Since last year’s NBAA Convention, several manufacturers have launched new airplanes or announced derivative designs based on previous models. Although there weren’t a lot of new certifications obtained in the past year, and despite the sagging economic and warning flags presaging slower business aviation activity, manufacturers–new and old alike–haven’t shied away from introducing new products.
Business has been brisk at Cessna, Dassault, Embraer, Gulfstream and Hawker Beechcraft, all of which have announced new programs or plans to retool existing models to fill sub-niches in their product lineups.
It’s reasonable to question whether now is a good time to be launching a new jet program, but the development time for fresh jet designs–four to five years at a minimum–is long enough that manufacturers have to consider the long-range economy, not the current state of affairs. And forecasts continue to paint a rosy future for jet manufacturers.
Aerion Supersonic Business Jet
Aerion has been busy taking letter-of-intent deposits for its planned $80 million supersonic business jet and thus far holds refundable $250,000 deposits on more than 50 aircraft. The Reno, Nev. company is still seeking an established aircraft manufacturer to act as partner on the program, but so far no company has officially stepped up to take on that role. Meanwhile, work on the technical aspects of the supersonic jet continues, with a goal of FAA certification and entry into service by 2014, provided a partner can be found soon.
Later this year, Aerion plans to conduct wind-tunnel tests as well as large-scale inlet and nozzle tests to confirm results of configuration changes. The nozzle design should help eliminate the sonic boom when the airplane is flying below 5,000 feet, which under current regulations would be mandatory when flying over land.
Key features of the Aerion SSBJ include two 19,600-pound-thrust Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 engines and 4,000-nm NBAA IFR range at supersonic and subsonic cruise speeds. Civil aircraft are not allowed to fly faster than the speed of sound in the U.S., and Aerion’s solution to the sonic boom is a design that offers similar efficiency at the Mach 1.6 supersonic cruise speed for over-water operations and subsonic cruise over land.
Bombardier Learjet 85
Bombardier surprised the aviation world when it announced earlier this year that its latest and largest Learjet would feature an all-composite airframe. The Learjet 85 offers existing Learjet customers a step-up airplane that fits between the Learjet 60XR and the larger Challenger 300, helping keep Learjet owners in the Bombardier family.
Bombardier hired David Coleal as vice president and general manager of the Learjet product line, tapping into his experience as president and COO of Cirrus Design. Coleal helped Cirrus ramp up production of the all-composite Cirrus single-engine piston line to remarkable levels for a hand-laid-up, carbon-fiber airplane.
The Learjet 85 will be built in a similar fashion, with a low-temperature vacuum-bagged oven-cure process. Assembly technicians place resin-impregnated composite fabric by hand into molds, then add the vacuum bagging equipment before rolling the assembly into the oven for curing. One advantage of composite construction is that the Learjet 85 will be made of about 1,000 structural parts, much fewer than the 15,000 typical in an aluminum Learjet.
Although Bombardier contracted with Grob to build the first three Learjet 85 prototypes and some early production versions, Grob’s August 18 insolvency filing put an end to that agreement. Bombardier has taken over all Learjet 85 design and prototype manufacturing operations. Learjet 85 airframe structure will eventually be made at Bombardier’s Queretaro, Mexico manufacturing plant and parts will be shipped to Wichita for final assembly and completion.
The Learjet 85 will be the first all-composite Part 25-certified business jet. “It’s great for Learjet,” said Coleal. “It shows the confidence people have in this market. We’re being very progressive from the standpoint of bringing composites to this size airplane.”
Certification and entry-into-service is scheduled in 2012.
Cessna Citation Columbus
After years of studying the market for a large-cabin jet, Cessna launched the Citation Columbus in January. The largest Citation will carry eight passengers 4,000 nm at Mach 0.80 and be powered by a pair of P&WC PW810 turbofans. The all-aluminum Columbus will feature hybrid fly-by-wire flight controls–a first for Cessna. Hybrid means that part of each primary flight control is operated by the fly-by-wire system and another part by cables.
