P1 looks back at a century of innovation that has seen Dassault Aviation’s Falcon family become the premium business jet portfolio.
It is bewildering to imagine a world without aircraft, and just as astonishing to think that flight has been more than a fancy for just over 100 years.
Certainly, when Marcel Bloch was born in January 1892, the son of a doctor and youngest of four children, he probably never imagined man would take to the skies. But all that changed one day when the young Marcel was in the school playground in Paris.
“One sunny day in the school playground, I looked up at the sky and saw the Count of Lambert’s Wilbur Wright passing the Eiffel Tower for the first time,” he recalled some years later. “I had never seen a plane before. There and then, I knew that aviation had become a part of my heart and thoughts.”
Bloch attended the Breguet School of Electricity before following his dream and signing up at the Ecole Supérieure d’Aéronautique school of aviation.
Following graduation in 1913, his new-found skills were soon to be put to important and unexpected use during World War I, where the young engineer drew on the knowledge he had acquired at Chalais Meudon Aeronautical Laboratory to first design a propeller – called the Éclair (1916) – and a twin-seater fighter – the SEA 4 (1918) – working alongside Henry Potez and Louis Coroller.
After the war, Bloch married in 1919 and had two sons – Claude and Serge. With a young family to support, Bloch experimented with real estate and with motor cars during the 1920s, but found himself drawn back to aviation. In 1930, Bloch assembled a new team to tap into the emerging civil aviation market.
“One day, I was at Le Bourget airport and saw Lindbergh land the Spirit of Saint Louis after flying over the Atlantic,” remembered Bloch. “I understood something had changed in aviation, and that civil aviation would be born. Wilbur Wright’s plane first drew me to aviation. The Spirit of Saint Louis brought
These were unsettled political times in Europe, between the wars, and France was no exception. In 1936, the left wing Popular Front came to power and nationalised Bloch’s business. Bloch then founded Société Anonyme des Avions Marcel Bloch (SAAMB) on December 12 that year – which effectively marked the legal formation of Dassault Aviation. And so the legacy began.
World War II began in 1939 and Bloch’s planes were used to defend the skies over France’s. Bloch refused to collaborate with the invading German army and was incarcerated in Lyon, along with his wife and children. He was then sent to Drancy concentration camp before spending eight months in Buchenwald.
Such horrors are hard to imagine, and Bloch decided to change the family name as part of the recovery process. Marcel’s brother, Paul, had fought with the resistance and used the name Dassault – the name which Marcel would choose to adopt.
Marcel Dassault continued to work in aviation and also ventured into newspapers (with Semaine de France then Jours de France) and politics – where he became senator for Alpes Maritimes and representative for the Oise department.
All the while, Marcel Dassault was pioneering France’s jet-powered aircraft industry, with the name becoming synonymous with superior fighter aircraft.
Paul Chassagne joined Avions Marcel Dassault in 1948 and, along with Paul Deplante, created the Mérignac design office where he spent his entire career.
In 1949, Dassault introduced the French Air Force’s first jet aircraft – the MD-450 Ouragan. This aircraft also enjoyed export success, selling in India and Israel. But Dassault’s reputation was greatly enhanced when the United States ordered 225 Mystère IV jets – an aircraft introduced in 1954 which proved itself during the 1967 Six Day War in the Middle East.
As the engineering specialist for the Mystère 20, the first model in the Falcon family, which made its maiden flight in 1963, Chassagne was responsible for the launch of the Flamant MD 311 and 312 as well as the design for the Méditerranée.
Pan American World Airways was looking for an aircraft that would let them get into the business jet market.
On May 4, 1963, the prototype for the Mystère 20 was preparing for its maiden flight but this was delayed when a visit was announced by a delegation from Pan American – including a certain famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh.
The guests were greeted by Paul Déplante, head of engineering at Mérignac, Paul Chassagne, design department manager, René Lemaire, chief project engineer, Georges Brian, public relations manager for the plant, and Bernard Waquet from the export department. The Americans were clearly impressed, with Lindbergh apparently calling Pan American president Juan Trippe to tell him: “I’ve found your bird.”
Pan American placed a significant order that paved the way for Dassault to begin the Falcon family legacy – a success story that is still making great strides today.
Marcel Dassault died on April 17, 1986, and his services to France earned him the country’s highest honour – the Legion of Honor’s Grand Cross. His funeral was the first to be held at Invalides for an industrialist.
“With no false modesty, I will say I have always tried hard not to run out of imagination,” said Dassault. “I have worked hard with the team I gathered. I have never let hurdles discourage me. I love what I do, and I know how to use my willpower to get anything that might divert me out of my way. I lead a simple and happy life.”
FALCON TAKES FLIGHT
The Mystère 20 that emerged from the Bordeaux Merignac facility on April 1, 1963 was based on technology developed for the Mystère IV fighter – a link between military and civil aircraft that Dassault still leverages today. Pan Am arriving on the day of the planned inaugural flight was no accident – the American airline realised that the French aircraft would be a leader in its field.
Pan American ordered 40 aircraft with options on a further 120, and also influenced the decision to re-engine the aircraft with two General Electric CF700 engines rather than the Pratt& Whitney JT12A-8s on the prototype.
