New Business Aircraft Report

 - May 5, 2008, 10:57 AM

The Chinese proverb “may you live in interesting times” certainly seems appropriate for manufacturers and would-be manufacturers of new business airplanes. Interesting times indeed: with the weaker than expected economic recovery, and the specter of a possible double-dip recession, even some established, well financed business aircraft manufacturers are stretching out timelines for their respective new products. And startup manufacturers are for the most part starving for cash–Eclipse Aviation and Sino Swearingen excluded–which is casting a dark cloud over these tenuous programs.

But there are some rays of hope for the industry. Bombardier launched two new derivatives of its Learjet 45–the Learjet 40 and 45XR–at July’s Farnborough Air Show. Added to the Canadian airframer’s other in-development programs–the Continental and Global 5000–it certainly shows Bombardier’s confidence in the future of the business aviation industry. Additionally, stalwart Cessna Aircraft is expected at this month’s NBAA show to unveil another new business jet, or possibly even business jets.

And then there’s Eclipse Aviation, which currently seems to be the industry’s brightest ray of hope–or at least a light at the end of the tunnel. The fact that a startup business jet manufacturer has survived, for the most part unscathed, the roller-coaster transition from the dot-com era to the dot-bomb era is a tribute to not only the design of the aircraft, but the spirit and philosophy of the company itself. While it has found funding to be harder to come by, Eclipse has nearly 80 percent of the funding it needs to bring its minijet to certification. Now that the Eclipse 500 rolled out in mid-July as scheduled, and was being prepped for first flight at press time, the rest of the financing should be a little easier to come by for the fledgling company now that the jet is no longer just a paper airplane.

Only time will tell which in-development airplanes will cross the certification finish line and which will end up in the unfinished aircraft program graveyard alongside such heady projects as the Learfan, Fox Jet and Gulfstream Peregrine.

In this special report, AIN presents an overview of the latest business aircraft designs to emerge from computer screens to an airport near you, including those certified in the past year, in flight testing or in development, as well as re-engining programs.

Aerostar Aircraft

FJ-100–Funding woes have caused Hayden Lake, Idaho-based Aerostar Aircraft to revise its plans for a Williams International FJ33-1-powered version of the Piper Aerostar 600 piston twin. Under current plans, the company expects to fly a production-conforming turbofan-powered variant in the second half of next year, a delay of at least six months, with certification now tentatively pegged for late 2005. However, those dates are contingent on Aerostar securing some $50 million in financing this year.

Aerostar plans to use a 1981 Aerostar 600–re-engined with a pair of FJ33s, stretched with a 44-in. fuselage plug and fitted with a cruciform tail–for flight testing. The company also said its pondered turboprop-powered Aerostar 600 has been shelved so it can focus on the FJ-100.

Archedyne Aerospace

Nauticair 450–This was originally a single-engine jet amphibian known as the Nauticair 400, but subsequent studies pointed toward development of a two-engine growth variant, known as the Archedyne Nauticair 450 and powered by two Williams-Rolls FJ44-2 turbofan engines mounted atop the aft fuselage, where their approximately 4,600 lb of thrust are designed to not only get off the water but cruise to a destination some 1,800 nm away.

Eager to obtain the prestige needed to make such an ambitious project a reality, Leonard Gioia, the CEO and founder of Archedyne, sought out piston-powered amphibian builder Armand Rivard, offering him a $500,000 payment deposit to purchase Rivard’s Lake Aircraft, makers of the famed (and comparatively popular) piston-single amphibious aircraft. The money was intended as the beginning of Archedyne’s outright purchase of Lake.

Shortly thereafter, the deal went sour, with both sides crying foul. A recent court decision found in favor of Archedyne, awarding it $1.25 million.

For his part, Rivard has decided to contest the decision, moving to reverse the court’s ruling with hearings on the matter slated to begin last month.