The manufacturer is now in the detail design phase of the Columbus program, with vendor engineers working closely alongside their Cessna counterparts. The Columbus will be built by vendors and assembled in Wichita. Vought Aircraft Industries is making the wing and two Spirit AeroSystems divisions the fuselage and empennage.
Dassault Falcon Super-Midsize (SMS)
While Dassault Falcon has revealed preliminary plans for a super-midsize jet tentatively called the SMS, the company hasn’t released much information on the program yet. The SMS, like the Falcon 7X, will have fly-by-wire flight controls.
Dassault has also selected an engine in the 10,000-pound-thrust class–the new Rolls-Royce RB282. Chairman and CEO Charles Edelstenne told NBAA Convention News that Dassault is in the process of selecting program partners and that “more than 90 percent of the eight- to 10-seat long-range SMS’s characteristics have been defined.” Program launch is expected early next year, he added, followed by full development and first flight in 2014.
Embraer Legacy 450 & Legacy 500
Embraer didn’t waste any time formally launching the conceptual mid-light and midsize jets it introduced at last year’s NBAA Convention. The two jets, now named the Legacy 450 and 500, respectively, share many features and expand Embraer’s reach into the business jet market.
Both have the same flat-floor stand-up cabin cross section, but the 500 is longer and has more powerful versions of the Honeywell HTF7500-E engine. Commonality of systems, including engines, avionics and fly-by-wire flight control, makes the program relatively cost-effective and saves a lot of development time compared with creating one model and introducing a derivative later.
Embraer has selected Rockwell Collins to provide the Pro Line Fusion avionics suite for the two new Legacys, and other vendors (as yet unnamed by Embraer) are planned for major structural components. Components will be shipped to Embraer for final assembly. The Legacy 500 will be the first to market, in the second half of 2012, followed a year later by the Legacy 450.
Gulfstream is leaping ahead with its largest jet, the ultra-long-range G650, announced in March and scheduled for certification in 2011. Early adopters signed letters of intent to buy more than 500 G650s, and as of late July more than 100 had been converted to firm orders, with Gulfstream expecting the remainder to be converted by year-end.
The G650 offers 28 percent more cabin volume than the G550, 16 percent larger windows and a 4,850-foot cabin altitude at the 51,000-foot maximum altitude. Powered by two Rolls-Royce BR725 engines, the G650 will be the fastest civil aircraft, with a top speed of Mach 0.925, only about three knots quicker than the Mach 0.92 Cessna Citation X but enough for Savannah to claim bragging rights. Maximum range will be 7,000 nm at Mach 0.85 or 5,000 nm at Mach 0.90.
The G650’s controls are full fly-by-wire, with primary and backup controls and all the performance and handling benefits offered by such systems. Instead of triple-
redundant hydraulic systems, however, the G650 has dual hydraulics and backup electrically driven hydrostatic actuators with their own independent backup electric power system. As a result, the flight controls can operate on either the hydraulic system or using the backup electrics.
The G650 is Gulfstream’s first jet since the GII to be certified by the company under an entirely new type certificate. First flight is planned for the second half of next year.
Hawker Beechcraft Premier II
Responding to customer requests, Hawker Beechcraft has committed to a significant update of the Premier, launching the Premier II at EBACE in May. Key changes include 300 nm more range with no increase in fuel capacity, 45,000-foot maximum altitude, maximum takeoff weight increase by 1,300 pounds to 13,800 pounds and a 15-knot increase in maximum cruise speed, to 465 knots. Payload climbs by 530 pounds, while mods use up the other 770 pounds of the new maximum takeoff weight.
The airframe structure is the same, with a filament-wound composite fuselage, composite empennage and aluminum wings. Blended winglets are new, and the single ventral fin on the aft fuselage is replaced with two splayed ventral fins. The original 2,300-pound-thrust hydromechanically controlled Williams International FJ44-3A engines are being upgraded to fadec-controlled FJ44-3APs with 3,050 pounds of thrust and a 4,000-hour TBO, up from 3,500 hours. Certification and entry-into-service are planned for the second quarter of 2010.
Supersonic Aerospace Quiet Supersonic Transport
According to company president Michael Paulson, “The QSST program is alive and well. We’ve spent the last year working on team development, regulatory issues and raising capital to complete the project.”
