AIN Blog: Hawker Beech As Repository of Composites Intelligence

 - October 26, 2012, 7:00 AM
Hawker 4000 on Viper
The protracted gestation for the Hawker 4000 suggests that doing a composite airplane right is not as easy as it appears.

Reaction to the collapse of negotiations between Hawker Beechcraft and Superior Aviation Beijing seems to be less that of surprise and more about the inevitability of the dead end the two companies reached.

For a start, there was the price. In the words of one seasoned observer, “We all knew as an industry that the $1.79 billion bid was bogus, but the promise to fund operations led us to ascribe more to Superior’s bid than we should have, which begs questions. What did the Chinese get from doing this? And why was Superior so readily prepared to forego the $50 million it paid for an exclusivity agreement just to have a look at Hawker Beechcraft’s books? Did China gain anything from this privileged access, such as insight into composites or other technology? If so, for what purpose?”

Given China’s recent news on the development of the J-21/31 fighter, suggests this analyst, mere access to composite technology, even in the context of due-diligence evaluation of a data room, could be useful in confirming assumptions the Chinese have about the use of composites—specifically production-related issues and repair techniques. Its coffers distressed, Hawker Beech and its corporate brains were well wired for composites (by designing, certifying and producing the carbon-fiber Starship, Premier and Hawker 4000) and perhaps ripe for this picking. The famously protracted gestation periods of these airplanes suggest that doing a composite airplane right is not as easy as it might appear.

Against this backdrop, AIN Defense Perspective (ADP) published a story on October 19 that contained this news: “In September the U.S. attorney’s office announced charges against a Chinese man for attempting to export ‘thousands of pounds’ of aerospace-grade carbon fiber from the U.S. to China. ‘There’s always going to be a procurement network like this that [will go] to elaborate means to disguise the ultimate destination. It’s difficult, even for the most compliant company, to know for sure that the goods are going to be used for their intended purpose,’ Douglas Jacobson, an international trade attorney who specializes in export controls, told AIN.”

Asked about the structural material used in China’s J-20 and J-21/31, ADP editor Chris Pocock said: “We must presume that they have a substantial composite content, but whether that extends to load-bearing structure, or indeed to all-composite construction, I don’t know.” ADP contributor David Donald added: “Given that neither the J-20 nor the J-31 has been officially acknowledged by the Chinese authorities, and that there has been no information released, virtually all we know about the aircraft is based on sightings, some Internet speculation and close examination of photos.”