With so much of its energies tied up in court, it’s no surprise that nearly no work has been done on the actual aircraft. A spokesman for the company said the design was “proceeding at a slow pace,” with the Nauticair 450 existing on CAD screens and a prototype at least three to four years away. Archedyne plans to build a one-third-scale, radio-controlled flying model as a first step, a model powered by a pair of 45-lb-thrust Advanced Microturbine AMT mini-jets.

Aviation Technology Group

Javelin–Aviation Technology Group on July 12 unveiled a full-scale mockup of its tandem-seat Javelin minijet. Simultaneously, the Denver-based company said it signed a memorandum of understanding with Williams International to supply the two FJ33-4 turbofans for the two-seat jet.

According to president George Bye, ATG now has $25,000 deposits for 26 Javelins, each of which carries a price tag of $1.88 million. Following the third session of wind-tunnel testing this summer, the company will begin cutting metal on a non-conforming prototype, with a rollout expected in November next year and first flight some four months later. After the completion of that prototype, the engineering drawing will be transferred to Luscombe Aircraft in Altus, Okla., where further production of the airplane will take place. Two conforming flight-test airplanes will subsequently be built and will log about 1,400 flight hours before gaining a planned first-quarter 2005 certification.

Bell/Augusta Aerospace

BA609–The past 24 months have seen more bad news assail the tiltrotor cause than most aircraft programs are forced to endure in a lifetime. The snowballing effects of scandals and fatal crashes within the U.S. Marine Corps Osprey program, disclosures of design and manufacturing flaws together with efforts within the Marine Corps upper echelons to cover up those faults have led to several blue-ribbon investigations, allegations, punishments, vindications and an eventual commitment by the Defense Department to take at least two more years before formally greenlighting full-scale production.

Meanwhile, in Arlington, Texas, assembly of the world’s first civil tiltrotor intended for full-scale production has proceeded well, so well that Bell brass decided early this year to take the BA609 through to first flight, then immediately mothball the program, reviving it as the Marines’ experience with the MV-22 increases. Never calling his company’s move a “cancellation,” Bell president John Murphey is adamant that the BA609 project will be revived and developed into the transportation revolution it has long promised to be. “It was never our intention to introduce the 609 before the Osprey,” said Murphey. “We’re sticking with that schedule."

Bombardier Aerospace

Continental–No doubt Bombardier Aerospace officials breathed a sigh of relief in June, when the Continental’s powerplant–the 6,051-lb-thrust Honeywell AS907–received its belated certification. Now that this hurdle has been cleared, the company’s super-midsize business jet is nearing its expected certification in the fourth quarter.

Some 60 ground-test articles and five flight-test airplanes are involved in the certification effort. As of last month, the flight-test airplanes have cumulatively logged nearly 200 hr on about 100 flights. First delivery of a green Continental is scheduled for late this year. Bombardier’s all-new super-midsize jet is intended to fill a product gap between the Learjet 60 and Challenger 604.

Global 5000–The first Global 5000, announced at last year’s NBAA show, is now quickly taking shape, with the intercontinental business jet’s first forward fuselage section arriving at Bombardier’s Toronto facility on June 28 from the manufacturer’s Belfast, Ireland plant. Since the new jet–which bridges a product gap between the large-cabin Challenger 604 and the ultra-long-range Global
Express–is a truncated version of the in-production Global Express, the Global 5000 will share the same assembly line in Toronto.

To date, Bombardier Aerospace has selected all its suppliers for the Bombardier Global 5000, including Rolls-Royce Deutschland (BR710A2-20 powerplant), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (wing section and center fuselage) and Honeywell (Primus 2000XP).

First flight is expected in the first quarter of next year, and type certification from Transport Canada, the FAA and JAA is slated for the first quarter of 2004. The twinjet is expected to enter corporate service at the end of that same year.

Learjet 40–At the Farnborough Air Show in late July Bombardier unveiled plans for the Learjet 40, a truncated (by 25.5 in.) six-seat version of the Learjet 45. Priced at $6.75 million, the new Learjet will compete with Cessna’s $7.56 million Encore and Bombardier’s own slow-selling Learjet 31A, which has the same number of seats and is priced only $170,000 less, creating speculation that the 31A design may be on its last legs.

