Very light jets are setting their courses for Europe

 - November 29, 2006, 7:23 AM

About 30 years ago, a U.S. executive jet manufacturer was upset by a pilot’s handling report that dubbed his product “a businessman’s fighter.” The company’s concern was that enthusiastic but inexperienced pilots might take liberties with the aircraft, with decidedly unpredictable results.

Today, manufacturers–some with no great track record in aerospace–are developing a new category of small jets aimed at the personal- and entrepreneur-owner markets, with many such aircraft likely to be acquired by enthusiastic but perhaps inexperienced pilots. Indeed, one design specifies tandem seats in a fighter-type configuration–with ejection seats planned for a military variant, putting an entirely new connotation on phrase “dropping in on customers.”

So what is the choice facing any prospective small-jet buyer attending EBACE? The Aviation Technology Group (ATG) Javelin, the pseudo-military design referred to above, is just one of several U.S. personal, light and very-light jets (PJs, LJs and VLJs) represented here in Geneva this week.

Others are the Adam Aircraft A700, Cessna Citation Mustang, Cirrus Personal Jet, Eclipse Aviation 500, the Sino-Swearingen SJ30-2 and the Embraer Phenom 100 and 300. In fact, Ed Swearingen’s high-performance twinjet essentially kicked off this light-jet industry when the original SA30 (the 30th Swearingen Aircraft design) was unveiled 20 years ago.

Here’s a quick review of these new airplanes. (More comprehensive articles about the Phenom 100 and 300 and SJ30-2–as well as the Spectrum 33–appear elsewhere in this issue.)

Adam Sold Out Through 2008

Adam Aircraft has logged nearly 500 hours of test flying with the first two A700s, taken orders for 60-plus private examples and more than 225 for air taxi fleet use, and has sold out production into the second quarter of 2008. A third aircraft, to be used for systems testing, likely will fly by the third quarter of this year.

The A700 twinjet shares 65 percent parts commonality and 90 percent supplier commonality with the previously certified A500 piston twin. Adam plans to build 10 of the $2.25 million A700s each month by the fifth year of production and is already considering a follow-on jet.

The first production-conforming aerodynamics and engine test A700 (S/N 002) flew at Colorado’s Centennial Airport in February, nearly three years after the original prototype flight in mid-2003. This example features a production instrument panel with three-screen Avidyne Entegra avionics and was built on production tooling, the production fuselage incorporating improved cabin-window and emergency-exit placement.

The first customer aircraft that will perform function and reliability testing also should fly this year. Certification is expected in the fourth quarter of this year, with deliveries starting early next year. The A700’s Williams FJ-33 engines are already certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

In February, Singapore Technologies Aerospace and Adam signed a strategic partnership under which the Asian company will provide worldwide engineering; logistics, including components; and maintenance, repairs and overhaul (MRO) support. It has a seven-year option to invest up to $50 million in Adam Aircraft. Singapore Technologies now has maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as in Europe and North America. Adam says VLJ buyers to date include fractional owners, charter operators, corporations and high-net-worth individuals.

Javelin Sets You Apart

For those wanting to move into something more sophisticated and individualized, ATG is producing the two-seat Javelin. The $2.995 million Mk10 civil version is offered alongside the Mk20 military variant (sporting head-up display and ejection seats), which is being developed in cooperation with Israel Aircraft Industries.

The Javelin mock-up on display here is in Europe to support regional distributors Rheinland Air Services and Air Touring. Later this year, it will be promoted at the Experimental Aircraft Association gathering in Oshkosh, Wisconsin; at the Reno (Nevada) Air Races; and at both the NBAA and AOPA annual meetings. ATG has hired more than 100 employees and is seeking funding that could be announced by mid-year.

ATG says testing that resumed in February–following a maiden flight last September that was delayed by nosewheel shimmy problems–confirms the success of modifications, including upgraded landing gear, recontoured canopy and other changes. Now the prototype is receiving updated flaps, secondary flight controls and pitot-static systems. The production examples will have a larger wing. Further flight tests will verify predicted field and climb performance. ATG has reduced the Javelin’s maximum operating Mach number slightly to Mach 0.92.

The first production aircraft should be rolled out before October 2007, followed by subsequent aircraft at one- to two-month intervals with five units participating in certification, which is expected in late 2008. The company has taken orders for just over 100 aircraft, including a few military examples.

Mustang Prepares To Gallop

The only original “Big Three” U.S. general aviation manufacturer in the LJ/VLJ market is Cessna, which reacted to the Swearingen SA30 (as the SJ30-2 was originally dubbed) with the CitationJet family. Now the Wichita company has turned to the smaller VLJ market with the single-pilot, six-seat Citation Mustang VLJ, which was announced in September 2002.

Certification flight testing is well under way, with Cessna currently focusing on avionics, autopilot, systems, and stability and control. The aircraft has logged more than 850 hours and last month Cessna reported major static tests were completed and fatigue testing was more than 80 percent complete. U.S. FAR Part 23 certification and first delivery are slated for the fourth quarter of this year.

Cessna has more than 230 orders for the 1,350-pound-thrust Pratt & Whitney Canada PW615F-powered aircraft, which will cruise at 340 ktas and have a maximum altitude of 41,000 feet. Production is sold out into 2009.

Cirrus May Launch PJ

A project that could be formally unveiled here at EBACE is Cirrus Design’s planned Personal Jet (PJ). The company promised more details late last year and indicated it “possibly” will use the EBACE event as a launch pad. Advancing somewhat sketchy details, president Alan Klapmeier said he sees “a growing market” for an easy-to-operate, low-cost, possibly single-engine, two- or four-seat aircraft probably carrying a $1 million price tag.

He was more definite about his plan that the aircraft would have dual controls and would be equipped with the company’s airframe parachute safety system.

Klapmeier believes there is an emerging demand between high-performance singles and the new VLJs, which he said would be complemented by his proposed PJ, “…designed around the pilot–easy to fly and to operate.” The first phase of Cirrus PJ marketing strategy would be to stop the widespread use of the term VLJ for this class of aircraft. “The first thing is to separate VLJs from PJs; they’re different category airplanes,” insisted Klapmeier.

In principle, he likens the PJ to ATG’s Javelin in terms of pilot progression: those familiar with the piston-powered Cirrus SR22 could move up into the PJ as other LJ/VLJ pilots could graduate to the Javelin. “Our PJ will complement VLJs, as it will create customers when people move up to the Eclipse or the Mustang,” Klapmeier told EBACE Convention News.

Recognizing the demands that can be made on inexperienced pilots, Cirrus will limit the PJ’s performance to keep it within the ability of customers moving up from a high-performance piston single.

Eclipse on the Horizon

Progressing toward certification expected before July–despite three-month schedule delays attributed to supplier problems–the Eclipse Aviation 500, powered by a P&WC PW610F engine–has accumulated more than 500 hours of testing.

Eclipse has reported orders for more than 2,350 examples of the $1.295 million design. Manufacturing of the first customer aircraft began in February. Recent critical testing milestones passed by the Eclipse 500 include hot- and cold-weather testing, flutter and stall characteristics, powerplant, lightning strike and various avionics systems.

The manufacturer is “very confident” that, having reached 365 knots with a nonproduction engine, the design will achieve its 375 knots maximum speed. Eclipse is expanding the performance envelope at the upper end, while the first customers have received validated upset-recovery training. In the coming year, Eclipse expects to double its workforce to more than 1,000 employees.