Piper unwraps a jet at NBAA

 - November 6, 2006, 6:52 AM

Launching a new era for the 70-year-old lightplane manufacturer, Piper Aircraft president and CEO Jim Bass last month took the wraps off the design mockup for the single-engine, six-seat PiperJet, an airplane priced at $2.19 million that adds another serious player to the market for very light jets.

A walk-through mockup on display at Piper’s booth at the NBAA Convention in Orlando showed nearly all components of the proposed airframe except for the landing gear. The PiperJet looks like a cross between a Malibu Meridian and a DC-10. The airplane will feature the turboprop single’s sleek proportions, but its lone turbofan engine will be mounted in the tail, like the center engine on the McDonnell Douglas widebody trijet [a design that began life as a twin and, late in the game, gained a third engine that always looked like something of an afterthought compared with the L-1011’s third engine, buried in the tailcone at the end of an S duct.–Ed.].

Piper said the all-metal aircraft will have a range of about 1,300 nm and cruise at 360 knots up to FL350. That’s 100 knots faster and 5,000 feet higher than its turboprop single, the $1.895 million Meridian. By comparison, Diamond Aircraft’s $1.38 million D-Jet seats four plus the pilot, is powered by a single Williams FJ33-4 turbofan engine and has about the same range as the proposed PiperJet but cruises about 45 knots slower and 10,000 feet lower.

John Becker, Piper’s v-p of engineering, said a prototype of the PiperJet is expected to fly within 18 months. The company has not yet chosen an engine.

The PiperJet will be based on the Meridian airframe and will receive the type designation PA-47-2400J, Becker said, adding that the jet will be able to haul about 800 pounds with full fuel, 250 pounds more than the Meridian.

Piper will seek FAA certification for single pilot, known icing and RVSM. Bass added that Piper expects deliveries to begin in 2010 and has received orders for “more than 20 but less than 100” copies of the jet to date.

No Honda Engine Bias
Bass said Piper’s relationship with Japanese automaker Honda Motor, established earlier this year to “explore opportunities in engineering and other areas within general and business aviation,” will not influence the Vero Beach, Fla. company’s choice of engine for the PiperJet. At the booth immediately adjacent to Piper, Honda revealed the specifications for its twin-engine HondaJet, which features two Honda HF120 turbofans, developed in partnership with General Electric. Bass said the HondaJet, priced at $3.65 million, will not compete directly with the PiperJet.

Bass said Piper is considering the GE/Honda HF118 as well as engines from Pratt & Whitney Canada and Williams International. The Meridian, in service since 2000, is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-42A turboprop. When asked whether Piper had considered twin engines for the jet, Bass said more than 85 percent of the Piper customers he surveyed indicated they wanted a single.

Williams International v-p of business development and media relations Matt Huff confirmed that the company’s FJ44-3 turbofan is a strong contender for the PiperJet, noting that the engine has a proven track record on the Cessna CJ3, and that the Williams FJ33 is already flying solo on the Diamond D-Jet. Huff said that should Piper choose the FJ44-3, which is rated at up to 3,000 pounds of thrust, “they’ve got that built-in margin [of thrust] if they need it for certification.”

The PiperJet will use a 2,400-pound-thrust engine. The HF118 is rated for 1,670 pounds, while the Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D series turbofans develop thrust in the 2,200- to 3,350-pound range. As for the unique placement of the engine, Piper engineers determined the jet could achieve greater efficiency with a single tail-mounted engine versus an engine contained within the fuselage, because there would be better airflow.