-by-wire controls derived from those of the Falcon 7X. Like its larger sibling, the new aircraft is being designed using a digital mockup. Almost right from start, the SMS will be designed with Catia v6, the new version of Dassault Systèmes’ Catia software suite.

The twinjet will be powered by the new 10,000-pound-thrust Rolls-Royce RB282, marking the first time the UK manufacturer has been selected for a Dassault airframe. The engine is the first in a series of two-shaft powerplants under development by the UK manufacturer at its Dahlewitz, Germany plant, and will
be manufactured and tested in a facility under construction in Virginia. Rolls-Royce stresses that the engine is a completely new design with no commonality with its existing business jet engines.

Last year, Dassault senior v-p for civil aircraft Olivier Villa clarified that the unusually high thrust on the SMS will be used to maximize climb and cruise performance. In the market segment, 7,000 pounds is the common thrust. “Do not forget that engine makers talk about takeoff thrust, which is not what we are interested in,” Villa said. A design driver, he emphasized, is thrust at top of climb. “Business jet operators fly at high altitudes and want speed as soon as the cruise segment begins,” he explained.

Under Dassault’s nomenclature, the SMS is at the beginning of preliminary design, which includes, among other things, aerodynamic outlines. The second phase consists mainly of system design and layout. The third phase is detailed design. The three phases will last 1.5, two and 1.5 years, respectively. It usually takes five to six years to go from the start of the first phase to the first flight. For the SMS first flight is predicted to take place in 2013.

A Roomier Cabin

In terms of cabin size, the SMS will be bigger than the 700-cu-ft Falcon 50EX, production of which ceased last year. The new airplane is designed to compete with the Hawker 4000, the Bombardier Challenger 300 and the Gulfstream G200, which have cabin volumes from 762 cu ft to 868 cu ft. Dassault could try to find a sweet spot in that range, but must be careful not to steal sales from the Falcon 2000DX/LX, which has a 1,020-cu-ft cabin. Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia said he sees Dassault targetting hit the upper end of the market for the 860-cu-ft Challenger 300 and the lower end of the market for the 1,150-cu-ft Challenger 605.

For Dannys Famin, CEO of Paris Le Bourget-based operator Unijet, the ideal SMS would be “the size of the Challenger 300 with a higher range, say 3,400 nautical miles.” The Challenger 300 has an NBAA range of 3,100-nm. Aboulafia and Famin agreed the right price for the SMS would be close to $23 million–a couple of million higher than the competition.

The SMS program was launched internally in July 2007. In January, chairman and CEO Charles Edelstenne officially confirmed the launch to employee representatives, yet it seems the rest of the industry will have to wait to have a clear idea of what the new product is.