The search for funding, aggravated by the infarction of the private financial markets after the dot-com meltdown in 2000 and made worse by September 11, has caused Aerostar Aircraft Corp. to revise its plans for a Williams FJ33-1 powered Aerostar Jet (developed from the Piper Aerostar 600 piston twin). The Hayden Lake, Idaho supplier of Aerostar spare parts had planned to build a production-conforming flight-test vehicle, estimating a first flight in February of next year. “We now think we need to build and fly a proof-of-concept airplane to convince investors of the viability of the project,” Jim Christy, Aerostar vice president, told AIN. He now estimates first flight of the POC for the second half of next year. Certification would take place at the earliest “33 months past the point of being fully funded,” he said, perhaps in the second half of 2005, if the estimated $50 million of equity funding is secured sometime this year.
Christy plans to use a 1981 Aerostar for the POC aircraft. Changes to the piston airplane include a 44-in. fuselage stretch and cruciform tail. “Ted Smith, the airplane’s designer, flew a piston Aerostar with a 33-in.-stretch fuselage and the cruciform tail,” said Christy, “so we’re confident the design will work and we’ll be able to do it for a lot less than the other small jets being developed from scratch.” He said Aerostar would design and build the nacelles for the airplane’s FJ33s.
Regarding a possible turboprop STC for the Aerostar using a proposed variant of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW600, Christy said the idea is on the back burner. “P&WC decided not to put the engine into production because it couldn’t get a major airplane manufacturer–meaning Cessna–to commit to the program,” he said, adding that from Aerostar’s point of view investors are interested in jet programs, not turboprops. “There’s a group of individual investors in New York who believe there’s a huge market for the small jets used as air limousines or fractional aircraft,” he said. “It’s the market that excites them, not the airplanes, but they know there is no airplane today that fits the market, so they’re willing to invest in programs to develop an airplane. We’re trying to get some of that money.