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Coming Along- The A700: Aircraft poised to be the first all-composite VLJ. It’s been a longer- more circuitous route from concept to concrete than originally planned for Adam Aircraft’s innovative new VLJ- the A700. But the pace seems to be picking up- and increasingly 2008 is looking like the year for the ground-breaking little jet. The company started almost a decade ago by entrepreneur Rick Adam launched with the A500- a twin piston engine aircraft for sale with the engines mounted in ...

Dave Higdon   |   1st January 2008
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Coming Along- The A700:
Aircraft poised to be the first all-composite VLJ.

It’s been a longer- more circuitous route from concept to concrete than originally planned for Adam Aircraft’s innovative new VLJ- the A700. But the pace seems to be picking up- and increasingly 2008 is looking like the year for the ground-breaking little jet.

The company started almost a decade ago by entrepreneur Rick Adam launched with the A500- a twin piston engine aircraft for sale with the engines mounted in the nose and tail – or as this particular configuration is known- a “centerline-thrust twin.”

Sporting a carbon composite airframe- turbocharged engines- pressurization- a twin-boom tail structure and a modern cockpit with side-stick controllers- the A500 offered pilots something long absent from the market. Not since the days of the Cessna’s Skymaster some three decades ago has the market offered owner-pilots all the benefits of a twin- but with none of the challenging engine-out traits of conventional piston twins – which sport wing-mounted powerplants.

However- well ahead of the A500’s certification- Adam launched a second design that would take advantage of a new small turbojet engine from Williams International - the FJ33. Today- Adam markets the $2.3 million A700 as a superior contender in the dynamic field of Very Light Jets. For example- the A700 offers a total of seven seats- two on the flight deck and five in the main cabin (most of its competitors offer five to six). And all but the smallest competitor is more expensive- ranging in price from $2.3 million to $3 million.

The A700’s flight deck sports side-sticks in place of yokes- opening up the cockpit for easier panel access by the flight crew. Capable of cruising at 340 knots at altitudes up to FL410- the A700 is speed competitive with all but one of its competitors. And among all its VLJ competitors only the A700 boasts a composite airframe.

Thanks to some savvy design work that revealed the long view of the company- the A700 builds on an uncharacteristically high degree of commonality in the airframe parts of its piston stable mate. The two also share a near-total commonality in suppliers.

After a near-record prototyping period- Adam first flew its A700 on July 27- 2003- and a couple of days later brought its brand-new jet to the EAA AirVenture- Oshkosh- for its show debut before a crowd numbering around 700-000. But subsequent to flying the first A700 in July 2003- the company struggled with financial and development progress- and didn’t get the second prototype into the air until February 2006.

Progress struggles- investor concern and a need to shift the company from a development-driven operation to aircraft manufacturing led to the Adam board making the decision that it was time to bring in new expertise to move the company forward. By this time next year- the company could well be into its post-certification era and delivering VLJs to its significant customer base. Here’s how things stood at the end of 2007:

TIA – Approval for the next phase
In early December 2007 Adam announced the FAA’s decision to grant the company Type Inspection Authorization (TIA)- a significant milestone in the company’s test-program progress. The TIA essentially means that FAA personnel can begin flight testing of the A700 and move it toward certification.

TIA “confirms we are on target for achieving FAA certification of the A700 in 2008-” explained Duncan Koerbel- Adam’s new president at the end of 2007. “We have steadily moved from our first flight of the fully conforming A700 this spring [2007] into FAA testing by taking advantage of the commonality with the already certified A500 twin piston as well as over 900 hours of development flying with the first two A700 prototypes.”

Receipt of the TIA confirms that Adam submitted all information required by the FAA- including technical data- to start type certification and that the FAA agrees with the manufacturer that the aircraft and its systems have achieved a level where they will meet all applicable FAA regulations.

To complete type certification of the A700- Adam plans four conformal flight-test aircraft dedicated to accomplishing the TIA tasks. “We are meeting and exceeding our performance goals and will deliver what we believe to be the best value for price- performance and cabin size in the VLJ class-” Koerbel promised.

Company chairman and CEO John Wolf noted- “Historically- new aircraft programs that have gone through the rigorous testing to receive a TIA have also successfully obtained a Type Certificate. TIA for the Adam Aircraft Flight Test Program will be the first of many that the company will receive for the A700 which will lead to the final goal of full Type Certification.”

Two flying- two to come
In April 2007 Adam achieved a major target by flying its first fully conformal test aircraft- Serial #3. Later- in August 2007- Serial #4 - the second conformal aircraft - entered the test fleet. In the first half of 2008- the company plans to add Serial #5 and Serial #6- the third and fourth conformal test units planned for the A700 certification program.