Besides the 25.5-in. shorter fuselage, 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. Bombardier’s newest light jet is expected to achieve first flight this quarter, with certification planned for the third quarter of next year and service entry in early 2004.

Learjet 45XR–While researching the engineering required for a 1,000-lb weight increase for the Learjet 45, Bombardier realized it could develop a further enhanced-performance version of the twinjet. So the manufacturer focused on additional improvements in takeoff, time-to-climb and hot-and-high condition performance, added other features–including an improved Universal UNS-1E FMS and a new interior design–and came out with the derivative model, dubbed the Learjet 45XR. The 45XR’s performance increase is predicated on upgraded Honeywell TFE731-20BR engines. Service entry of the derivative is slated for next summer.

Cessna Aircraft

Citation Sovereign–Four months to the day after the first Citation Sovereign prototype plied the surly skies on February 27, the first production aircraft, S/N 001, completed its first flight, several weeks ahead of schedule. According to Sovereign senior product director Brad Thress, “To date, the Sovereign has met or exceeded all of the specifications that were originally announced and we continue to proceed through certification flight testing.”

Three Sovereigns are dedicated to certification, a production-conformed prototype and S/Ns 001 and 002. The Sovereign prototype has logged more than 130 flight hours since February. To date, it has completed envelope expansion, preliminary stall development, runway performance and various systems development tasks.

S/Ns 001 and 002 will primarily focus on certification of systems and hot and cold weather evaluations.

Chichester-Miles Consultants

Leopard Six–Chichester-Miles has long flown a proof-of-concept four-seat Leopard, although not the full-size six-seat (pilot included), pressurized cabin-class design Ian Chichester-Miles now envisions. Well, truth be told, even this current iteration of the Leopard, known as the Leopard Six, isn’t what Chichester-Miles had in mind. He was forced to “super size” his dream plane after the Williams International EJ22 engines he wanted were removed from his grasp by an exclusive deal with Vern Raburn’s Eclipse 500 development. So CMC settled for the Williams FJ33-1 turbofan, use of which required a size increase.

Just when will we see the sporty little six-seater trundling down one of our local taxiways? Given the uncertain worldwide economic situation and the pensive pace with which Chichester-Miles ponders his program, “no time soon” seems safe.

Dassault Aviation

Falcon 7X–Dassault Aviation’s ultra-long-range business jet, the Falcon 7X, is now front and center on company engineers’ computer screens. Late last year, the French airframer announced more details of its 5,700-nm trijet. According to Dassault, the key to the new aircraft’s range and its Mach 0.90 Mmo is “an optimized high-transonic wing design with a double-digit improvement in lift-over-drag ratio over present-day Falcon wings.”

Three Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307As, rated at 6,100 lb thrust each, will power the 7X and the TBO will be beyond 7,000 hr “out of the box.” Dassault said the engine will also meet anticipated lower noise requirements over the next couple of decades.

Honeywell is supplying its Primus Epic avionics suite as the platform for Dassault’s EASy flight deck, with four 14.1-in. displays providing “everything from flight planning and automated checklists to presenting the aircraft’s precise position, situation and environment.” The Falcon 7X will also introduce fly-by-wire primary controls and sidestick controllers to business aircraft. Dassault’s Falcon 7X will have the same cabin width found on the Falcon 900EX, but it will be eight feet longer. The aircraft’s first flight is scheduled for 2005, with certification and deliveries expected in 2006.

Falcon 2000EX–Launched at NBAA 2000, the $24 million Falcon 2000EX is fast approaching the certification finish line. The newest Falcon 2000, which first flew in October last year, is expected to win FAA approval this fall. It will have almost 900 nm more range than its predecessor, which will remain in production until at least 2004.

