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Today the Falcon 7X reigns as Queen among the tiny family of three-engine business jets; a crown passed on from its predecessors - a trio of iterations of the still-available Falcon 900-series triples and the original Falcon 50 that made its debut in 1976.

Dave Higdon   |   1st June 2010
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Keeping Fit At 50

Upgrades keep Dassault’s first Tri-Jet young and fit.

Today the Falcon 7X reigns as Queen among the tiny family of three-engine business jets; a crown passed on from its predecessors - a trio of iterations of the still-available Falcon 900-series triples and the original Falcon 50 that made its debut in 1976.

As the venerable Falcon 50 series approaches 35 years in service- few other jets maintain the level of popularity- devotion and potential as the original and its successor- the more-powerful 50EX that debuted in 1997. Between the two iterations- Dassault built about 330 of these supermid/ large-cabin business jets with the vast majority still flying. So desirable the Falcon 50 seems to be that she’s attracted multiple engine-upgrade options in the last few years- along with an interior refit that brings it into the realm of the newer Falcon 50EX.

Additionally- avionics options hold out the potential to upgrade the Falcon 50’s flight deck to a level of sophistication and capability rivaling today’s newest off-thefactory- line panels.

Of course- taking this path to owning a 21st Century business jet isn’t for every buyer. Some people just naturally prefer to wait years and spend several times more to obtain the safety- redundancy and international flexibility of a jet like the Falcon 50. Some others may prefer to choose lift that enjoys fewer runway options and a higher up-front investment to put it on the flightline.

But judging by the pre-owned business jet listings- Falcon 50s don’t stay on the market for long – particularly if they’ve already been treated to a full makeover- a refurbishment that updates the plane cockpit to tailcone- with a new flight deck- a new interior and a power upgrade that gives the Falcon 50 performance operators that newer triples can’t match for the money. Here- we take a look at prospects in each area.

Even a cockpit already equipped with a glass panel stands to benefit when taken through a contemporary system upgrade – such as the Rockwell Collins ProLine 21 upgrade to the ProLine 4 panel in Falcon 50EX airplanes – not to mention the benefits available from pulling out the original analog equipment in favor of modern digital avionics.

ProLine 21 upgrades or a Universal Avionics overhaul from Duncan Aviation- West Star Aviation- Western Aircraft or another avionics shop can transform a cockpit from a museum piece to a modern work of practical aviation art.

The benefits are usually multiple for upgrading a panel today- including lower costs- lighter weight- reduced heat load- more power efficiency – and capabilities not around when the original Falcon 50- or even the 50EX first hit the ramps of the world…capabilities like the navigation and approach options available with an approved Wide Area Augmentation System GPS.

The addition of modern GPS with WAAS can enhance both the quality of en route operations as well as open up access to airports with a published LPV approach (Lateral Precision with Vertical Guidance).

WAAS GPS is approved in the U.S. as a primary navigation source needing no backup- easing the need to keep dual VHF navigation systems; one- with an ILS- will generally suffice. Better still- the ability to fly LPV approaches every month opens up more runway ends with no ILS – and with near- ILS minimums in many cases.

Another option worth considering as part of an upgrade is enhanced vision such as one from Max-Viz. This system employs a dual-band- infrared/visible-light camera sensor to let the pilot see better in the dark- clouds- smoke and dust through the view on a cockpit display.

The above list of benefits of a panel upgrade in your Falcon 50 or 50EX fail to address the reduced maintenance demands and- typically- lower maintenance costs that result. Many options exist – including from Honeywell as well as Rockwell Collins and Universal. Deciding how much you want to do is usually the tough part.

Recently Duncan Aviation completed the refurbishment of a Falcon 50 employing the lighter- tighter interior trappings of the newer 50EX- realizing a loss of weight- a gain in space and the return of that newplane smell we never seem to tire of inhaling.

Virtually any of Dassault’s authorized service centers can provide upgrade work directly or through a partnership with another interior center. Whether you go for the look of a Falcon 50EX or decide to go all-out and roll an original design of your own- the cabin work can transform a tired interior to an inspired work space designed to support both the labors of the day and the rest required by humans – complete with in-flight entertainment accoutrements and in-flight office tools such as high-speed internet- direct-dial phone- and printing and copying.

Within the limits of the structure- a specialty interior designer can give your Falcon 50 cabin a finish that favors group collaboration- the quiet needed for a solo producer- and comfort for taking any needed breaks.

Of course- all of these maintenance and refurbishment operations can complete the upgrade with a fresh paint job. During the interior-and-exterior refinishing phases is also a good time to take a good look at the transparencies letting light into the cabin. Updating to electronically dimming windows or just refurbishing the scratches out of existing windows can round out the feel that the airplane is brand new.

No aspect of an aircraft’s systems can take down its value and utility more- or faster than its engines. Old-design powerplants can require too-frequent attention- consume fuel at rates well above new models – and do all this while delivering decidedly inferior flying performance.

Thanks to a series of efforts involving engine maker Honeywell and some aftermarket partners- Falcon 50 owners can take their tri-jets to a new level approximating the benefits of the latest fuel-performance numbers of the Falcon 900 series.

The upgrades from the Falcon 50’s original TFE-731-3-1C engines include the Honeywell-developed upgrade to the -3D engine and the Falcon 50 Dash 4 Performance Upgrade through a combined effort of West Star Aviation and YankeePacific Aerospace in co-oporation with Honeywell the engine maker and modifier.

The Dash 4 upgrade received approval from the FAA several years ago and last year from Europe’s EASA- making the changeover an option for aircraft registered in both the U.S. and on the Continent.

It’s priced at about $2.3 million and brings a major improvement in performance- from climb rate to hot-and-high operations- all the while improving range and cruise capabilities due to the higher ataltitude thrust levels available- and lowerthan- original specific fuel consumption.

And the price can – depending on the exchange value of the old engines – come down to $1.7-1.8 million. Maintenance intervals grow; maintenance costs drop and residual value increases – not bad for a jet that’s held its value better than most of the other jets of its size and capabilities.

Whether you own a Falcon 50 or 50EX- or are considering acquiring one- upgraded or to refurbish to your specifications- knowing the airplane’s condition and the status of any applicable Airworthiness Directives is standard operating procedure for an investment of this nature.

A new AD requiring an expansion of the wings’ so-called dry bay is required per Dassault Mandatory Service Bulletin- EASA AD and an anticipated FAA AD. Knowing whether this AD has been complied with could influence price negotiations for a preowned Falcon – any Falcon- since the AD applies to the 2000 and 900 series- in addition to the Falcon 50-series models.

The work requires the removal of a lower wing plank (or skin)- the addition of a panel between the fourth and fifth wing ribs ahead of the rear spar- sealing- closing the wing and painting. Three of the Dassault Authorized Falcon service centers have already received the training- tools and approval to perform this somewhat laborintensive work: Duncan Aviation; Midcoast Aviation; Western Aircraft.

The work requires about four weeks of downtime- though some of these shops expect to shorten that with experience they have all already started gaining.

Because of the downtime required- these shops all suggest performing the work during a C Check- when the plane will be down for several weeks. The work must be completed by 2022.

For more information about Falcon 50 Upgrades- visit some of the following websites:
Duncan Aviation: www.duncanaviation.aero
Midcoast Aviation: www.midcoastaviation.com
Western Aircraft: www.westair.com
West Star Aviation: www.weststaraviation.com

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