He added, “The preliminary design has been essentially completed by Lockheed Martin’s famed SkunkWorks design team.” The supersonic jet should cruise at Mach 1.6 for more than 4,000 nm. The design “essentially eliminated the sonic boom,” he said, “with an overpressure of just .03 to .05, which gives it a sonic footprint of just one one-hundredth that of the Concorde.”
Paulson expressed confidence that in six to nine months, an international consortium will form to bring the Quiet Supersonic Transport to life.
After achieving first flight of the CJ4 on May 5, Cessna is nearing the home stretch for the largest airplane in the CitationJet series. Production models should start rolling off the assembly line by year-end, and FAA certification is due in the second half of next year, with customer deliveries beginning in the first half of 2010.
Later this year, the first two production airplanes will take flight. The first will be used for avionics and systems testing, while the second will fly function and reliability missions and company service tests. These two CJ4s are being built at Cessna’s Pawnee advanced engineering facility in Wichita, but the assembly line will be located at the nearby Mid-Continent Airport plant.
Dassault Falcon 900LX
The winglet-equipped version of the Falcon 900 should achieve FAA certification in the first half of 2010, according to Dassault Falcon Jet, after which it will replace the 900EX. The winglets offer a drag reduction of as much as 7 percent and boost range for the 900EX by a similar amount. Climb performance is up 10 percent and maximum range increases to 4,800 nm. Dassault and Aviation Partners, developer of the 900 winglets, are planning a retrofit program for earlier 900 models, which will include wing reinforcements and some systems modifications.
Dassault Falcon 2000LX
The next Falcon in the series is the 2000LX, the winglet-equipped version of the 2000EX, due for certification soon. The addition of Aviation Partners winglets improves efficiency by 5 percent, boosts range to 4,000 nm at Mach 0.80 and facilitates a quick climb to 41,000 feet in 18 minutes.
The 2000LX replaces the 2000EX beginning with 2010 deliveries, but buyers of 2008 and 2009 Falcon 2000EXs can add the winglets as an option.
Grob Aerospace SPn
Grob was aiming to achieve certification and initial deliveries this year with the first of the all-composite jets, the SPn utility jet. SPn No. 4 made its first flight on August 7, and the program seemed to be progressing, but on August 18 Grob filed for insolvency in Germany after losing backing from its major financial supporter.
While Bombardier had contracted for Grob engineers and technicians to help design and build the first three Learjet 85s, the insolvency resulted in Bombardier canceling its contract with Grob last month.
Insolvency administrator Michael Jaffé has said that he wants to keep the Grob factory open and find new investors for the SPn program.
Cessna Citation XLS+
Following 600 hours of flight testing, Cessna’s upgrade to the midsize XLS+ is now certified and will enter service shortly for U.S. customers. EASA certification is expected next year. New features include fadec-controlled Pratt & Whitney Canada PW545C engines, Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics, extended nose contour and expanded seat widths in the passenger cabin. The XLS+ delivers speeds up to 440 knots and range of 1,858 nm. At its mtow it will take off from runways as short as 3,560 feet.
Dassault Falcon 2000DX
Dassault Falcon started delivering the new 2000DX, which replaces the Falcon 2000, in March.
The 2000DX is aimed at owners who don’t need the long range of the 2000LX but want the same runway performance and comfort at lower acquisition and operating costs.
It offers a range of 3,250 nm, which allows flights from New York to Washington, D.C., then on to San Francisco without taking on more fuel. The same flight can be made from London to Paris then to Dubai without additional fuel.
The manufacturer announced the airplane at the NBAA Convention
Hawker 750 & Hawker 900XP
The Hawker 750 and 900XP share the same airframe, but the 750 does not include the ventral fuel tank, hence the shorter range than the 900XP. The 750 began customer deliveries in May, to launch customer Jet Asia.
The 900XP is equipped with winglets and the new Honeywell TFE731-50R, which in addition to the ventral fuel tank help boost the jet’s range to 2,950 nm, 6.9 percent farther than the 850XP, allowing one-stop flights from New York to Honolulu 99 percent of the time, according to Hawker Beechcraft.