Piper’s Altaire Gets Ready To Fly
Piper is getting ready to fly its Altaire single-engine jet next year and is doing the spadework to place it into economical production. That is the message from vice president Randy Groom, who said that 80 percent of the detail design work is complete, sheet metal components are in fabrication, vendor selection is finished and the first assembly tools have arrived at the company’s Vero Beach, Fla. factory.
Groom said not to expect a rollout this year but it will complete “substantial pieces of the aircraft,” including wing structures and parts of the fuselage, by year-end. He also said it expects to complete five of the six test aircraft (four flying, one static, one fatigue) in 2012. Piper says it remains on track to certify the $2.6 million Williams FJ44-3AP-powered single in 2013 and commence deliveries in 2014. More than 200 aircraft are on order, and production is sold out through 2016.
While the design is subject to change based on flight test, Groom said Piper is fairly confident in the data gleaned from the proof-of-concept (POC) aircraft that began flying in 2008. Last year the OEM abandoned that design, based on its 1960s vintage square-oval fuselage, in favor of a virtually clean-sheet-of-paper approach.
The new design mirrors the proof-of-concept’s engine-in-tail configuration but has a larger and more aerodynamic oval fuselage, a larger wing that joins at an under-fuselage fairing, a more rounded nose, a lengthened slimmed engine nacelle and a shorter vertical tail that is located further aft. A three-foot-wide main cabin entry door makes the aircraft a good candidate for air cargo or air ambulance missions.
More Cabin Space
The redesigned fuselage delivers substantially more cabin space compared to the POC, with a cabin nine inches taller and four inches wider with a wider sunken aisle. The Altaire’s 260-cu-ft cabin measures 211 inches long; both width and height are 55 inches. There is 60 cu ft of luggage space divided between a compartment in the nose and onboard storage areas in the cabin, primarily aft of the forward facing club four seats.
Three Color Palettes
Three basic color palettes are planned for the interior, now named Northstar, Glacial and Heron. The first combines cream and dark colors, the second has gray with blue hues and the third is khaki. The interiors were designed for ease of manufacture and to reflect differing global tastes, according to Piper. For instance, gray is more popular with European customers, while khaki is popular in the United States. While the aircraft’s design is largely done, the company is still working out certain issues such as seat sculpting and cabin connectivity via the Garmin G3000 avionics system.
Groom said the seats are being slimmed and given improved armrests. The passenger seats in the club-four area are pitched at 40 inches, have breakover backs and can be folded forward. The two forward-facing seats in the array recline to approximately 32 degrees. Piper is required to install 30g seats on the Altaire in exchange for a waiver on the FAA’s 61-knot maximum stall speed requirement for Part 23 single-engine airplanes. The Altaire is likely to stall at approximately 68 knots in landing configuration. The seat frames are constructed of precision CNC-machined parts as opposed to traditional welded assemblies.
Passenger seats will be equipped with a three-point restraint system, and Piper is currently looking at adding seat belt airbags. The seats are equipped with energy absorbers in the seat pan and feature bolsters around the torso and thighs. The flight crew positions have four-point restraints, adjustable height, floor tracking and lumbar support. Based on sled crash test data, Piper is confident that the seats will satisfy the FAA requirements.
Engineers continue to evaluate the finer points of cabin wireless capabilities. Plans now call for power/USB ports at each passenger position. Other cabin features include LED downwash and passenger position lighting; a two-zone individually controlled environmental control system designed to deliver an 8,000-foot pressure cabin at the Altaire’s 35,000-foot maximum altitude; and optional layouts in the area opposite the cabin entry door that include an additional passenger seat, storage, a refreshment/entertainment center or an electric flushing toilet.
The Altaire is more than just a new model for Piper, it represents a new way of building aircraft. More than 200 engineers are now at work on the program and the OEM is both hiring additional personnel and pulling people from other parts of the company as component production ramps up. Groom also said that the company is instituting new lean manufacturing practices that will be instituted on the Altaire.
In August Piper sent out a request for proposal to training and simulator providers and the company is in the process of adding dealers and authorized service centers, he said.