A fully optimized airframe

Rafale M
Patrol flight of 2 Rafale B

The Rafale, a fully “Omnirole” fighter, is available in three variants:

  • the Rafale C single-seater operated from land bases,
  • the Rafale M single-seater for carrier operations,
  • the Rafale B two-seater flown from land bases.

All three variants share a common airframe and a common mission system, the differences between naval and land versions being mainly limited to the undercarriage and to the arresting hook.


Opération Serval. Two Rafale in flight equipped with 4 GBU-12 around Kidal N'Djamena.

Airframe – Materials – Flight control system

The Rafale features a delta wing with close-coupled canards. In-house research in computational fluid dynamics has shown the specific benefits of close coupling between the wings and the canards: it ensures a wide range of centre of gravity positions for all flight conditions, as well as excellent handling throughout the whole flight envelope.

The close-coupled canards / delta wing configuration is key to the combat performance of the Rafale: even at high angle-of-attack, it remains fully agile, and its range performance in strike missions with heavy weapon loads is unmatched for such a compact design.

An advanced digital “Fly-by-Wire” (FBW) Flight Control System (FCS) provides for longitudinal stability and superior handling performance. The FCS is quadruple redundant with three digital channels and one separately designed analogue channel, with no mechanical back-up: design independence between channels is key to avoiding simultaneous anomalies on all channels.

The Flight Control System of the Rafale attains the highest level of flight safety by leveraging on the extensive experience of Dassault Aviation in Fly-by-Wire technology: over one million flight hours without a single accident caused by the FCS.

The Rafale is safe and easy to fly in all flight regimes, featuring the same precise, yet benign handling performance in all load-out configurations throughout the flight envelope.

The flight control system of the Rafale offers auto flight in terrain following mode in all weather conditions, allowing the Rafale to fly unobserved in the opponent’s airspace: an important survivability factor in a high threat environment.

The radar cross section of the airframe has been kept to the lowest possible value by selecting the most adequate outer mold line and materials. Most of the stealth design features are classified, but some of them are clearly visible, such as the serrated patterns on the trailing edge of the wings and canards.

Dassault Aviation has long been recognized for designing sturdy airframes that sustain over 30 years of operation without heavy structural upgrades.

Thanks to the Dassault Aviation unique know-how in finite element modeling, the Rafale airframe fatigue is monitored with the same gauge-free concept which has proved its worth on the Mirage 2000 fleet.

Composite materials are extensively used in the Rafale and they account for 70% of the wetted area. They also account for the 40% increase in the max take-off weight to empty weight ratio compared with traditional airframes built of aluminium and titanium.

The M88 – a new generation engine

The M88-2 is a new-generation turbofan engine offering a high thrust-to-weight ratio with easy maintainability, high despatch reliability and lower operating costs.

The M88-2 incorporates advanced technologies such as integrally bladed compressor disks (“blisks”), a low-pollution combustor with smoke-free emissions, single-crystal high-pressure turbine blades, ceramic coatings, and composite materials.

The M88-2 power plant is rated at 10,971 lbs dry and 16,620 lbs with afterburner. It is equipped with redundant “Full Authority Digital Engine Control” (FADEC), which provides for carefree engine handling anywhere in the flight envelope: the throttle can be slammed from combat power to idle and back to combat power again, with less than three seconds from idle to full afterburner.

Launched in 2008, the M88 TCO (“Total Cost of Ownership”) programme was initiated to further improve engine durability and bring support costs down. Capitalizing on the ECO project, Safran Aircraft Engines was able to upgrade the high-pressure compressor and the high-pressure turbine of the M88-2: cooling is ameliorated and stronger components have been introduced, boosting durability by up to 50%. Life expectancy between overhaul has been considerably expanded for a number of modules, helping further minimise the impact of planned maintenance on engine availability.

The M88 is the subject of a constant improvement effort by Safran Aircraft Engines, leading to the latest M88-4E version, which builds on the TCO programme. This version, which offers a longer engine life, is now fully operational. Production deliveries began in 2012, and Rafale aircraft now comes out of the production line fitted with M88-4Es.

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