U.S. Air Force Researches VLJs for Trainer Replacement

 - February 8, 2013, 10:35 AM
The U.S. Air Force is conducting market research to potentially replace its T-1A Jayhawk trainers with a very light jet. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Air Force is gathering information to help it decide if a very light jet (VLJ)–typically a jet with a maximum takeoff weight below 10,000 pounds–could replace its fleet of Raytheon T-1A Jayhawk trainers. The service conducted similar market research in 2006.

The USAF issued its latest request for information (RFI) for a VLJ to support its specialized undergraduate pilot training, multi-place training track last November. Industry responses were due in early January. One manufacturer, Eclipse Aerospace of Albuquerque, N.M., announced that it responded to the RFI with a proposal based on its new Eclipse 550, a development version of the Eclipse 500 VLJ.

The RFI provides a sketch of the potential replacement trainer. The aircraft should be certified to FAA Part 25 airworthiness standard and accommodate an instructor pilot and two students, one in a jump seat with a clear view of the flight instruments. An aft section accommodating up to four passenger seats is desired. The aircraft should be capable of multiple missions to include simulated air refueling and tolerate “normally expected student errors,” such as hard landings. Among basic performance specifications are the capability to sustain 340 knots calibrated airspeed in moderate turbulence and to cruise at 41,000 feet. In a response to contractor questions, the service said that new aircraft are not mandatory and that used aircraft are “permissible.”

Eclipse Aerospace said its Eclipse twinjet is 70 percent more fuel efficient and 70 percent less costly to support than the existing trainer. The company contends that the Eclipse would save the USAF $1 billion in operations and maintenance costs over 10 years. The model 550 is being built under the same type certificate as the current 500, but comes with an updated avionics suite and auto throttles. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in the third quarter. The aircraft is being certified to the less stringent FAA Part 23 standards, but “all applications relative under Part 25 can be demonstrated by Eclipse,” the company told AIN.

The Jayhawk, a military version of the Beechjet 400A, is a twin-engine trainer used by the USAF’s Air Education and Training Command at air bases in Oklahoma, Mississippi and Texas to train student pilots to fly airlift and tanker aircraft. The service reports an inventory of 178 aircraft, with a mission-capable rate of about 80 percent at a given location. It trains about 700 students a year.


I've not worked on an Eclipse but I've roamed around one and I would think a Citation Mustang would be a better choice from a point of maintenance and reliablility. The Mustang's a proven plane with I think over 300 flying not to mention Cessna support is excellent.

Dear Uncle Sam,
Please go with a Cessna Citation. I have worked for Cessna Citation Service Center, and worked for a small Charter Part 135 outfit, and when it came to support, first class. It may cost just a little more, but you will be getting a better aircraft, better service from about 8 Service Centers, and less AOGs.

None of the VLJ aircraft (Eclipse, Cessna Mustang, Embraer Phenom) are certified to 14 CFR Part 25. If that certification standard is what the USAF wants, they will have to look at heavier metal.

Aerospace Guy,

You’re correct–there are no Part 25 VLJs, and it would never be economical to certify a small jet to those standards. This was just a request for information, not a request for proposal. Eclipse told me that this was merely a “wish list” on the Air Force’s part and that reality would set in after the RFIs are submitted. There are also several other things that the USAF asked for that no VLJ can, or ever will, be able to do. But at least it’s a step in the right direction to cut defense costs in a way that doesn’t harm military readiness.

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