Adam already is testing the engine-handling characteristics of the FJ33s powering the A700. Williams has won certification of the engines.

Additionally- in mid-December environmental testing started at the world renowned McKinley Climatic Chamber at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Used by the military and civil aviation- the McKinley Climatic Chamber provides a controlled environment for testing aircraft systems at extreme temperatures and in severe weather conditions from hot to cold weather- from freezing rain to blowing snow and tests involve personnel from Williams- the FAA and Adam.

The inside story
With two conformal aircraft flying- Adam chose September’s NBAA convention to unveil its creative new interior. From the look of the mock-up in Atlanta- Georgia- Adam’s work with the industrial-design firm Infusion Design paid off. Aside from the two flight-deck seats- Adam’s new cabin design provides belted seating for five – all to be certificated for use during take-off and landing – with four sporting new contoured cushioning and fully reclining.

Adam arranged those four in the club configuration popular in business aircraft. With the two forward seats faced aft and the next two faced forward- occupants can interact or listen to XM radio. Any occupant of a club seat can work on what Adam calls a Swivel Wing table that deploys from unobtrusive storage in the cabin wall.

Aft of the four club-configured seats Adam installed a wide bench seat covering an in-flight-useable toilet. To provide privacy for an occupant in need- Adam’s designers created a clever privacy panel. Stowed on a spring-loaded roller mounted below the floor- the user deploys the privacy panel pulling its top bar straight up to the cabin ceiling where it hooks to anchors. The result is a lavatory completely enclosed when needed and completely open for seating otherwise – including during landings and takeoffs.

Factory ready
All the while- Adam’s production staff has been busy perfecting the plant and production building the A500 ahead of the eventual start of serial production of the A700 VLJ. Between the two aircraft- the company notes- the structures require only 240 parts. Credit for this inordinately low parts count goes in a couple of directions:

First is Adam’s decision to build its aircraft using carbon-fiber composites; typically- composite aircraft come together from a relative few airframe parts crafted from layers of carbon fiber impregnated with a hardening resin. After laying up the required layers of carbon cloth in a tool or mold- that part is vacuum bagged and cooked for hours in an oven or autoclave that increases the pressure on those layers.

Another contributor to the low parts count between the A500 and A700 models is that parts commonality mentioned earlier – 65 percent- a significant amount- particularly when considering that one is a push-me-pull-you piston twin and the other is a twin turbofan with the engines straddling the aft fuselage. The common parts have the advantage of certification on the A500 in addition to the baseline benefit of coming off the same tooling.

The two aircraft share wings- landing gear- the twin tail booms and the connecting horizontal surface- the fuselage from the forward pressure bulkhead aft (about three-quarters of the cabin length)- windows- the door- the nose gear door- flight deck and panels (except for engine-driven differences)- even flight-deck and cabin seats.

Since moving into production on A500 #15 Adam has been working with what it labels its Third Generation tooling- encompassing improvements learned early in the production program. All the gains made in A500 production will- of course- also be realized by the A700 in the structures the two share.

The company’s move into its ‘Make Production Fly’ program continues to realize gains in cycle time and workflow and the company is well along in expanding into a new high-rate production facility recently built in Ogden- Utah.

Making Form Follow Function
In early August 2007- word came of the appointment of aerospace-industry veteran John Wolf to the positions of Chairman and CEO of Adam Aircraft. Brought on by the board in February 2007- Wolf initially served as lead director and board’s liaison to Rick Adam- the entrepreneur who started the company nine years ago.

Company president Duncan Koerbel came to Adam from Bombardier’s Global Express program at the same time Wolf came on board and reported to Adam through Wolf- the company noted in February upon announcing the two appointments.

The August 6th announcement concerning John Wolf came within a week of Rick Adam and the others working the crowds at the annual convention of the EAA AirVenture- Oshkosh- and a few weeks after the company completed a new $105 million financing round. Rick Adam’s involvement with running Adam Aircraft ended in August and the new management noted that the change was in line with the drive to shift Adam into a production-oriented company from one driven by development.

Needless to say- given the progress made and the milestones passed – new interior- conformal test planes- TIA- the start of a support organization- plus sales growth- investment gains and new management – 2007 may go down as the most dynamic yet at Adam Aircraft.

Skip forward a little- and 2009 would seem to be shaping up to be the year when the world starts to see A700s showing up on airport ramps and runways.

More information from www.adamaircraft.com

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