““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Dassault Falcon 200
Dassault stopped producing this twin-engine model more than two decades ago, but pilots still love it. it has great range and can climb 6,000 feet per minute. And while its hourly operating costs are high, its low acquisition cost compensates: You can buy a well-equipped, well-maintained 1987 falcon 200 for around $1.6 million-at least $3 million less than you'd pay for some competing models.
I CALL IT "EUTHANAIRSIA." A manufacturer builds an airplane that's so good it threatens sales of its own follow-on-and more expensive-models. So the company kills it.
Cessna did it with the Conquest II turboprop. Beech did it with the F90 King Air (see New Jet Review on page 22-Ed.). Hawker did it with the Model 1000A super-midsize jet. And Dassault Falcon Jet did it with the midsize twinjet Model 200.
Allegedly, Dassault did more than stop production of the airplane. According to one source, it tried to quietly buy back the 33 Falcon 200s that were in civil hands and send them to the smelter or re-engine them. The owners would have none of it. Even today, Dassault Falcon Jet doesn't want to discuss this airplane. When I asked about it, one of the company's PR guys suggested I write about the spendier trijet Falcon 50 instead. I got the feeling I had committed an aviation faux pas equivalent to trying to order sauerbraten at Paris' Le Procope. Vous idiot!
The twin-engine Falcon 200-which Dassault first delivered in 1983 and manufactured until 1988-was a follow-on to the wildly popular Falcon 20, an airplane built to fighter jet tolerances with an unlimited-life airframe. During the 1970s, Federal Express began its rise using freighter versions of the Falcon 20, operating them at four times the frequency that designers had envisioned. Some of these aircraft remain in service with smaller freight companies. While the 20's airframe was robust, its noisy, gas-guzzling GE CF700 engines limited the midsize cabin airplane to incredibly short legs. Hitting a headwind from Teterboro, N.J., to Chicago meant a fuel stop in Ohio. Under those conditions, you could fly home faster nonstop in a King Air 200.
So in 1973 Dassault began work on the Falcon 50 trijet, which used the 20's fuselage but had three more fuel-efficient Garrett (now Honeywell) engines and range enough to cross the Atlantic or beat a headwind and fly nonstop from White Plains, N.Y., to Burbank, Calif. But it also began working on a much improved version of the 20 called the Falcon 200. The 200 shared the 20's fuselage but had a redesigned and more comfortable cabin, more powerful and efficient Garrett ATF3 engines, a tweaked wing and first-generation glass cockpit avionics.
The ATF3s produced 5,200 pounds of thrust each, a 1,100-pounds-per-side improvement over the CF700s on the Falcon 20. More blow means more go. Compared with the 20, the 200 climbed faster, flew faster and farther, used shorter runways, handled better, had increased gross weight and burned much less fuel. Pilots noticed stunning performance improvements. Pilots typically say nice things about the airplanes they fly, but there is an unusual level of effusiveness about the Falcon 200. "The airframe is awesome," said one seasoned 200 pilot.
"There isn't anything about the airplane I don't like," commented Darrell Rahn, an instructor who has flown all 33 civilian 200s in existence and has logged almost 6,000 hours in the type. (Because the 200 was manufactured in such limited numbers, pilot training simulators were not built for the aircraft.)
WITH THE FALCON 200, you can fly Seattle to Miami nonstop with four passengers and a light tail wind and land with 40 minutes of fuel left; climb initially at a stunning 6,000 feet per minute; and use 5,000-foot runways all day-and still have plenty of safety margin. Push up the throttles to a sporty Mach 0.82 and you can fly a 200 with four passengers and lots of luggage 2,000 nautical miles unrefueled. The 200's performance was so good that some Dassault customers interested in a new Falcon 50 ended up buying a 200-for nearly 40 percent less. In 1987 a new 200 cost $7.85 million while a Falcon 50 retailed for $12 million.
The ATF3 engine had some major teething problems early on. It was initially employed by the U.S. Coast Guard on G and H series Falcon 20s (designation HU-25), which were used for patrol and search-and-rescue. Those aircraft routinely operated at low altitudes over saltwater and the resulting corrosion reduced the life of engine parts. Early engines also had some endemic design and component flaws, including faulty oil seals, but Rahn claimed that those have long since been solved. In all his time in 200s he had to shut down an engine in flight only once, as a precaution, due to fluctuating oil-pressure readings. "The engines are very reliable," he said.
Engine parts availability was also an early problem and many years ago playful Coast Guard mechanics sometimes would strip an engine of virtually every replacement part they thought they might need before returning the bare carcass to the factory for overhaul. But today, most ATF3s are on Honeywell's MSP Gold "power-by-the-hour" maintenance program and operators report excellent support. However, it isn't cheap. We rely on David Wyndham, a principal in the aviation consulting firm Conklin & de Decker, for aircraft comparison and performance data for this series. When David sent over the numbers for the 200, he felt obliged to write in the column next to direct hourly engine restoration costs, "These ATF3 engines are expensive. The number is correct!" The number is $1,465.20. Per hour. It's insane. That gives the 200 total direct hourly operating costs that are $1,800 more than those for a Hawker 1000 and $900 more than those for a Falcon 50.
So given the high direct operating costs, why would you want a 200? Well, it's sort of like finding a former Kentucky Derby winning stallion on Craigslist for a thousand bucks.
Today you can get a well-equipped, well-maintained 1987 Falcon 200 for around $1.6 million. That's at least $3 million less than you'd pay for a similar-vintage Falcon 50 or Hawker 1000 and half what you'd spend for a 1984 Falcon 20 retrofitted with newer TFE731 engines. (More than 100 Falcon 20s have been so modified and are designated Falcon 20F-5. Performance numbers between a retrofitted 20 and a 200 are virtually identical.)
You can fly a lot of hours, even more expensive ones, with that kind of cash left in your pocket. Maybe you can use some of the savings to re-cover the interior for around $75,000 and install a decent entertainment system.
Compared with a 20, the 200 still has the better cabin, with seats for eight or nine, a bigger galley, an aft lavatory and an externally loaded baggage compartment. The standard cabin layout features a forward club-four executive seat grouping followed by a half-club opposite a three-place, side-facing divan.
Rahn said he considers the aircraft an excellent choice for operators who fly 200 to 300 hours per year. "The only person who would say anything bad about this airplane is someone who has never flown one," he said. "There's nothing mean or ugly about this airplane anywhere."
Mark Huber welcomes comments and suggestions at: firstname.lastname@example.org.