Bizav makes a big splash at Sun 'n' Fun

 - June 4, 2007, 11:09 AM

The annual Sun ’n’ Fun event in Lakeland, Fla., is similar to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture Oshkosh, with its emphasis on sport aviation and light aircraft, but (as at Oshkosh) a growing number of turboprop and jet manufacturers are exhibiting at the smaller show at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. Perhaps they know future buyers often enter aviation at the small end of the scale, or maybe they know their competitors are there, too.

Making its second appearance at the event, held April 17 to 23, Embraer brought a mockup of the Phenom 300 fuselage. Company technicians have already begun cutting metal on the first Phenom 300, according to Ernest Edwards, vice president for executive jet sales and marketing for the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Orders for the Phenom 100 VLJ and the larger 300 now cover almost 400 aircraft, he added. The $2.85 million Phenom 100, with seats for six occupants, is expected to enter service in the middle of next year, followed by the nine-occupant $6.65 million Phenom 300 in mid-2009.

Phenom 100 number two is under construction, and both number one and two are being built with serial-production tooling and will be conforming airplanes. Both will be equipped with flight-test instrumentation; after flight testing is complete, the first will remain in flight-test configuration with Embraer, while the second will be completed and sold to a customer.

Cessna chairman, president and CEO Jack Pelton confirmed that Mustang VLJ deliveries had resumed after a software problem with the jet’s Garmin G1000 avionics system was fixed. The problem caused a five-week delay, he said, but Cessna normally builds a gap into its production process for new airplanes between first delivery and production ramp-up in case such problems occur. It’s better to fix problems at the factory than in the field after delivery, he added. The first Mustang delivery took place in December 2006 and the third just after Sun ’n’ Fun on April 23.

The company’s newest clean-sheet design, the CJ4, “is steaming along in the design phase,” Pelton said, and is on target for 2009 certification. Orders are above the 100 mark, he said. “We view the ability to design and certify new products as one of our core strengths. It’s part of our DNA.” Cessna continues to invest in new aircraft, he added, because that drives the company’s growing revenues. The Large Cabin Concept project is still alive, according to the Cessna executive. “That’s our biggest opportunity,” he said, adding that the existing product line fully covers the business market niches. “Now we’re looking at how to go upmarket; we’re working hard on that, and we’ll decide on a launch at the end of the year.”

Pelton doesn’t seem too interested in the growing market for single-engine jets (or personal light jets). “I haven’t seen where it’s really exciting,” he said. “If I have the performance and ease of operation, I would jump over a single-engine jet and get a Mustang,” he said. He maintains that single-engine jets have too many shortcomings compared with multi-engine VLJs and even roomier turboprops such as King Airs. Some single-engine jets are limited to 25,000-foot maximum altitude, and Pelton believes that airplanes that can fly higher will have a big advantage.

Single-engine Jets on Display
Not all manufacturers share that opinion. A number of makers of single-engine jets were on hand at the event touting their products. Cirrus Design, which unveiled its third-generation SR22-G3 with increased fuel capacity and lighter carbon-spar wing, is close to going public with its single-engine jet design. The company plans to unveil the jet to deposit holders attending the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association meeting on June 27, then to the public the next day.

Hopefully Cirrus will also reveal the name of its jet, which to date has been referred to as The-Jet. Buyers have placed deposits on more than 140 The-Jets thus far. Cirrus has revealed only the engine supplier, Williams International, which is providing the FJ33 turbofan. It is still evaluating suppliers for other components.

“It appears that our assumptions–as we do more wind-tunnel testing and CFD [computational fluid dynamics] analysis–on performance are working out,” said Cirrus CEO Alan Klapmeier. “We’re comfortable with the suppliers we’re working with and with the layout of the airplane.”

Klapmeier, who calls The-Jet “the lowest, slowest, shortest-range jet you can buy,” said that 60 percent of the orders are from existing Cirrus owners. “The goal of the airplane is–as a personal jet–to be as close to the handling and airport runway performance of an SR22 as possible. And it’ll go higher, faster and farther and be bigger than the SR22. We have announced this will be a 25,000-foot ceiling. There will be compromises made to the airplane to make sure the price is low.”

Piper’s order book for the single-engine PiperJet reached 186 aircraft by Sun ’n’ Fun, according to president and CEO Jim Bass. “We’ve made good headway on the PiperJet,” he said. “We’re still looking at wind-tunnel testing this summer and proof-of-concept flight early next year.” Piper has yet to reveal the jet’s avionics provider, although it did announce that the Garmin G1000 system is now optional on the Piper 6X and Saratoga, for $4,000 more than the original Avidyne/Garmin system. “Later this year we will be able to announce what the chosen avionics platform for the PiperJet will be,” Bass said.

