Nextant Beechjet conversions aiming for STC in early 2011
At this year's NBAA convention, Nextant Aerospace is making its debut in the static display with not one, but two of its new 400XT Beechjet conversions. The Cleveland-based company (Booth No. 8245) paused the flight testing program of its first Williams International FJ44-3AP-powered twinjet in order to fly it nonstop from Mojave, Calif., to Atlanta, while the company's fully furnished technology demonstrator–still sporting its Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D-5 engines–made its first airshow appearance this past summer at NBAA's Regional Forum at Teterboro Airport. The Williams-powered 400XT (the company was required to change the name from 400NXT due to a copyright issue in another industry) made its first flight on September 8. Thus far it has logged approximately 80 hours of flight time including a September 26 cross-country trip from the company's headquarters at Cuyahoga County Airport in Cleveland to Mojave–where the testing program is based–which saw the nearly maximum-weight test aircraft easily reach a cruising altitude of 45,000 feet. "One of our goals is 2,000 nautical mile [NBAA IFR] range," company president James Miller told AIN. "On that trip, despite the fact that we were doing a lot of tests that had us slowing down and speeding up and climbing and turning, we would have just about hit 2,010, and of course to do that westbound is really significant." A 2,000-nm range would represent a 50 percent increase over the range of the base Beechjet 400A or Hawker 400XP. After the NBAA show, the company's six-day-a-week flight test schedule will resume with a goal of amassing 250 to 300 hours of flight by the end of the year, in order to wrap up the test program on schedule. Nextant anticipates FAA supplemental type certificate (STC) approval soon after. "We're expecting certification in the first quarter of 2011," said Miller. "That's what we've been advertising for the last year or so." According to Nextant, the remanufactured aircraft is meeting or exceeding all of its performance specifications and has already demonstrated some design improvements. By moving the engines out from the fuselage three inches and changing the angle of the engine exhaust nozzle, the company believes it has eliminated the shockwave that occurs in the chokepoint between the engine and fuselage, reducing noise, vibration and drag while at the same time improving fuel efficiency. The rebuild also involved increasing the size of the pylon by approximately 50 percent, which has contributed to the aircraft's lift. "We think we've altered the landing characteristics in a positive way," said Miller, who has flown about half the hours in the airplane. "It doesn't bleed speed quite as abruptly as the Beechjet does at any given airspeed." Another handling improvement that has been observed in the flight testing stems from the reduced residual thrust from the Williams engines. While the previous powerplants produced considerable thrust when idling, the FJ44s do not. "Extra residual thrust is like having your foot on the accelerator and the brake in your car at the same time," Miller said. "The car wants to go forward and you're using a lot of brake to hold it back. On the Williams engines if you bring it back to idle the airplane will actually stop." In addition to the new engines, the 400XT package includes the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics suite, which Nextant received the STC for last year. It began construction on its second Williams-powered jet at the end of September and expects to complete three of the $3.9 million conversions by next May. By early 2012, Miller expects to have all six bays in the company's facility filled. By then, Nextant would have used up its current supply of six airframes, most of which came from the fleet of Flight Options, which is related to Nextant by common investors. The fractional provider is gradually phasing out its 400XPs in favor of the Embraer Phenom 300, and given that potential supply of approximately 60 aircraft, as well as those available on the market, Nextant feels little pressure in acquiring airframes for future 400XT conversions. "There's no shortage," said Miller. "I believe there's somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 Beechjets that could be purchased in the price range that would be conducive to our program."