Leopard VLJ ahead of its time

 - May 21, 2008, 12:03 PM

For 100 years now, taxiways have borne metaphorical (and sometimes material) testimony to the “wannabe–really, really wannabe” aspirations of prospective aircraft manufacturers whose engineering sense was more acute than their marketing acumen. Accordingly, many viable designs have not been translated into money-earning projects, if only because financial backers’ arms were shorter than the depth of their pockets.

The new generation of very light jets (VLJs) has been no exception: as sometimes long-promised designs finally start to enter service and others continue their gestation, so the inevitable process of rationalization has occurred. Already many have fallen by the wayside, even before they felt air upon their wings. One that did fly but never attracted sufficient support is the four-seat Chichester-Miles Leopard light business jet, recently placed on permanent loan at the Midland Air Museum at Coventry (UK). Originally designed to fly on the power of two Noel Penny Turbines NPT301 turbofans, the Leopard was modified with a pair of Williams FJX-1s with which it made its first flight in 1997 before being discontinued about four years ago.