Like the mythical phoenix, the AASI Jetcruzer 450/500 may arise from its ashes to fly again, this time as a single-turbofan, experimental airplane rather than a certified single-turboprop pusher. It was in April 2002 that Advanced Aerodynamics & Structures Inc. (AASI), after completing its acquisition of the bankrupt Mooney Aircraft Co., changed its name, as expected, to Mooney Aerospace Group (MASG).
Then, without fanfare, it indefinitely suspended development of the Jetcruzer 500, a slightly longer and pressurized derivative of the unpressurized Jetcruzer 450 that was FAA certified in June 1994 but never entered service. MASG sold the Jetcruzer program lock, stock and barrel at auction in January last year, but it took a full year to complete the sale. The winning bidder, Michael Spearman, owner of Innova Aircraft in Conroe, Texas, acquired the Jetcruzer type certificate and all tooling, inventory, airframes and intellectual data for an undisclosed price. (It has been incorrectly reported elsewhere that he paid $125,000, but Spearman told AIN this was the opening bid price. He would not reveal the price he paid.) Innova Aircraft does airplane modifications and builds kitplanes, but Spearman established a separate company, Jetcruzer LLC, specifically for the Jetcruzer project.
Spearman intends to turn the canard-winged Jetcruzer into a single-engine jet by replacing its Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A turboprop with a JT15D turbofan and sell the airplane as a kit. With a ready supply of refurbished JT15Ds coming off Citations and Beechjet 400s, he estimates he can sell the Jetcruzer homebuilt for $800,000 to $900,000, depending on avionics.
“The big advantage we saw with the Jetcruzer is that the program was so far along,” he said. “The model has more than 1,000 hours of flight time and there are reams of paper and digital test data, all the production tooling and lots of components already made.” Changing to a turbofan engine, extending the wing roots forward to increase fuel capacity to 350 gallons and staying in the experimental category, will address, according to Spearman, the three main issues that stymied the Jetcruzer 500’s certification. These were its stall speed (too high for a certified single), its center of gravity (too far aft with full fuel) and its inability to meet FAA external noise requirements. The other problem was marketing. The incoming very light jets, priced near the $1.4 million Jetcruzer 500, essentially destroyed the market for the slow-to-develop turboprop.
Spearman said he hopes to have his Jetcruzer flying with a JT15D by the end of the year, or at the latest by next year’s Sun ’n’ Fun in April. This depends in part on whether he decides to modify the airplane’s main wing roots and change to a composite wing before or after doing the engine modification. He said he’s also considering eventual normal certification and looking at configuring the model as a twinjet, using a pair of the small turbofans now under development for the very light jets.
Meanwhile, MASG (the former AASI) in late May sold all its Mooney Airplane Co. stock to Allen Holding Finance, a Switzerland-based private investment company, after MASG’s “secured debenture holders declared their notes in default.” Soon after, on June 10, MASG filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of Delaware.