Dassault’s new iteration is powered by two 7,000-lb-thrust Pratt & Whitney Canada PW308C engines, and the business jet will have a 3,815-lb increase in the airplane’s fuel capacity through the addition of fuselage tanks in front of and aft of the wings. The EASy avionics suite is planned for the airplane, but it won’t start appearing in the 2000EX until after the first 20 to 30 have been shipped.

Farnborough Aircraft

F1–Inevitably, and sometimes sadly, every business venture has to undergo a reality check, and it appears that is what happened on July 8 when Farnborough Aircraft shareholders voted on two competing proposals concerning the future management and funding of the company. In making their choice, the shareholders also chose who would manage the company from now on.

When the voting was over, company founder Richard Noble was out, and Geoffrey Galley, physicist and lead F1 investor, was in. Galley said his first item of business for the newly renamed Farnborough Aircraft Corp., Ltd. (FACL) would be to present a business plan to high-level investors to raise the $155 million Galley claims is needed to keep the company afloat and bring the F1 turboprop single to production. Galley also brought to the table a pledge for $785,000 in funds needed to keep the renamed Farnborough Aircraft afloat in the short term.

Meanwhile, in the factory, work has “restarted” on the aircraft, encouraging news on the face of it, except for the fact that in the wake of Galley’s takeover the previously stated first flight and certification dates of 2004 and 2006 have been rescinded, with no new dates yet announced. Of interest too is Galley’s financial startup target of some $155 million. When first launched by Noble in 1999, the father of the Thrust (the first car, albeit jet-propelled, to break the sound barrier), predicted that design and development of the F1 would need only $31 million in capital, first flight would be imminent and certification  would take place next year.

Eclipse Aviation

Eclipse 500–On July 13 Eclipse Aviation rolled out the first Eclipse 500 at its Albuquerque, N.M. facility, undoubtedly confounding skeptics who insist the startup company will never be able to deliver a certified six-seat twinjet at the promised price of $837,500. First flight of the minijet was imminent at press time, and certification is still slated for late next year.

The airplane that rolled out in July, S/N 100, conforms to type design, but it is not FAA conforming–a subtle difference recognizing that the first example is not pressurized and has no interior or gear doors. S/N 101 will be fully conforming structurally and will be pressurized; S/N 102 will have conforming systems; and S/N 103 will be the avionics and de-icing test airplane.

The heart of the Eclipse 500 is the Avio integrated avionics suite. Key players in the Avio package are Avidyne, BAE Systems and General Dynamics, and their products are integrated to provide electronic control of the major systems on the aircraft, including Fadec, FMS, communications, autopilot, autothrottle, flaps, trim, landing-gear actuation and environmental systems. Flight controls, however, remain manual (rods and cables) and the brake lines are the only hydraulics on the airplane.

Embraer

Legacy Executive–Brazilian certification of the Legacy, a business jet variant of Embraer’s 37-seat ERJ-135 regional jet, was granted last December and JAA certification was received on July 5. FAA certification has been more elusive, but is now expected before the NBAA Convention this month. The setback, which Embraer blames on paperwork delays at the FAA, didn’t hamper deliveries to launch customer Swift Aviation, as the manufacturer applied for and was granted a waiver by the U.S. agency while it waits for the official approval.

The 3,100-nm-range Legacy will be easy to distinguish from its regional airline sibling, since it will be equipped with winglets and aft strakes. A corporate  shuttle version is planned and will be certified sometime next year.

Explorer Aircraft

500T/500P/750T–Although development of the Explorer airplane itself is at a standstill, the company said the project is making steady progress. Explorer has also relocated from Denver to Texas, where it is finishing its production facility, and its funding prospects are “good.”

The sole Explorer airplane prototype, now powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 (it first flew powered by a Continental IO-550 piston engine), is being flown for demonstrations, but not flight test. The company last year said it selected the Garmin GNS 430 integrated navcom system and a two-axis S-Tec/Meggitt autopilot for the 500T. All Explorer airplanes will also be equipped with Hartzell four-blade propellers.

First flight of a conforming prototype is expected next fall, with certification still planned for 2004.