First flight of the production aircraft took place on New Year’s Day 1965, with French and US certification following in June. Dassault then wasted no time in letting the aircraft announce itself, with test pilot Jacqueline Auriol setting a new world speed record, flying the Mystère 20 at 859kmh. By 1966, the aircraft had been rebranded the Fan Jet Falcon, and then, finally, the Falcon 20 that we know and recognise today.
Pan American made good on its intentions and placed orders totalling 160 aircraft, and a business jet icon was born.
Boosted by this success, Dassault Aviation wasted no time adding to the Falcon family, with a smaller, 4-6 passenger jet, the Falcon 10. Dubbed “the corporate bullet” this Falcon could fly coast to coast in the US, including a refuel stop, faster than most other aircraft could manage a non-stop flight. Falcon business jets became a byword for speed.
However, the Falcon 10 was far from being a downsized Falcon 20, with many design changes and a total redesign of the fuselage and wings. The aircraft was introduced in 1971 and 226 were built up until 1989, when it was replaced with the larger Falcon 100.
One blip in the Falcon family tree (and let’s face it, every family has one), is the Falcon 30. The 30 was an extended version of the 20 and intended for airline use rather than strictly as a business jet. The Falcon 30 had a larger fuselage cross section and seating for 30 passengers. This aircraft was built, and also flew, but never went into production. There was also a variant of the Falcon 30 – the Falcon 40, which was intended for customers outside North America. Again, this failed to see the light of day, and was never built.
Instead, what came next was the evergreen Falcon 50. First flown in 1976, 352 were built over 32 years, with the extended range Falcon 50EX launched in 1996, and still proving popular today. What customers always loved about the Falcon 50 was the speed, the luxury, the range and the triple-engine layout, as opposed to the Falcon 20 twinjet. It was also designed to fly across the US, or the Atlantic, non-stop.
In 1983, the Falcon 900 was unveiled at the Paris Air Show. Capable of 4,000nm range, the large cabin business jet is just as competitive today. Dassault has sold more than 500 variations of the Falcon 900, with the latest 900LX capable of flying 4,750nm. And capability is a keyword when it comes to that trijet design. Simply put, the Falcon 900LX can get you in and out of more airfields in more safety and comfort. That same aircraft can fly from Geneva to Chicago, or London to Seattle non-stop and – somehow – do so by using 33% less fuel than its competitors. When asked how Dassault manages this incredible fuel advantage, current CEO Eric Trappier simply smiled, and told the journalists in attendance that it was
In 1993, a smaller Falcon 900 variant, the 2000, was introduced – the first computer-designed executive aircraft. The 2000 was built for customers who wanted the comfort and range but also demanded efficiency and low costs of operation. This ability to anticipate and acknowledging market demand, and then meeting that with technological advantage, has become Dassault Falcon’s trademark over the last
And so it was that the 2000 was swiftly followed by the 2000S – described by the manufacturer as ‘the perfect balance of performance and economy’ or, as we prefer, ‘the big cabin jet without the big cabin costs’.
Then came the longer range 2000LXS, with its superb short-field advantage – at maximum take off weight (MTOW), the Falcon 2000LXS requires 1,000ft less runway than
The current portfolio of available Falcons is completed by the impressive 7X. First flown in 2005, this large, long-range business jet bears all the hallmarks of its siblings, despite its size. In fact, the 7X is the largest business jet certified to fly in and out of the challenging London City airport.
More than 200 of these technologically-advanced aircraft are now in service worldwide, with the 7X a hit with customers who want the big cabin comfort coupled with small jet agility. To date, more than 275 7Xs have been sold.
P1 was lucky enough to flight test this fabulous Falcon back in 2009, and you can read what we thought about the 21st-century business jet that flies like a fighter. Click here to view the flight test.
With customers currently able to buy a brand new 2000S, 2000LXS, 900LX and 7X, as well as pick-up prized, previously owned earlier models, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the family is complete, but 2016 – the centenary year for Dassault – will see the highly-anticipated 8X enter service, while the 5X (due in 2020) has already been unveiled and rolled out.
As the world becomes ever more globalised, demand for a Falcon with greater range, even more comfort and extra efficiency fuelled the 8X. The range will be 6,450nm – that’s 500nm more than the 7X – while the cabin is also 3 feet longer than the 7X, meaning you have 1,695 cubic feet of space (excluding the cockpit and baggage compartment). Even with such size, the 8X will still be capable of Mach 0.90.
The 8X made its maiden flight in February 2015 and all signs are that the aircraft will be certified and delivered before this centenary year is through. Speaking at the Abu Dhabi Air Expo in March, Dassault Aviation chairman and CEO Eric Trappier said the 8X was nearing the end of its test flight programme.
“I am very pleased that many Middle East customers are already showing such a strong interest in the new Falcon 8X, whose cabin design, operating economy and versatility will make it a perfect fit for their exacting business travel requirements,” said Trappier.
The 8X is due to enter the market in the second half of this year. It will have the quietest cabin and the most extensive range of configurations available on any large business jet, says the manufacturer.
“Despite the economic slowdown and lower oil prices affecting the region, we are continuing to witness strong interest in all our Dassault Falcon business jets, in particular new Falcons in development, the 8X and the 5X very wide body twin,” added Trappier.
So, despite a drop in sales last year, the evolution of the Falcon family seems to point to a bright future, as the French firm prepares to celebrate 100 years since Marcel Bloch – later Marcel Dassault – designed that first propeller, and began an enduring aviation success story that has enshrined innovation and new technology at its core.