Pilot Report: Hawker 900XP gives pilots more range

 - February 8, 2008, 4:33 AM

What can you say about an airplane that performs better than most people expect, as the Hawker series always has? The old Hawker 800A I flew was easy to flight plan for the most part. Fill the tanks with fuel, fill the seats and go from almost any airport with a reasonable runway length.

It almost never grounded us, most likely because the systems were so tried and true– and so relatively simple–that there was not much that could break. Almost all systems, such as flight controls, were mechanically linked. With 10,000 pounds of fuel on board we could easily make the West Coast from Chicagoland, and, even with all seats filled, that big midsize cabin was comfortable. The newest version of the airplane– the Hawker 900XP–is still considered to be a bargain at $14.3 million.

The famous 125 series has been in continuous production since the first de Havilland DH.125 took to the air in 1962. In the ensuing 45 years, nearly 1,500 aircraft have been produced. They’ve gone by various names–the de Havilland 125 (DH.125),
the Hawker Siddeley 125 (HS.125), the Beech Hawker jet (BH-125) and finally just the Hawker. Now that Raytheon has sold the company to the new Hawker Beechcraft, the type rating for all Hawker pilots still says “HS-125.”

Hawkers arrive in the U.S. essentially as kits. The fuselage and wings are built in the UK, while final assembly takes place in Wichita. All 900XPs are completed at Hawker Beechcraft’s Little Rock, Ark. facilities.

While they are among the roomiest of midsize jets, Hawkers take their time going anywhere. On its best days, the Hawker 800 was a Mach 0.80 aircraft. On long trips it was even slower. With the old TFE731-5R-1H engines, it could seldom climb above 35,000 feet right off the ground when heavy; that number was reduced to 33,000 when the temperatures were high. Overall, when the time needed to stop for fuel and climb back to altitude is figured into the equation, the Hawker is still an efficient, comfortable airplane.

I had a chance to fly one of Hawker’s demo aircraft–N903XP–to verify the performance claims for the new, more powerful engines, winglets and a new avionics suite the company added to squeeze every ounce of performance possible out of the airplane. Even with the new engines and airfoil updates, don’t hold your breath for it to go any faster. It won’t. Typical cruise speeds in long-range mode will press the 900XP along at about 400 ktas and about 446 ktas in high-speed mode.

And if you were thinking any of those old mechanical control linkages would evaporate, forget that too. In fact, the simplicity of the airplane’s systems is one of the reasons the Hawkers are still affectionately called an “old man’s airplane.”

Specific range on the 900XP is up about 4 percent over that of the 850XP, the 900’s immediate predecessor. Higher temperature limits on the new TFE731-50R engines Honeywell designed specifically for the Hawker mean the 900XP can climb to altitude much faster than previous models and will now reach 41,000 feet right off the ground, resulting in more miserly fuel burns earlier in the flight. Most of the time the airplane can fly from New York to the West Coast nonstop. The time between overhauls has also increased–significantly–meaning lower direct operating costs.

Boosting Performance of an Established Model
An advantage to working with a proven airframe is that upgrades take much less time to bring to fruition. The Hawker 900XP went from first flight to first delivery in 13 months. While the new engines on the 900XP are rated at the same amount of thrust–4,660 pounds–the -50R is slightly smaller and somewhat lighter than its predecessor and flat rated at 5,000 pounds, which explains the higher temperature limits.

At 5,000 feet, the old engine would be producing 3,800 pounds of thrust, while the new engine develops about 5 percent more at 3,970 pounds. This also represents nearly a 10-percent increase in overall thrust from the original Hawker 800A, which produced only 4,300 pounds at takeoff. The -50R also complies with Stage 4 noise limits. The aircraft warranty on the 900XP stands at 2,000 hours, up from the 1,800 hours of the 850XP. The APU is guaranteed for 2,500 hours.

Maximum takeoff weight of the Hawker 900XP is almost 800 pounds heavier than that of the 800A I used to fly. Takeoff weights are the same on the 900XP and the 850XP it directly replaces. The basic operating weight differs only slightly between the two, with the 900XP weighing in about 90 pounds heavier than the 850XP. In long-range cruise, operators can expect to see range increase by 8.6 percent over the 850XP. For operators of older Hawker 800s this will really seem like a gift because 2,200 nm was pushing the capabilities of that airplane most days.

Hot-and-high runway performance has increased dramatically on the 900XP as well. Depart Aspen on an ISA +20 degree C day where the older 850XP was second-segment limited and the 900XP requires 1,800 feet less runway to carry six passengers 2,000 nm. When the Hawker’s longer-range legs are needed, departing Aspen under the same conditions will carry the same load nearly 2,400 nm. From Teterboro, Shannon is guaranteed 99 percent of the time, as is Seattle.

Out of Aspen on an 82 degree F day, you’ll make Boston nonstop with six passengers. Not challenging enough? How about departing Toluca, Mexico–8,466 feet msl–for Teterboro nonstop with six people when it’s 86 degrees F outside, or London City to Riyadh? Still not enough? The Hawker 900XP is not field-length-limited on even a 93 degree F day when departing an airport at 5,000-foot pressure altitude.