Piper is up to something else besides the PiperJet, however, as Bass announced at Sun ’n’ Fun that the company will be making a major new product announcement this year. “It is going to be something special. It is a new product for Piper; it’s something that we think is going to take the market by storm.”

Bass also revealed that the company might not manufacture the new jet at its Vero Beach, Fla. headquarters. “We’re currently evaluating where to establish our jet production,” he said. “We’ve not made a final decision on that, and it’s something we’re evaluating.” News reports mentioned that Piper is considering Tallahassee, Fla.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Columbia, S.C.; and Oklahoma City.

Diamond Aircraft is nearing completion of the second D-Jet prototype, which should fly this month or next, according to J.C. Lamy, director of marketing and sales for the D-Jet program. The company is using production molds and tooling to make the second airplane, he said, so it will be as close as possible to the production-conforming model. Some small aerodynamic changes are planned for the second airplane, including a more streamlined cabin top and removal of fairings near the flaps. Unlike other Diamond models, the D-Jet has a yoke, not a sidestick.

Diamond hasn’t revealed order numbers, but “we’re happy the way the order book is filling up,” said Lamy. The $1.38 million price tag (July 2006 $) includes a three-display Garmin G1000 avionics suite with integrated Garmin GFC700 autopilot. Diamond’s simulation division is also manufacturing D-Jet flight training devices, which training partner Airline Transport Professionals will use for pilot type rating training.

A new airplane at Sun ’n’ Fun was the Comp Air 12, a low-wing, large-capacity single-engine turboprop designed to compete with the Pilatus PC-12. Comp Air president Ron Lueck flew the airplane to the show, on the airplane’s second-ever flight. To compete with the PC-12, he said, a certified version of the Comp Air 12 would have to be five feet longer than the prototype to create enough space for six people to work comfortably in the cabin. The Comp Air 12 will sell for $2.75 million.

Lueck’s design philosophy was to start with the largest engine available, Honeywell’s TPE331-14GR, then design an airplane that could hold the maximum amount of fuel. He said this procedure is the reverse of the method by which many airplanes are developed, where fuel is added and engines grow larger to try to meet original design goals.

With 640 gallons of fuel, the Comp Air 12 should be able to fly from Florida to Oregon carrying six passengers and two pilots, with baggage. He said that insurance costs should be half those for smaller-cabin jets, and direct operating costs will be lower, too.

Lueck also prefers to build a prototype first then seek financing for a program and not take deposits before an airplane exists. “It drives me crazy, all these people taking deposits on phantom airplanes,” he said. The Comp Air 12 could be brought to certification for $150 million and in three years, according to Lueck.

Competing in the single-engine utility turboprop field, Texas Turbine Conversions displayed its Supervan 900 Cessna Caravan conversion. The Supervan replaces the Caravan’s original Pratt & Whitney Canada 675-shp PT6 with a Honeywell TPE331-12JR flat rated to 900 shp. The $575,000 conversion is due for FAA supplemental type certification in September or October. Performance improvements include 525-fpm greater rate of climb, 18 knots added cruise speed, 265 feet shorter takeoff ground roll and 51 nm added range.

Adam Aircraft founder, chairman and CEO Rick Adam revealed that the certification program for the A700 VLJ has slowed somewhat. FAA certification is now expected late this year or early next, followed by EASA certification 30 days later. Adam Aircraft is running the A700’s FAA certification program in parallel with EASA to ensure rapid EASA approval so European customers won’t have to wait long for deliveries.

The company is currently working hard to speed up production of its piston A500. “Certification is plenty hard,” said Adam, “but manufacturing is plenty harder. Our problem is not selling airplanes; it’s building airplanes. We’ve sold more than we can build in the short haul.” The goal is to reduce airframe cycle time from one year to 12 weeks, and Adam Aircraft has added a lot of manufacturing talent recently to help achieve that goal. The company’s backlog is now more than $1 billion, according to Adam. The first conforming A700–the third airframe built–took to the skies on April 9, and number four should enter flight test later this year.

Epic Aircraft is nearing first flight of its twin-engine Elite jet, which the company now expects to be certified in 2009. The single-engine turboprop Dynasty should be certified next year, according to Epic CEO Rick Schrameck. Epic also introduced two new experimental airplanes at Sun ’n’ Fun, the single-engine Victory jet and Escape turboprop single. Schrameck also announced that Epic selected Garmin’s G1000 avionics for the certified airplanes.