Avocet joins the very light jet fray

 - August 5, 2008, 10:39 AM

The very light jet segment got a bit more crowded early last month when Westport, Conn.-based startup Avocet Aircraft and Israel Aircraft Industries publicly announced a partnership to develop a six- to eight-seat (including pilot) twinjet. The $2 million (complete) ProJet is the sixth serious very light jet contender to enter the scene since Eclipse launched its Model 500 twinjet in June 1999, sparking competition in the form of the Cessna Citation Mustang; Safire Jet; Adam A700; and Diamond D-Jet. (A seventh contender could be the HondaJet.)

What makes Avocet a serious contender and sets it apart from other startups in this segment is its relationship with an established aircraft manufacturer, in this case IAI. Because of IAI’s relationship with Gulfstream as a builder of the G100, G150 and G200, Avocet was required to receive the Savannah, Ga. manufacturer’s approval, which was granted. It was not disclosed if Gulfstream was invited to take part in the ProJet program.

Under the agreement signed last month, IAI will assume responsibility for the ProJet’s design, engineering, development, production and certification; and Avocet will handle marketing, sales, customer relations, training, delivery and product support. IAI will produce the single-pilot ProJet, but final assembly will take place “somewhere in the U.S.,” according to Avocet CEO David Tait, a long-time Virgin Atlantic executive and himself, among unnamed others, an investor in the project.

Speaking of funding, Tait said the project has enough cash on hand to complete the aircraft’s final definition phase, which is expected in the middle of next month, “and beyond.” Tait did concede that Avocet doesn’t have enough funding to take the ProJet to production. However, the startup company’s roster of executives largely looks like a who’s who list of former aerospace investment bankers, and their contacts will likely help when Avocet goes to seek additional funding.

In the meantime, Avocet is accepting pre-orders for the ProJet, each backed by a $5,000 refundable deposit. Thirty days after completion of the final definition phase, these buyers can either request their money back or submit the remainder of a full deposit to maintain their position. More information on pre-ordering can be found at www.avocetprojet.com

Aircraft Systems and Performance

For a design that even an Avocet spokesman admitted is a “paper airplane,” there is an unusually large amount of preliminary data released for the ProJet. The spokesman attributed this volume of data to the involvement and expertise of IAI, and Avocet’s decision to allow this information to be released.

For starters, the ProJet will be certified under FAR Part 23 and will be able to fly in IMC (day or night) and in known icing conditions. The company has also designed the twinjet for high-cycle use–between 1,500 and 2,000 hours per year–so it will meet the demanding needs of the air-taxi and fractional markets.

According to the preliminary specification document, the ProJet will have an all-metal airframe, with a cabin optimized for volume and performance. In fact, the cabin cross section is non-circular, much like the IAI Astra design. Measuring 4 feet 9 inches high and 4 feet 10.3 inches wide, the cabin will provide a roomy 259 cu ft, 11 cu ft more than the $3.9 million Citation CJ1 and 44 cu ft more than the Eclipse 500 (see box above).

The six-seat (including pilot) standard cabin layout has forward-facing tandem seats (an aft club-four configuration is an option) and an enclosed aft lavatory. A flat floor eliminates obstacles and provides flexibility for seating configuration and storage. The optional eight-seat cabin has an aft bench seat in place of the lavatory. An 8,000-foot cabin will be maintained at the ProJet’s 41,000-foot ceiling.

Avocet said the ProJet will have an integrated, all-glass cockpit and, according to Tait, the company is currently evaluating offerings from all of the avionics manufacturers. While a vendor has yet to be named, the avionics system will have three cockpit displays; three-axis autopilot; 8.33-kHz radios; GPS/VOR/ILS nav; mode-S transponder; color weather radar; FMS; class-B TAWS; integrated traffic information system-broadcast (TIS-B); and an ELT. It will also be RVSM certified out of the box. Optional avionics include TCAD; Stormscope; ADF; radio altimeter; entertainment system; and datalink.

Two 1,200- to 1,350-pound-thrust turbofans, mounted to the aft fuselage, will power Avocet’s very light jet. Tait told AIN that the ProJet would be powered either by the Williams International FJ33 or Pratt & Whitney Canada PW615, though he wishes “there were more choices.”

The tricycle landing gear will have a single wheel on each gear, and electric actuators will accomplish retraction and extension. In case of a failure, the landing gear will be mechanically released and will freefall with a little help from gravity.

The ProJet will come equipped with ice protection on the wings and horizontal stabilizer, most likely by a TKS anti-icing system, said Tait. The windshield will be rain protected by a hydrophobic material, and an electrical blast-heat system will protect the cockpit windows from ice and provide for defogging. Pitot and static probes will be electrically heated for ice protection.

Fuel will be stored in two integral wing tanks, for a total capacity of 2,120 pounds. Refueling can be accomplished either by a single-point port or over-wing filler caps.

All primary flight control surfaces will be operated manually by the pilot or copilot via a side-stick controller. These controls will be interconnected through push-pull rods to cable quadrants. The aircraft’s single-slotted flaps will be actuated by an electric motor, and the airbrakes will be deployed using a stand-alone actuator.

Preliminary specifications include a 365-knot cruise speed, 1,200-nm VFR range, 7,160-pound mtow and max payload (including pilot) of 1,400 pounds. The estimated balanced field length is 3,000 feet, and the landing distance at the 6,800-pound max landing weight is also 3,000 feet. DOCs are estimated to be about 85 cents a mile.

Five airframes–three flight-test airplanes and two non-flying articles–will take part in certification trials for the ProJet. Projected milestones for this newest very light jet entry include first flight in the second half of 2005 and deliveries starting in the fourth quarter of 2006. Tait said the annual production rate would probably be between 200 and 300 aircraft.