When Dassault Aviation launched design studies for a new business jet in 2006, it intended to develop a midsized aircraft to compete against Bombardier's Challenger 300, Gulfstream's G250 (now G280) and Embraer's Legacy 600. Within two years, world financial markets plummeted, and with them, demand for smaller aircraft.

Last week, the French aircraft builder finally lifted the curtain on the new jet's design, and the result is a product that scarcely resembles its origins.

The Falcon 5X will be the biggest and most advanced Falcon jet ever built, tailored to follow the market's shift toward ever-larger and longer-range aircraft. Unveiled with great fanfare at the 2013 National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention in Las Vegas, the 5X will have a cabin cross-section that is slightly larger than that of Gulfstream's G650 uber-jet, but it is considerably shorter. The 5X is designed to fly up to 5,200 nm at Mach 0.80 and has a top speed of Mach 0.90. Construction of the first flight-test aircraft is well underway, with a maiden flight targeted for the first half of 2015 and certification the following year.

With an initial list price of just under $45 million, the new Falcon will compete head-on with Gulfstream's aging G450 and Bombardier's fuel-thirsty Global 5000. Its considerably lighter empty weight, more advanced aerodynamics and 10-15% more fuel-efficient engines will cut fuel consumption by up to one-third compared with those competitors. Dassault says the 5X will have 30% lower direct operating costs than the G450's and 35% less than the Global 5000's.

The first clean-sheet Falcon in a decade, the 5X shares little with the 7X, which entered service in 2007. It will sport a new fuselage, new wing, new Safran Snecma Silvercrest 1-D turbofans (see page 27) and advanced digital flight-control system functionality. The jet, says Dassault Chairman and CEO Eric Trappier, is a “game changer—an all-new, ultra-efficient, advanced-technology aircraft.”

The 5X also provides a foundation for more large and longer-range Falcon jets to compete directly against new, advanced designs being developed by Bombardier and Gulfstream. Another member of the new Falcon family could be announced as early as next spring or at Ebace, Europe's signature business aviation event.

Dassault's pivot to the upper end is aimed at capitalizing on the sweet spot of the business jet market. While demand for smaller aircraft remains anemic, larger and ever-more-capable jets are resonating with buyers, particularly in emerging markets such as China. Gulfstream has won more than 200 orders for the ultra-high-end G650. And Honeywell is forecasting that large-cabin jets will generate more than 80% of the industry's revenues (see page 30).

Dassault is striving to make the 5X the most reliable business jet that it has ever built. Scheduled maintenance will come at 800-hr. or 12-month intervals. While touted as the most technically advanced civil jet the company has sold, all of its major systems have evolved from other aircraft. Almost nothing on the aircraft is “bleeding edge” technology that might risk the jet spending excessive time undergoing maintenance or repairs.

The primary airframe is an aluminum structure with composites for the empennage, fairings, nacelles and other secondary structures. The clean-sheet, 779-sq.-ft. wing includes winglets as part of the initial design, a first for Dassault. It features a straight leading edge, a relatively modest 33 deg. of leading-edge sweep and 5-10% better lift/drag ratio than the 7X.

The aircraft's nose has new loft contours, including cockpit windows that are 32% larger than those of the 7X, easing visibility during takeoff, approach and landing. The flight deck is designed to be considerably more comfortable, with increased headroom and space aft of the pilots' seats to recline for short rest breaks.

Dassault's third-generation enhanced avionics system, dubbed EASyIII, will primarily use Honeywell Primus equipment. The layout is similar to EASy cockpits in other Falcon jets, with four flat-panel screens arranged in a T-configuration. A single Elbit head-up display with a wide angle of view will be a standard item, as will a wideband Elbit infrared camera in the nose.

The cabin's many new design features include wraparound seats with hollowed-out armrests. The seatbacks feature plug-in ports for individual monitors, and Wi-Fi will support using iPads or iPhones as inflight entertainment screens. Responding to customers' desires for more ambient light in the cabin, the 5X will be fitted with 28 of the largest cabin windows ever used on a Falcon. The 155-cu.-ft. aft baggage compartment will be accessible during flight with no altitude restrictions because the engine rotor burst plane is behind the aft pressure bulkhead. There will also be an unpressurized baggage compartment in the tail.

Falcons are known for their class-leading fuel efficiency, and the 5X will be no exception. One reason is its Mach 0.80 cruise speed, which is relatively placid by current industry standards. While other large-cabin business aircraft makers, as well as operators, tout cruise speeds of Mach 0.85-0.90—shaving as much as an hour off of longer trips—Dassault's market research indicates that longtime Falcon customers value cabin comfort, range and price ahead of speed.

The 5X project's workshare is similar to that on the 7X, with Dassault building the forward and aft fuselages and the wings. Daher-Socata is responsible for most center-fuselage hardware, Belgium's Sabca is building the aft, lower-center-fuselage section, and GKN is constructing the wing's aft control surfaces. Snecma will supply the aircraft's nacelles as part of an integrated engine package. Corsica's Corse Composite Aeronautique is building the wing-to-body fairing, while Potez, in southwest France, is supplying the main entry door.

With Joseph C. Anselmo in Las Vegas.