Gippsland Aeronautics

GA-8–Gippsland Aeronautics, Australia’s sole civil aircraft manufacturer, is developing a 10-seat turboprop version of its eight-seat GA-8 Airvan piston single, which was certified by the Australian CAA in December 2000. The turboprop GA-10T Taska is part of a three-year joint research-and-development program of Gippsland and Helitech of Brisbane, Australia. The main wing of both the GA-10T is based on the wing of the Gippsland GA-200C agplane, but is high mounted and supported by a single strut on each side. First flight of the four-seat, all-composite turboprop single is expected this summer, with certification slated a year later.

Grob-Werke

G140TP–Grob’s first turboprop single aimed at the general aviation market is taking shape at the company’s Tussenhausen-Mattsies, Germany factory, with the target deadline “sometime this fall,” in the words of a company spokesman. That goal for first flight of the G140TP represents a slight delay over the previously announced deadline of the summer just passed. Undeterred by the slippage, Grob is holding fast to its plans for JAA certification of the Rolls-Royce 250-B17F-powered four-seater by next summer, with FAA approval to follow almost immediately.

The high-visibility design makes the Grob 140 ideal as a sport aircraft or high-performance trainer for those new to the specifics of turboshaft-driven flight. Like its piston-powered predecessors, the G140TP is almost entirely constructed of composite materials, With the turboprop engine driving a five-blade Muhlbauer MTV-5 propeller, the G140TP is predicted to have a maximum cruise speed of 213 kt at 10,000 ft and climb at the rate of 2,300 fpm. With all seats occupied, the G140TP is designed to have a range of 575 nm and a 30-min reserve. With full tanks and only a pilot, the range increases to 1,065 nm.

Gulfstream Aerospace

GIV-X–Gulfstream is still tight-lipped about its next-generation GIV, dubbed by the aviation press as the GIV-X. Vendors such as Rolls-Royce (which will supply Tay 611 engines for the new jet) have been more forthcoming with information than Gulfstream.

The GIV-X is expected to have a four-passenger NBAA IFR range of between 4,500 nm and 5,000 nm. If Gulfstream is aiming for a 4,500-plus-nm version of the GIV, it wouldn’t be the first time. In late 1994 the company said it was considering the development of a GIV-B, a 4,600-nm version of the GIV-SP. Gulfstream said it would gain the additional 500 nm to 600 nm by increasing the wingspan of the GIV-SP and incorporating the winglets that were then being designed for the GV. Less than a year later Gulfstream “temporarily halted further development” of the GIV-B, saying, “At this time the marketplace does not place a high value on a range increase of 5 to 7 percent over the GIV-SP.” If the market now places a high value on that extra range, Gulfstream might announce something about the GIV-X at this month’s NBAA meeting.

GV-SP–Gulfstream passed a major milestone on July 18 when it flew its first fully conforming GV-SP, S/N 5001. Up until then, the Savannah, Ga. manufacturer was flying a modified GV that replicates the 6,750-nm (NBAA IFR, eight pax, four crew) GV-SP.

The ultra-long-range business jet features Honeywell Primus Epic avionics and 2020 head-up display, four-screen (14- by 10-in. LCDs) PlaneView cockpit and Kollsman enhanced vision system. Certification is estimated for the fourth quarter of this year.

Honda

Honda jet–Honda R&D senior chief engineer Osamu Kubota told AIN that his company is developing an “aircraft the size of a CJ1” with a larger cabin and lighter weight. “At this moment,” he said, “we cannot reveal further information. No business schedule has been determined.” AIN has learned that the airframe will have metal wings and empennage, with a composite fuselage.

Honda is also developing a homegrown engine for the business jet, which it flew June 10 on a CitationJet testbed. “Thrust range is similar to that of a Williams-Rolls FJ44-1,” Kubota said. “And we are aiming at improved fuel consumption by using high-efficiency turbomachinery components, a high thrust-to-weight ratio through simple engine structure and highly reliable operation through an advanced Fadec that uses modern automobile technology.”

