To prepare for a unique experience—a real short-field landing in the Falcon 8X, albeit on a long runway—I started at the FlightSafety Le Bourget learning center near Paris for a practice session.
The plan was to fly two days later from Le Bourget to Vatry Airport in Chalons, France, where I would fly the 8X in the traffic pattern and try out my short-field landing skills in the real airplane. We would then fly to Les Eplatures Airport in Neuchatel, Switzerland, where a Dassault pilot would demonstrate the 8X’s short-field capability on the airport’s 3,576-foot runway.
Olivier Perriaud, chief pilot of the Falcon operational pilot group, helped get me refamiliarized with the 8X in the FlightSafety simulator. I’ve flown the 8X a few times already, but not on a regular basis.
After some airwork and a touch-and-go and full-stop landing at simulated Charles de Gaulle Airport, Perriaud repositioned the simulator for La Mole Airport, which is the go-to for visitors to St. Tropez and has an unusual arrival, not to mention a 3,514-foot runway (landing distance) surrounded by mountains. Pilots flying to La Mole are required to have undergone training within the past two months or have flown into the airport as PIC within the past 12 months.
Landing at La Mole is only on Runway 24, and the approach requires flying from the coastline, then descending at specific points while flying a heading of 234 degrees, 11 degrees off the runway magnetic heading of 243 degrees, and following the 4-degree PAPI to avoid noise-sensitive areas. The final turn to line up with the runway starts at 400 feet msl (about 350 feet agl), and it isn’t until about 200 feet msl that the airplane will be lined up with the runway centerline, making for an interesting final approach. Operations are allowed only during daytime.
For the first arrival, I did a go-around to see how that procedure worked to keep us clear of the mountains. Subsequently, Perriaud had me practice touching down and stopping hard, including reverse thrust on the center engine and full braking. The goal is to get stopped before Taxiway C, roughly two-thirds of the available landing length of Runway 24.
I landed five times at simulated La Mole; on the first landing, I stopped at Taxiway C, and on the next four landings, I managed to stop well short of the taxiway. I didn’t feel like I was hammering the 8X too hard, and I would later see and feel that there is more performance available from this capable airplane.
It was enormously fun trying to fly the required arrival procedure toward the airport, make the turn to the centerline at low altitude, chopping the power, then touching down and standing on the brakes. I took off each time from Runway 6 after turning around, and followed the prescribed procedure for departure. The simulated mountains and airport felt all too real, and it was a terrific practice session. To top off the training regime, we repositioned near Geneva, where I did another short-field landing at Annecy Airport on the French side of the border.
For the flight in the real 8X two days later, Perriaud and Dassault test pilot Fabrice Dougnac flew the 8X to Vatry. After shutdown, I climbed into the left seat with Dougnac in the right seat and Perriaud in the jumpseat.
The weather was perfect with hardly any wind, a balmy summer day in France and a nearly empty airport, with only another Falcon practicing takeoffs and landings.
I took off on Vatry’s Runway 10 and stayed in the traffic pattern, climbing to 2,000 feet and turning left. On downwind, Dougnac set slats/flaps 1 (SF1), then gear down, followed by SF2 abeam the runway numbers and once on final, SF3.
This was just like the simulator, with a go-around my first task. The second time around ended with a full-stop normal landing, and it was pleasantly familiar after the simulator session. The 8X handles well at slow speeds, and the fly-by-wire flight controls give the pilot precise control and well-harmonized responsiveness, especially for such a large airplane.
We taxied back for the third takeoff, and after flying around the pattern and getting configured on final, I proceeded to the short-field landing. After touching down, I pushed the sidestick forward to get the nosewheel onto the runway then pulled the thrust reverser on and stepped hard on the brakes. The touchdown was not at a significantly high rate of descent, and I probably used up some runway unnecessarily by not touching down a bit more aggressively. But overall, it was a satisfactory performance and completely underscored the benefits of the training. I’m pretty sure I could have landed and stopped safely at La Mole.
For the next leg, Dougnac switched to the left seat and Perriaud took the right, while I sat in the cabin with our other passengers for the flight to Les Eplatures. This was to be Dougnac’s first real 8X short-field landing on a short runway, and Dassault had arranged for a helicopter and cameraman to shoot video of the landing at Les Eplatures.
The airport sits in a shallow valley on the edge of Neuchatel, Switzerland, at an elevation of 3,366 feet. We approached from the southwest to land on Runway 6, and Dougnac brought the 8X in at a relatively shallow angle but with a higher rate of descent than during my landing. The 8X plonked onto the runway at what must have been a few hundred feet per minute, and Dougnac swiftly brought the big jet to a halt, using about 500 meters or about half the available runway. The helicopter camera crew was positioned perfectly to capture the landing.
What Dassault was demonstrating was not just the 8X’s ability to land short, but also to carry enough fuel to fly from a short runway to other destinations. From Les Eplatures, we flew to Gstaad Saanen Airport, a Swiss airport hemmed in by the steep Alps. We took our time to allow the helicopter to get there to film our arrival, which was a dramatic swoop close to the mountains as we turned 180 degrees to line up with Runway 26.