Learjet derives 2 new jets from its 45

 - April 21, 2008, 9:59 AM

At last month’s Farnborough Air Show, Bombardier Business Aircraft confirmed plans for two Learjet 45 follow-on models. At a preshow ceremony at a downtown London hotel on July 21, the company unveiled scale models of its new Learjet 40 and 45XR variants–the former a truncated (by 25.5 in.) six-seat version; the latter a same-size Model 45, but with a previously promised 1,000-lb increase in mtow; enhanced hot-and-high runway and climb performance; improved Universal UNS1-E FMS; new interior design and a $575,000 increase in price, to $10.42 million. Conventional Learjet 45s will remain part of the product line at the old price even after the 45XR and the smaller Model 40 come on line next year. Also, existing Learjet 45s may be upgraded to 45XR performance status via STCs and Service Bulletins for a cost of $400,000 (not including the new interior configuration).

Claude Chidiac, v-p of Learjet and Challenger product development for Bombardier Business Aircraft, told AIN the new variants are a result of the Canadian manufacturer “refreshing its product line.” With its $6.75 million price tag, the Learjet 40 takes square aim at Cessna’s $7.56 million Encore, but also crowds Bombardier’s own slow-selling Learjet 31A, which has the same number of seats and is priced only $170,000 less. Chidiac said the company regularly evaluates whether or not it will continue to produce the 31A, though he offered no timetable for making such a decision in light of the introduction of the 40, which is expected to make its first flight this quarter and receive FAA certification this time next year. The stand-up-cabin, six-to-10-passenger Learjet 60 tops the line at $12.46 million.

Chidiac pointed out that the Learjet 45, certified in 1997, was the first clean-sheet Learjet to come from the company since the first Model 23 was certified in 1964 (when the company was Lear Jet). Like the proverbial George Washington’s ax (“it’s had several new handles and heads since then”), the Learjet product line has had a few wing, fuselage and engine changes, but all had been progressively certified as derivative aircraft until the 45 came along. (The company had its problems with the FAA in the process. Certification finally came some two years late.)

Building the Learjet 40 is a way for Bombardier to tap the light jet market with a minimal investment in research and development or certification costs. Its market research indicated that low acquisition cost topped the needs of prospective light jet owner/operators. Range, direct operating costs, speed/performance and cabin comfort came next, in descending order of importance. Pricing the Learjet 40 some $3 million below the 45 clearly addresses that market’s concerns. Besides the 25.5-in. shorter fuselage (and cabin), some other slight differences between the
40 and the 45 include three fewer windows (13 rather than 16), and somewhat less range (1,724 nm, NBAA IFR) due to 110 gal less fuselage fuel-tank capacity. Also, the optional APU available on the 45 is not allowed on the shorter-coupled 40 due to cg considerations.

The interior follows the form of Bombardier’s redesigned cabin for the full line. Seat back size has been shaved by 1.5 in. per seat, resulting in more legroom for all passengers and outboard armrests may be removed for two inches more seat width without impinging on aisle space. The galley has been improved and may now store eight trays. Maintenance technicians will find easier access to systems such as the brake control unit and the spoileron computer located behind the lavatory bulkhead. All line-replaceable units of the interior have been redesigned to allow removal or installation in less than 20 min. Finally, lighting has been converted to LEDs with 10,000-hr life expectancy, low current draw and low heat output.

Bombardier is banking on the Learjet reputation as a speedy traveler. According to the company, the Learjet 40 will beat its rival Citation Encore by 12 min on a New York-to-Chicago trip; 18 min from Dallas to Los Angeles; and 50 min from Athens to London, since the Cessna doesn’t have the fuel capacity to complete the 453-nm trip at its high-speed cruise Mach number, and would have to fly at its slower, long-range-cruise speed.

Another big advantage is the systems commonality among the trio of Learjet 45-series models. All systems and pilots’ type ratings are common with the exception of the aforementioned fuel system. The Honeywell Primus 1000 remains the avionics suite of choice, with the standard Universal UNS-1C flight management system replaced by the newer, more sophisticated UNS-1E. As with the Learjet 45 and 45XR, a second FMS is optional on the 40. Bombardier is also quick to point out that the Learjet 45 has been certified (albeit somewhat painfully) to all the latest FAA and JAA standards–FAR Part 25 amendment 77 and JAR Part 25 Change 13. The standards include 16g-seat certification, bird-strike testing to the latest amendments, flight-manual presentations for takeoff and landing performance, and the most stringent of icing testing. Also common are the parts and warranty programs (including engine maintenance service plans), pilot type ratings and training programs, maintenance and tool systems and change boards for common field solutions.

The timetable for the Learjet 40 includes a one-year flight test program, beginning within the next 90 days. With FAA certification planned for the third quarter of next year, JAA approval and service entry are expected in the first quarter of 2004. Bombardier has completed a full-size mockup and will bring it to the NBAA Convention next month in Orlando. A demonstrator aircraft is expected to be available for customer evaluation flights before the first production aircraft enters service.

The Learjet 45XR
Current Learjet 45 operators–or industry observers with good memories–may be a bit confused by the announcement of the 45XR. At last year’s Paris Air Show, Bombardier announced an impending mtow increase for the Learjet 45, scheduled for certification in the second quarter of this year. The increase was intended to be incorporated in all new-build Learjet 45s and would be available to owners of existing aircraft via Service Bulletins at no charge.

That promise remains intact. Bombardier will upgrade current Learjet 45s to the 21,500-lb mtow at no charge to their owners. That means that the airplane can carry eight passengers and full fuel. But the 45XR incorporates more, according to Chidiac–and it’s not just the new interior. He said it all began with the promised mtow increase. He told AIN, “As we researched the engineering required for the weight increase, we realized we could develop an even further enhanced-performance version of the airplane. So we decided to take it a step further with additional improvements in takeoff, time-to-climb and hot-and-high condition performance. We added some other features and come out with a derivative model, the 45XR.”

The performance increase (but not the boost in mtow) is based on upgraded Honeywell TFE731-20BR engines (The original Learjet 45 has TFE731-20AR versions). The -20BR’s extra performance comes from adjustments to thrust schedules and corresponding reprogramming of its Fadec. The TFE731-20BR has the same ITT limits as its more potent cousin, the TFE731-40, resulting in increased climb thrust; increased cruise thrust; an increase in takeoff and approach thrust flat rate; no change to long-range cruise missions; and no change in specific fuel consumption. Chidiac pointed out that although there is no direct increase in range, better time-to-climb allows more flexibility in altitude selection for winds, leading to de facto increases in practical range with prudent flight planning. Also, increased hot-and-high performance means more range when departing high-altitude airports on hot days. For instance, a flight from Aspen, Colo., in a 45XR carrying eight passengers will have an additional 1,000 nm of range when compared with the TFE731-20AR-equipped Learjet 45.

Finally, given that the latest iteration of the Learjet 45 may be spending more time at altitude with more passengers on board, Bombardier has made available more oxygen capability. The current 22-cu-ft bottle may be replaced with either a 40-cu-ft bottle, or a larger, bulkier 77-cu-ft bottle for those who may need the extra capacity more than they need the additional cabin space. The larger oxygen systems will add approximately $30,000 to the cost of a new Learjet 45XR or Learjet 45.

Chidiac said Bombardier is satisfied that the newly derived versions of the popular Learjet 45 will serve its light-jet customers for the foreseeable future–at least the next five years. Beyond that time frame, the company could look to new engines for still further advanced models.