Having been proposed as a French counterpart to the American Boeing 737 and Douglas’ DC-9, the “Dassault Mercure” was developed and manufactured by French aircraft firm Dassault Aviation.
Developed at a time when France was stepping up its game as global aviation power, it was Dassault’s first venture into the commercial jet airliner market. Introduced at the beginning of the jet age, the “Sud Aviation Caravelle” – a twin-engine short and medium-haul airliner and the “Nord-262 propjet” were France’s give-away to aviation.
Touted to be the next big thing, and despite being a favourite among pilots and passengers alike, the “Mercure” programme failed to take off successfully and soon faded into oblivion.
The beginning and the end
The programme “Mercure” was officially launched in April 1969. Manufacturing to be carried out under the main contractors of Dassault was shared between Fiat (Italy), CASA (Spain), ADAP (Belgium), the federal aircraft builder FW of Emmen (Switzerland) and Canadair (Canada). This was the first large-scale European cooperation programme in civil aeronautics.
The Dassault Mercure was a twin-engine narrow-body powered by two wing-mounted Pratt&Whitney JT 8 D 15 double-flow engines, very much similar to the contemporary Boeing 737-200 although slightly bigger and heavier.
I wanted to name it for a mythological figure and I could only think of one who had wings on his helmet and ailerons on his feet – hence the name Mercure (Mercury).Marcel Dassault, Founder and Owner, Dassault Aviation
The prototype of the Mercure 100 made its maiden flight from Mérignac (Gironde, France) on 28th May 1971 with a crew including Jean Coureau, chief pilot, Jérôme Résal, pilot, and Gérard Joyeuse, test engineer.
On 2nd June, the aircraft arrived at the Paris Air Show for its 6th flight and with only 9 hours of test flights.
At the time, the largest 737 could seat 136 passengers, while the DC-9 was even smaller, with a limit at just 125. Therefore, the Mercure decided to be marketed as a large aircraft for high-demand short-haul routes, something the two American giants hadn’t yet developed.
However, despite the new airliner’s excellent pedigree and its manufacturer’s high hopes, the biggest difference between the Mercure and the Boeing 737-200 was the range. The aircraft could travel just 1,700 kilometres – thereby allowing the Mercure to operate brilliantly in western Europe.
However, it failed to flourish in its ultimate target market-the United States which wasn’t compatible with the short-range jet.
The aircraft was also disadvantaged because of its engines: its Pratt & Whitney engines were relatively old, noisy and fuel inefficient. To remedy the situation, Dassault designed a new version of the Mercure – the Mercure 200 – with two Snecma/General Electric CFM 56 engines.
Tech and Specs
The Mercure was the first airliner to have a Head Up Display (HUD) for pilots, which allowed take-offs with forward visibility (RVR – Runway Visual Range) as low as 100 metres (328 feet).Source
It intentionally exchanged fuel for passenger capacity to carry a greater passenger load; as such, the Mercure had up to 17 per cent more seats than the competing Boeing 737 while having a shorter range.
With engines tucked under its wings, its nose and fuselage had a distinctly modern look.
The cockpit was fitted with two instruments that remain unique among civil transports: an Angle Of Attack (AOA) indicator used to illustrate lift generated by the wing, which allowed pilots to fly visual approach speeds accurate to within a single knot, and a G meter to avoid exceeding airframe structural limits (which were +2.5G and -1G).
Air Inter – the only airline to order the Dassault Mercure
On 30 January 1972, Air Inter placed an order for ten Mercures, which had to be delivered between 30 October 1973 and 13 December 1975.
The Mercure was so carefully tailored to the needs of domestic-only Air Inter that it was crippled by a maximum range of only 2,000 kilometres (1,295 miles), and, with maximum payload, only 1,000 kilometres (621 miles).Source
On 29 April 1995, the last two Mercures in service flew their last commercial flights.
At the time of their retirement, they had an impressive track record- logging in 360,000 flying hours, transporting 44 million passengers in 440,000 flights and with a 98% in-service reliability, with zero accidents.