The Dassault Cargo Falcon 20 is a French jet aircraft that, on April 17, 1973, became the first to carry a Federal Express air package. This was a new milestone in the history of air transport in the United States and created a new category of airline, the exclusive air express carrier. Within a decade, no less than thirty-three were flying on the spokes of the Federal Express network. The service was so successful that, by the early 1980s, its front-line aircraft were expanded to the McDonnell Douglas DC-10Cs, whose cargo holds were big enough to carry several Falcons each.
The first Dassault Falcon made its maiden flight on May 4, 1973. It is a well-proportioned, all metal low-wing monoplane, with full cantilever wing and tail surfaces, pressurized fuselage, and retractable tricycle dual-wheel landing gear. It is powered by two aft-mounted General Electric CF-700-2D turbofan engines. For cargo use, the Series 20 was modified by several basic changes, the success of which is a tribute to the inherent soundness of the design. The Cargo Falcon 20 also features an oversized cargo door, measuring 55 inches x 74.5 inches, and a strengthened floor to accept loads of concentrated weight.
Gift of the Federal Express Corp.
Twin engine jet transport, purple and white, orange trim, all metal.
The Dassault Falcon is a French executive jet aircraft, originally developed as the commercial version of the famous Mystere fighter aircraft. In its ten-seat executive role, the Falcon 20, originally known as the Mystere 20, has shared an elite market with such aircraft as the Learjet, the Hawker-Siddeley (now British Aerospace) 125, and the North American Sabreliner. In the United States, it was marketed as the Fan Jet Falcon by Pan American Airways through its subsidiary, the Falcon Jet Corporation, established in 1972 for the specific purpose of selling this fine aircraft in the highly specialized U.S. market.
When Fred Smith of Federal Express sought a small jet aircraft to carry loads consisting exclusively of air express packages, the Dassault Falcon won the competition as the ideal aircraft for the purpose. It was fast, with a top speed of 535 mph; it could be converted for Federal Express's very specialized needs; and it was small enough to reduce the risk of carrying uneconomical loads during the initial, highly sensitive period, when the new airline risked its entire future on the right choice of aircraft.
The first Dassault Falcon made its maiden flight on May 4, 1963. It is a well-proportioned, all-metal low-wing monoplane, with full cantilever wing and tail surfaces, pressurized fuselage, and retractable tricycle dual-wheel landing gear. It is powered by two aft-mounted General Electric CF-700-2D turbofan engines. For cargo use, the Series 20 was modified by several basic changes, the success of which is a tribute to the inherent soundness of the design.
Most important of these changes was the installation of a cargo door, measuring 55 inches x 74.5 inches. This is located on the left side of the forward fuselage and is operated by a closed-circuit electrohydraulic system that utilizes the aircraft batteries to operate an electric motor and hydraulic pump. Control of the door is independent of the aircraft's hydraulic and battery master systems and may be operated in all aircraft electrical configurations, provided that a battery is connected.
The door is impressively large when seen in relation to the fuselage diameter. This advantage is supplemented by a strengthened floor that can accept loads of concentrated weight. The passenger windows are plugged. Other modifications include the relocation of emergency controls (a consequence of the redesign of the floor); installation of forward escape hatches: removal of the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU); and increased travel of the all-flying tail. The nose-wheel is slightly larger, and the disc brakes are of a higher performance, as are the batteries. All these changes have increased the all-up weight of the Cargo Falcon 20 to 28,660 pounds, compared with the 25,300 pounds of the standard executive Falcon.
The inauguration of Federal Express Cargo Falcon service was a new milestone in the history of air transport in the United States. Fred Smith created a new category of airline when he launched his package distribution system from a centralized clearing house at Memphis, Tennessee. The first two Falcons were delivered in June 1972 and cost $1 .2 million each. One of these, N8FE- the very aircraft now in the National Air and Space Museum-carried the first Federal Express air express package on April 17, 1973. The service was an immediate success. Within a few months, more Falcons had been ordered, and by the end of 1974, no less than thirty-three of the French aircraft were flying on the spokes of the Federal Express network.
Success breeds success. The Falcons had done their job so well that the airline had to buy larger aircraft to cope with the booming demand for overnight air express service. A fleet of Boeing 727-lOOFs gradually supplemented and then finally replaced the Falcons, and by 1982, less than a decade after N8FE inaugurated the new service, Federal Express's front-line aircraft were McDonnell Douglas DC-l0Cs-whose cargo holds were big enough to carry several Falcons each.
The inclusion of the Federal Express Falcon 20 in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum is important for a number of reasons. First, it is representative of a new category of airline, the exclusive air express carrier. Several other enterprising individuals and corporations, recognizing the essential logic of Fred Smith's innovative idea, have gone into business with similar hub-based systems. The Falcon therefore reminds us that the development of air transport is as dynamic today as in previous decades, and that history is concerned with today's events as well as yesterday's.
Second, the Falcon was the first commercial jet to be placed in the Air Transportation gallery. Previous candidates for inclusion were too large to go into the building on the Mall. The Falcon, therefore, was a welcome addition, and makes a fascinating contrast with the Douglas M-2 mailplane. The M-2 inaugurated air mail service almost half a century before Federal Express took wing.
Third, the Falcon is a French design, built by Avions Marcel Dassault, headquartered at Vaucrosson, France. Most foreign aircraft are rare and difficult to obtain, and until recently the Museum has been unable to include a foreign-built commercial aircraft in its collection.
One of the customs at Federal Express is to name each aircraft after a child of one of the airline employees. The name is now chosen at random, but the Falcon in the National Air and Space Museum was the first, and is named Wendy, after Fred Smith's daughter. The tail number, N8FE, does not mean that it was the eighth in the line. In fact, it was the first one delivered, but Smith felt that no harm would be done if the public assumed that the number on the tail indicated that Federal Express already had a fleet of eight aircraft when his enterprise first got under way.