New Very Light Jets
This year has seen some significant changes in the very light jet (VLJ) category, with two manufacturers going bankrupt and another facing serious financial challenges.
Aviation Technology Group was the first of the modern crop of very light jet manufacturers to fold, having filed for liquidation (Chapter 7 bankruptcy) in May.
Since then, there has been no word on what has happened with ATG’s assets and no sign that the unique twin-engine military-style Javelin VLJ will ever make it to the commercial marketplace.
Adam Aircraft also filed for bankruptcy, but its assets were sold for about $10 million to the highest and only bidder, a group called AAI Acquisition (AAIA) that is backed by a Russian company. At Centennial Airport in Englewood, Colo., where AAIA is headquartered in the former Adam facilities, the company has resumed flight testing of the A700 VLJ and hired back many Adam engineers.
Eclipse Aviation, which has reduced employment and cut production as it seeks new financing to help reach cash-flow positive status and eventual profitability, may or may not go ahead with the EA-400 single-engine VLJ. The company’s new leadership expects to make a decision about the new jet in November.
In a surprise development, Stratos Aircraft, a new company based in Bend, Ore., announced plans for a VLJ, the $2 million, carbon-fiber Stratos 714.
Former Eclipse Aviation president and CEO Vern Raburn took the aviation world by surprise at 2007’s EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wis., by taxiing up to the Eclipse press conference in a single-engine jet that looked a little like an Eclipse 500 twinjet but sportier and with a V tail. This May, Raburn announced that Eclipse planned to produce the Model 400 single-engine jet and began taking orders from existing Model 500 buyers, who would receive a $125,000 discount on the $1.35 million single-engine jet. After Raburn was forced to leave Eclipse in late July, Eclipse’s new CEO Roel Pieper said that a decision about whether to go ahead with the Model 400 would be made next month.
The Eclipse 400 shares the 500’s wing and part of the fuselage. Many of the systems, including avionics, in the two airplanes will be the same, which should speed development. Before leaving Eclipse, Raburn said he expected the 400 certification program to take less than 30 months and that Eclipse planned to achieve full FAA certification of the 400, with full avionics and systems functionality, including flight into known-icing. Certification and deliveries were initially expected in 2011, but even if the program goes forward, that target may be delayed.
Unlike many other single-engine jets, the Eclipse 400 will have a much higher maximum altitude, 41,000 feet. The 400 will seat four and offer a cruise speed of up to 330 knots.
In 2006, Millennium Aerospace bought the Foxjet program from Tony Fox, with the goal of bringing the compact very light jet to production. According to Robert Swanson, Millennium president, the prototype Foxjet II is currently under construction at Whiteman Airport in Los Angeles, and first flight is expected in the first quarter of next year.
The Foxjet II is an updated version of the original Foxjet, now slated to be powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada PW615 engines but retaining the distinctive shape of the original design. Millennium expects to be able to get the Foxjet II certified and into production in 2010, although the company has not yet formally applied to the FAA for a type certificate. Millennium is currently negotiating with multiple local economic development organizations on a site to build the Foxjet assembly plant.
The Foxjet II is priced at $1.75 million, but the price could rise depending on the cost of raw materials, including the carbon fiber that will be used more extensively in the airframe. Projected performance includes 1,350-nm range, 41,000-foot maximum altitude and cruise speed of more than 350 knots.
Spectrum Aeronautical is now in the grind-it-out phase of aircraft development, where not much visibly exciting is happening but important behind-the-scenes work takes place. “We’re deep into the conformity procedure phase involving a lot of process engineering, documentation, production planning and structural tests,” said a Spectrum spokesman. “These activities are not as glamorous and photogenic as flight activity, but are extremely important. We know that type certification is critical, but it’s the ability to produce conformed aircraft and deliver them to customers that counts.”
By the end of this year, Spectrum plans to break ground on its Spanish Fork, Utah production facility, next to where it is currently located at subsidiary Rocky Mountain Composites.
The GE-Honda-powered S-40 Freedom is currently the primary focus at Spectrum, and in May Spectrum announced that it selected Honeywell’s Primus Apex avionics suite for the jet. “Integration of the Honeywell Primus Apex system is coming together very well,” the spokesman said, “and we’re confident it will be a great layout. The cockpit has plenty of room, and entry and egress is very easy.
Visibility–internal and external–is excellent.” The smaller S-33 Independence features an Avidyne Entegra-based avionics package.
Certification of the S-40 is planned for next year, followed later by the S-33.
Stratos Aircraft joins the ranks not only of new jet programs but also newly formed jet manufacturing companies, with an announcement in July that the company is designing the Stratos 714 VLJ. Based in Bend, Ore., Stratos has assembled a team headed by entrepreneur Michael Lemaire, who is chairman and CEO. Carsten Sundin is chief technology officer and v-p of engineering and hails from previous jobs at Lancair and Epic Aircraft, where he managed the design of the single-engine turboprop Epic LT.
The $2 million, carbon-fiber Stratos 714 is projected to outperform all the other single-engine jet offerings, with a 1,500-nm IFR range, 410-knot high-speed cruise speed and 41,000-foot maximum altitude, but carrying only four seats.
In flight test
The company formerly known as Adam Aircraft has gone through major upheavals this year. After filing for liquidation (bankruptcy) in February, Russian investors swooped in and bought the remaining assets of Adam Aircraft, forming a new company called AAI Acquisition to bring the A700 VLJ to certification and production.
Since the AAIA purchase of Adam assets for $10 million in April, the new company has hired 125 people and flight testing of A700 No. 4 has resumed. Construction of A700 No. 5 is under way, according to Jan D’Angelo, vice president sales and marketing, and No. 3 was scheduled to rejoin the flight-test program later this year.
