Albuquerque, N.M.-based Eclipse Aerospace responded Friday to a U.S. Air Force request for information (RFI) concerning possible replacement of the service’s 178 Beechjet 400-based T-1 Jayhawks with very light jets. This is the second time the USAF has put out feelers for VLJs, having issued a broader RFI for these small jets in November 2006.
Eclipse Aerospace says its Eclipse 550 could save the government “more than one billion dollars” in fuel and operating costs over 10 years. “That ‘b’ is very significant,” Eclipse CEO Mason Holland told AIN. The company notes that its jet would also save the USAF as much as 13 million gallons of jet fuel annually.
The RFI, part of the specialized undergraduate pilot training multi-place training track, calls for a commercial, off-the-shelf Part 25 aircraft capable of a wide range of training operations, including formation maneuvers and high-speed, low-level flight. The Eclipse, however, is certified to the less stringent Part 23 standards, though Holland explained that the RFI is merely the “Air Force’s wish list,” not set-in-stone requirements.
While the USAF is only exploring its options at this time, Holland believes the service is eager to make a decision in light of possible budget sequestration on March 1. “The Air Force is looking to save money, while also protecting [its] training assets,” he said. “I’m not sure if this process would be held up [by sequestration] or accelerated, but our option would save money regardless.”