Honda’s interest in general aviation dates back to at least 1993, when the Japanese auto giant teamed with the University of Mississippi to develop a small composite jet airframe. That project met a dead-end after a prototype flew. In 2000 Atlantic Aero teamed with Honda R&D to design and build a 24,000-sq-ft research facility (with an additional 6,000 sq ft of office space) on Atlantic’s Greensboro leasehold. Atlantic continues its partnership with Honda in development of the engine and airframe. First flight of the Honda jet is expected in January.

Ibis Aerospace

Ae270–A month after a June technical review of the Ae270, Ibis Aerospace
announced increased performance specifications for the turboprop single, including 270-kt maximum speed (up from 222 kt), 8,380-lb mtow (up from 7,275 lb) and a useful load of 3,300 lb. So far, two prototype Ae270s have logged more than 250 hr on 256 flights, evaluating high-power climb, cruise, flutter and altitude parameters, among other items.

Other progress in the development of the Ae270 is occurring in Ibis’ product support infrastructure. The development of aircraft maintenance manuals, repair manuals and illustrated parts catalog are in production and include the latest technical improvements. Contracts with suppliers have been finalized and long lead-time spares have been ordered to meet aircraft delivery schedules and in anticipation of providing support to customers. Certification by the Czech Aviation Authority is expected in September next year, with FAA approval to follow two months later.

McCotter Aviation

MC 2400–Not much information is being released by McCotter Aviation about this production version of the kit-built Maverick Jet. Jim McCotter, president of both Maverick and McCotter Aviation, said only that his company is considering a production version, and that one of the five-passenger (including pilot) kit-built “personal jets” will be on display at this month’s NBAA Convention in Orlando. The kit version, of which about 20 have been sold but only two are flying, is powered by a pair of 750-lb-thrust MC 750 turbofans, which are re-engineered T58 turboshaft engines. It is not known whether the pondered production version will employ the Maverick-converted T58s or a powerplant from another supplier, such as Agilis Engines of West Palm Beach, Fla. It is possible that more details of the MC 2400, dubbed the “Leader” by Jim McCotter, could be released at the NBAA show.

Raytheon Aircraft

Hawker 450–Bringing a capital-intensive project like a new aircraft to market requires planners to lead their targets over the course of years. It’s a huge risk.

This is why Raytheon Aircraft has adopted a very cautious and extremely tight-lipped policy toward further announcements regarding its Hawker 450, which was announced at NBAA 2000. Stung by the long delays endured by its Horizon and Premier I business jets during their development processes, and nervous about committing the 450 to development in the face of a shaky economy and roller-coaster stock market, Raytheon Aircraft has deferred a go/no-go decision for two years. A company spokesman recently told AIN that a “major announcement” regarding the light, midsize, 2,000-nm-plus, Mach 0.80-plus jet will be made in the third quarter of this year, probably some weeks after this month’s NBAA show in Orlando, Fla.

Hawker Horizon–The Horizon is the largest airplane Raytheon Aircraft has ever made (30 percent larger than the Hawker 800XP), and it has probably caused an even bigger headache at the Wichita-based manufacturer. When it was rolled out in April last year, it was already two years behind schedule. It took its first maiden flight on August 11 last year, and certification at that time was slated for later this year. Now, further delays have set back the certification date to late next year.

The third flight-test Hawker Horizon joined the fleet on July 31, and so far the three aircraft have logged more than 200 flight hours. The P&WC PW308A-powered Horizon is one of the first business jets to be equipped with the Honeywell Primus Epic avionics suite, which includes five 8- by 10-in. LCDs and a cursor control device. The $16.9 million base price of the Horizon includes paint, standard eight-passenger interior, Airshow and a standard avionics package that makes the airplane flight-ready for RVSM approval and international missions.

Safire Aircraft

S-26–A scale model of the six-seat Safire
S-26 ultralight twinjet underwent wind-tunnel testing in May with the goal of verifying the aerodynamic design before preliminary design reviews of the airplane’s cost, performance and features. Following the completion of these reviews, chaired by former chairman and CEO of Raytheon Aircraft Art Wegner, and an anticipated design freeze this summer, the detailed design and production documentation phase will begin.