In July AAIA hired Jack Braly as CEO. Braly was president of Beechcraft during the development of the all-composite Starship turboprop and also spent a few years as president and CEO of jet manufacturer Sino Swearingen Aircraft.
AAIA is focusing now, said D’Angelo, on certifying the A700 by the end of 2009 or early 2010. Although Adam Aircraft was close to certifying the A700, as a new company AAIA had to reapply to the FAA for the type certificate. Much of the work that was done on the A700 certification program will apply to AAIA’s efforts, but some will have to be redone.
In September AAIA was expected to announce pricing information, features lists, performance specifications, new purchase agreements and training and support programs so it can begin writing orders for the A700. Although all depositors lost their money because of the bankruptcy, D’Angelo is hoping that AAIA can offer some incentive to bring former buyers back.
After referring to its nascent single-engine jet by the bland moniker “The-Jet” for several months, Cirrus Design finally chose an official name for the airplane, calling it the Vision SJ50. Cirrus founders Alan and Dale Klapmeier had long planned to build a jet, and the new name reflects that shared desire.
The jet program is clearly accelerating, and after the first flight on July 3, Cirrus brought SJ50 No. 1 to the EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh on July 30.
Cirrus officials still haven’t revealed a choice of avionics, and Avidyne, Garmin and L-3 Avionics Systems are all contenders. Avidyne unveiled what could be its first integrated cockpit at AirVenture, a system that incorporates two high-resolution 15-inch displays and uses Avidyne’s own radios. But L-3 has a leg up as its avionics suite is installed in the prototype SJ50.
What sets the SJ50 apart from other single-engine jets is its compact size combined with a large cabin that fits up to seven occupants. The SJ50 also will incorporate a ballistic parachute system by BRS, something no other single-engine jet manufacturer has adopted but a hallmark of all Cirrus designs.
Certification of the SJ50 is planned for late 2010.
Diamond was scheduled to gain certification of the single-engine D-Jet this year and would have been first to market and well ahead of Cirrus, Eclipse, Epic, Excel-Jet and Piper. But in March, Diamond announced an engine change for the D-Jet, and this will delay certification until the second quarter of 2009. However, the D-Jet is still planned to be the first of the modern crop of single-engine jets to enter service.
When Williams International made available a more powerful FJ33, Diamond decided to delay the program and switch to the -19 version instead of the 1,565-pound -15 that is installed in the prototype and two flight test D-Jets. Although the -19 offers up to 1,900 pounds of thrust, Diamond is not going to use all that power and will flat-rate the engine to a lower takeoff thrust level for certification of the D-Jet. The final power output will be determined during certification testing, according to Diamond.
Adding the more powerful engine at this stage does slow down the certification program but will also allow Diamond to take advantage of the increased available thrust sometime later without a costly re-engine program, by modifying the FADEC. When Diamond does increase the D-Jet’s power, it plans to offer an upgrade for earlier D-Jet owners via service bulletin.
Embraer is the next out of the gate with a new VLJ. The Phenom 100 is scheduled for certification imminently, perhaps by the time you read this. The Phenom program has remained on schedule throughout its short history, having first flown as predicted last July.
Like its competitors from Eclipse and Cessna, the Phenom 100 is powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PW600-family engine, the 1,615-pound-thrust PW617F. With four occupants, the Phenom 100 can fly 1,160 nm with NBAA IFR reserves (100 nm alternate).
Four Phenom 100s are currently in flight test, and they have flown more than 1,000 hours and competed cold-soak and natural icing tests as well as internal noise evaluation and high-altitude airport testing.
Embraer has not released any weight information for the Phenoms, but in an FAA special conditions notice the number for maximum takeoff weight was mentioned as 9,700 pounds. This may be a preliminary number, according to Embraer, and could change by the time certification takes place.
After deliveries begin later this, Embraer expects to deliver 10 to 15 Phenom 100s by December 31 and nearly 170 next year.
As it did with the Phenom 100 program, the FAA revealed a preliminary maximum takeoff weight for the HondaJet in a recent special conditions rule proposal regarding engine fire-extinguishing requirements. The number in the FAA document is 9,963 pounds, but a Honda spokesman said, “Special conditions for the HondaJet are still in the acceptance process with the FAA and generally apply to any Part 23 high-performance airplane. We expect that the HondaJet type certification basis will be defined by the end of 2008. This situation would apply to the issue of weight as well.”
About 70 percent of the detail design and systems design work is done, according to Honda Aircraft president Michimasa Fujino. The second HondaJet (the prototype was the first) is scheduled to fly in next year’s first quarter. Part of the structural assembly work on the second and third, and possibly fourth, HondaJets that was planned to be done by subassembly vendors will be shifted to Honda to keep the program on schedule. But that work will shift back to the vendors as subsequent HondaJets roll down the assembly line.
The HondaJet team moved into its permanent headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., in May. Under construction now is the new research and development hangar complex, which is 10 times larger than the existing facility and is also where assembly of the next HondaJets will be done until the factory is completed. The factory will be ready for the HondaJet assembly line by the end of next year.
On the morning of July 30, after an 80-knot high-speed taxi test, the PiperJet returned to a hangar at Piper’s headquarters in Vero Beach, Fla., and then, after double-checking systems and reweighing the jet, the PiperJet took to the skies for the first time. The first flight lasted one hour and included speeds up to 160 knots and a climb to 10,000 feet. The landing gear remained fixed in the down position throughout the first flight.
“After that,” the company said, “it’s on to the excitement of the first flight with performance verifications and handling characteristics testing to follow in an extensive flight-test program.” Two additional PiperJets will join the flight-test program next year, for aerodynamic configuration and systems testing.
Certification of the PiperJet has moved to a later date, now scheduled for 2011, with customer deliveries beginning in the fourth quarter.