“For an aircraft to fly well, it must be beautiful,” Marcel Dassault famously said. Already well known for the sleek Mirage fighters, Dassault –the man and the company –proved the adage once again on May 4, 1963 with the first flight of the Mystère 20, the company’s first business jet. With an eye toward the sizable American market, it was soon rebranded the Falcon 20.
Sixty years and more than 2,700 business jets later, Dassault Aviation continues a tradition of building beautiful, advanced-technology aircraft.
“The formula has not changed,” said Dassault Aviation’s Chairman and CEO Eric Trappier. “Every Dassault aircraft must have superb handling, beautiful lines, and rugged construction. And, of course, it has to provide state-of-the-art comfort.”
The Falcon 20 wowed aviation leaders of the time, including Charles Lindbergh, Pan Am chief executive Juan Trippe, and FedEx founder, Fred Smith. The first Falcon spawned 25 different model types that found eager buyers among not only entrepreneurs but also government agencies and the armed forces of several nations. Its pioneering safety features, including the use of rugged fighter structures and systems, set the standard for countless future safety improvements, from head-up cockpit displays to digital flight controls—technology that subsequently became widespread across the industry.
Today, Dassault’s values, design ethos, and relentless focus on elegant lines inside and out are embodied in two new airplanes, the 5,500 nm Falcon 6X and the 7,500 nm Falcon 10X. These are the two largest cabins by cross section in business aviation, setting a new standard for long-range comfort.
Each has been recognized by the design community with prestigious interior design awards, continuing a tradition of refined form and function. The 6X, which enters service this year, has Dassault’s most advanced digital flight control system to date. The 10X, which is in the early stages of assembly, will have even more advanced systems and safety features.
THE FIRST DASSAULT BUSINESS JET TAKES OFF.
A little after 5 pm on May 4th, 1963, test pilots René Bigand and Jean Dilliare “gave it the gas,” as one historical account recalls, taking the Falcon 20 for an inaugural one-hour flight.
The flight occurred late in the day because of the visit of Charles Lindbergh, who dropped by to inspect the new business jet on behalf of Pan Am. It was only after he had departed Dassault’s Mérignac final assembly plant, near Bordeaux, that the flight team readied the aircraft for flight.
Lindbergh reportedly wired Pan Am CEO, Juan Trippe: “I’ve found our bird.” The airline promptly ordered 40 units with an option for 120 more and established Pan Am Business Jets to run its executive jet operations. The new entity later evolved into Dassault Falcon Jet (DFJ), fully owned by Dassault Aviation. Headquartered in Teterboro, New Jersey, DFJ is responsible for representing and supporting Falcons in the US and elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere.
In 1973, Fred Smith launched FedEx with a fleet of 33 Falcon 20s modified with a large cargo door, helping set that company on the road to success. In the 1980s, the U.S. Coast Guard ordered 41 Falcon 20s (designated the HU-25) modified for search and rescue. In all, Dassault went on to build nearly 500 20-series aircraft.
A HISTORY OF CONTINUOUS ADVANCES
In the years following, the company introduced a series of aircraft models widely considered by pilots to be among the best business jets to fly. Currently, more than 2,130 Falcons are operated in over 90 countries.
The best-selling model is the Falcon 2000 series, a highly economical, super-efficient twin which has been constantly updated across several variants. Nearly 700 have been delivered. The second-best seller is the workhorse Falcon 900 series, also constantly updated with 553 delivered, including two recently delivered to the Royal Air Force for VIP transportation.
About 400 fly-by-wire Falcon 7X/8X have been delivered, demonstrating the popularity of these ultra-efficient, versatile, long-range models.
“Those past decades have allowed us to build the legacy and the technical grounds which makes us confident in our ability to develop future airplanes that fit our customer expectations. Sixty years on, Falcons are still completely distinctive in the business jet world: beautiful, delightful to fly and always on the leading edge of technology, bringing safety, comfort and productivity benefits to their operators,” said Trappier.