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Dassault Aviation Dassault 1965-1986 - New Technology

From 1970 to 1986, the number of prototypes sent up into the air decreased. This normal phenomenon was due to changes in techniques which had reached a level such that virtually all possible configurations had been experimented. The "trial and error" approach of the 1950s and 60s was no longer needed to find the best solution. The best configurations were already known, in particular thanks to the contribution made by computer technology (CATIA software) which made it possible to define the best characteristics of the models envisaged well before the first flight. Composite materials were now in widespread use and electrical control systems provided significant improvements in maneuverability.

The Company developed this concept with a novel philosophy: from the outset, it set its sights on industrial manufacturing. These activities were included in the DRAPO (Définition et réalisation d'avions par ordinateur) program that entered industrial service at the end of 1975. In 1978, Jean Cabrière, the managing director, called for the development of a three-dimensional tool.

A new DRAPO system program, the CATI (Conception Assistée Tridimensionnelle Interactive) program was developed by the CAD Department. Used for the machining of complex parts, it was also designed for the manufacturing of wind tunnel mockup parts from outline drawings defined by DRAPO. CATI thus made it possible to design and machine the first wind tunnel wing in four weeks whereas the building of such a model previously took six months. In 1981, CATI was renamed CATIA (Conception Assistée Tridimensionnelle Inter Active). This computer program made it possible reduce cycle times, improve quality and optimize production efficiencies. A company responsible for developing and marketing this computer program was set up on June 5, 1981: Dassault Systèmes. During the same period, IBM, which was seeking to include a three-dimensional design software program in its catalogue, tested CATIA along with other US and Japanese software programs. In July 1981, it selected CATIA and entered into a non-exclusive distribution contract with Dassault Systèmes.

As a leader in the CAD/CAM field, Dassault Systèmes quickly became one of the front runners in French export companies in the computer sector and even the leader in terms of export turnover.

New materials emerged during this period. These materials made it possible to reduce structural weight by 30% at a cost price often comparable with conventional products. Dassault thus produced:

  • a high-lift flap track made of titanium for the Mercure 100 (weight reduction of 20%);
  • a rudder made of carbon laminate for the Mirage III (weight reduction of 23%);
  • a curvature flap made of boron fiber laminate for the Mirage F1 (weight reduction of 27%);
  • the fin of the Falcon 50 (first aircraft worldwide certified with a vital component made of composite materials);
  • a wing of the Falcon 10 (first aircraft worldwide certified with a wing made of carbon).

The Dassault company began to design and develop so-called "fly by wire" flight control systems. This technique made it possible to design unstable aircraft, that could thus not be controlled manually in part of the flight envelopment, with their intrinsic instability being compensated for by computer-controlled flight management. Such computers, acting through an electrical transmission system, sent control signals to servo-actuators controlling the aircraft's control surfaces in order to maintain complete flight stability.

The first electrical flight control systems were fitted to the Mirage IV, in 1959, but were backed up by a mechanical flight control system. In 1975, the Mirage 2000 was the company's first "all electric" aircraft to be mass produced. The design of the Mirage 2000 made it possible to operate the flight control system and the radar together. With a terrain-following radar, the pilot no longer touched the controls which were slaved to control signals given by the radar through a computer. The first integration of systems thus came into being. The next stage was to arrange for all systems to be integrated around the central processor as in the case of the Rafale.

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