Hawker Beechcraft said the 900XP burns 5 percent less fuel than the 850XP and costs 10 percent less in hourly engine maintenance reserves, for a total direct operating cost difference of 5 percent. That translates into 6 percent less in cost per nautical mile when expressed in U.S. dollars.

The 900XP seats eight and includes provisions for a belted lavatory seat. The aircraft still uses the same 33-cu-ft forward baggage storage area that has made first officers groan for decades as they haul passenger bags up the forward stairs before takeoff. In the rear, there’s room for more hanging baggage in a closet that adds 16.5 cu ft of space. The 900XP offers an optional six-place seating arrangement that reorganizes the rear cabin baggage space to add 10 cu ft of space. The cabin now employs new individual LCD screen control systems for lights, video and audio at each seat. An LCD-controlled cabin thermostat is positioned next to the boss’s chair on the right side of the cabin.

Pilots used to older Hawkers will find the same cockpit they remember, except that the old round dials have been replaced with four 8- by 10-inch LCD panels and dual FMS-6000 units that make taking the 900XP across the water much more comforting. The Collins Pro Line 21 system on N903XP uses a dual file server and dual cursor control panels that allow either pilot to pull up any approach or taxi charts in the electronic flight bag database with zoom capability on either display. There is no EICAS on the 900XP; the airplane has the warning light panel installed on the original Hawker 800.

The winglets, which first adorned the Hawker line on the 850XP, add about three feet of wingspan and stand 30 inches tall. The position lights on the 900XP are dual LED format now, with a 5,000-hour mean time between failures. While pre- or post-flighting a Hawker, remember never to stand too close to the leading edge of the wing. The TKS fluid used for leading-edge de-icing will destroy any clothing it touches. At the advanced years of the Hawker, the chances of the aircraft ever using any other kind of anti-ice system are probably slim to none, so keep that jug of TKS fluid nearby when you travel.

Hawker 900XP Performance

I recently flew the 900XP on a 544-nm trip from Atlanta to Chicago Executive Airport. I kept a log during the climb to altitude since this trip would allow little more than enough time to gauge performance. Entering the cockpit at Charlie Brown Airport was a bit like seeing an old friend, albeit one that had had a nip and tuck over the years, all of which had improved the overall look.

The flight plan for N903XP included a light fuel load, but six passengers and baggage in the rear in addition to myself and Hawker demonstration pilot Mark Mills. Basic operating weight on the aircraft was 16,355 pounds. With 1,200 pounds of payload, including 200 pounds of bags and 6,070 pounds of fuel, we’d weigh in well under the aircraft’s 28,000-pound max weight at 23,555 pounds.

Weather in Atlanta and all along the route was forecast to be VMC with steadily increasing wind on the nose as we climbed to FL400. The Charlie Brown ATIS reported the wind 320 at 7 knots and an OAT of 14 degrees C. The newer Pro Line 21 units installed on delivery aircraft will include the software to calculate and automatically display takeoff numbers. The flight would use numbers pulled from the Quick Reference Handbook. They would show a V1 of 113 knots, Vr 120 knots and V2 of 131 knots. The book also claimed we’d need 4,300 feet of the 5,796-foot Runway 8/26.

On boot up, the captain’s FMS refused to remember the data stored on board
and simply went blank a few times. We rebooted the avionics, and after a few minutes the data returned. The EFB capabilities of the Pro Line 21 would have made taxi out a snap during IFR weather thanks to the availability of airport diagrams and SID information.

At takeoff, I pushed the throttles forward to the stops. Although the Honeywell engines are controlled electronically, the only way to adjust power after takeoff is to tweak the throttles until the “max continuous thrust” light illuminates. The aircraft used no more than 3,000 feet during the ground roll before we left the runway. With the gear in the wells, I let the aircraft accelerate to 200 knots since we were still beneath the Atlanta Class B airspace.

Another nice improvement on the 900XP is that the APU is certified for use on takeoff to maintain cabin pressure. Previous Hawkers required the APU and the bleeds to be off for takeoff as well. After liftoff, there was always an annoying pressure bump when the bleeds were turned back on, especially if the right-seat pilot was a little late hitting the switches.

ATC cleared us to continue our climb with only a few restrictions all the way
to FL400. During the takeoff and climb, the Hawker 900XP felt no different in handling from the old 800. But it certainly climbed much better than the 800 ever could. Thirteen minutes after takeoff we were passing through FL290. Twenty-two minutes after liftoff, N903XP leveled at FL400 and began accelerating through Mach 0.71.

It took another four minutes of level flight to accelerate to the maximum speed we’d see on this trip, Mach 0.776. The fuel flows settled in at 1,440 pounds per hour total and the flight took one hour and 34 minutes from engine start to shutdown in Chicago. During the flight, the 900XP burned 2,730 pounds of fuel and we landed with 3,340 pounds still in the tanks, or almost enough to make a return VFR flight to Atlanta.

Certainly the upgrades make the Hawker 900XP a worthy successor to the long line of 125s. The airplane’s eagerness to reach FL410 after takeoff alone could make it worth the price for operators with passengers tired of spending more than their fair share of time bouncing around in the 30s.

Despite the continued development of other midsize cabin rivals, few airplanes can compete directly with the 900XP on cabin comfort and load carrying versus price and overall performance. But the future of the Hawker midsize cabin line past the 900XP must surely have the people in Wichita burning the midnight oil right now.