Due to that review, the specifications and performance data for the S-26 have been updated to reflect the aircraft performance with 1,000-lb-thrust turbofan engines. The West Palm Beach, Fla.-based company has so far evaluated several 1,000-lb-thrust engines– from Agilis, P&WC and Williams–avionics suites and landing gear systems, among others.

The latest specifications show a larger aircraft with a faster, more useful flight envelope. The mtow is projected at 5,900 lb, empty weight has increased by 13 percent and the useful load has been bettered by more than 18 percent. Maximum cruise speed is now 340 kt and single-engine climb at mtow has been increased to 800 fpm. All fuel is now contained in the wing using a simpler fuel system.

At press time, Safire was expected to update specifications and performance again, as final choices for major components, including engines, are announced. First flight is still scheduled for next year, with certification expected a year later.

Sierra Industries

FJ44 Citation Eagle II–Sierra Industries finally received STC approval on March 13 for the Sierra FJ44 Eagle II modification for Citation I/IIs, which includes wing changes, additional fuel capacity and the replacement of the Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15Ds with Williams FJ44-2A turbofans. An Eagle II Citation delivers 35 percent more cruise thrust at 41,000 ft, a maximum certified ceiling of 43,000 ft, fuel consumption that is about 40 percent less than with the JT15Ds, a VFR range of 2,000 nm and a top speed approaching 400 kt.

Sino Swearingen

SJ30-2–After some 10 years in development, Sino Swearingen is now building the first customer SJ30-2 business jet, S/N 005, at the company’s 87,500-sq-ft Martinsburg, W.Va. factory. The completed aircraft is scheduled for delivery late next year, following FAA certification. Assembly of wings and fuselages in Martinsburg represents a change from Sino Swearingen’s original production plan.

The company planned to have fuselage assemblies built by Gamesa of Spain, but that contract was canceled last year because Sino Swearingen was dissatisfied with Gamesa’s quality and schedule. After considering numerous alternatives, Sino Swearingen elected to obtain the tooling from Gamesa and do the work in house. Unfortunately, cancellation of the Gamesa contract resulted in lawsuits between Sino Swearingen and Gamesa, and added at least 18 months to the SJ30-2 development program, the company said.

Spirit Wing

Learjet 25D–The 800-deg F hot bleed-air of the Williams FJ44-2C engine has certainly thrown a monkey wrench into Spirit Wing’s engine retrofit for the Learjet 25D. But late last year Spirit Wing finally received a conforming engine inlet lip that works, which was tested earlier this year. To dissipate the heat from the bleed air so it can be used for the airplane’s environmental system, the inlets are designed to function as radiators while also providing full-time de-icing protection.

But designing the inlets proved problematic, causing the airplane’s first flight and certification to slip more than a year. First flight is expected this summer, and STC approval is now penciled in for the first quarter of next year.

VisionAire

Vantage VA-10A–Last year Chesterfield, Mo.-based VisionAire signed a contract with Israel Aircraft Industries to conduct a technical assessment of the single-engine Vantage VA-10. The assessment confirmed that the redesigned VA-10 (with some minor modifications) will meet its performance numbers, according to VisionAire. That relationship with IAI is still ongoing, according to a company spokesman.

But obtaining additional funding to continue development of the all-composite, single-engine business jet has been difficult, and this was further complicated recently with the involuntary liquidation filing under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy laws made by a group of five creditors. “We’re certainly disappointed at their timing,” remarked VisionAire chairman and CEO James Rice.

New financing may be on the horizon, according to the company. VisionAire said it “entered into discussions with a European investment syndicate” to provide funds for completing the Vantage. A prototype Vantage first flew in November 1996, but first flight of a redesigned prototype has been delayed due to lack of funding. The company maintains that the redesigned prototype could fly within 18 months of obtaining more funding, with FAA certification following 10 months later.