One Of A Kind: All-new PiperJet brings single-engine benefits to VLJs
Tradition. It seems that ‘tradition’ sometimes serves as a synonym for ‘habit’. Think about it. When you hear the label ‘business jet’ don’t you traditionally envision something with multiple powerplants?
It’s not hard to understand why: business jets predominantly are a multi-engine collection - mostly twins- a few triples. But never - so far - singles.
That’s not to say that singles haven’t been attempted. Visionaire’s Vantage was a single with promise and a proof-of-concept version that flew before the project and company failed; Gulfstream flew and crashed a pair of Peregrine prototypes before abandoning the project; and others have proposed or considered the idea of a jet single- but there’s been nothing for pushing a decade.
In the last year or so- however- two companies committed to single-engine designs in the emerging Personal Jet segment. Diamond Aircraft is already flying a prototype of its D-JET; and Cirrus Design last fall confirmed its efforts to develop the CirrusJet as a single. These personal jets lead this entirely new segment of jet aircraft.
However- there’s also some pioneering going on in Vero Beach- Florida- where the Piper Aircraft Co. is busy working on its first jet design. The PiperJet- as it’s called- is among the latest designs to join the ranks of the Very Light Jets (VLJ) – and it’s the first and only single in the pack. Piper’s first jet design is the single-engine PiperJet.
By bucking tradition and opting for a single-engine design- Piper is advancing a project with a wealth of benefits for its buyers and a host of advantages for its manufacturer.
As company chairman James Bass notes- looking after customers’ needs is something of a tradition itself at the company that helped popularize personal flying with its ubiquitous J-3 Cub some seven decades ago.
A Natural Progression
Piper’s current top-of-the-line design is itself a departure from tradition- a single-engine turboprop spun off the popular Malibu pressurized piston single. Prior to the Meridian- turboprops with the Piper badge were all twins. Until recent years- most turboprops sold industry-wide fitted into the multi-engine mold – King Airs- Conquests- Cheyennes and Commanders. But the Meridian fitted an ongoing shift in the market toward single-engine propjets and away from twins.
Aircraft like the Pilatus PC-12 and Socata TBM 700 led the way- establishing a solid beachhead for propjet singles- and the Meridian landed nicely in that pack.
Jet singles- on the other hand- never seemed to establish a foothold in the market and only the two mentioned above even reached the prototype stage – the Peregrine and Vantage.
So when Bass describes the PiperJet as a “revolutionary new” alternative for customers with “a class-setting combination of performance- style- utility- capability and pricing-” he’s arguably correct.
By breaking with tradition – while following a natural progression in its own product line – Piper offers a jet with singular advantages over the competing multi-engine contenders- no pun intended.
Making the PiperJet a single-pilot single provides Piper customers a natural step-up from the Meridian and Malibu models at a price sure to tempt some potential TBM 850 and PC-12 buyers - $2.2m- fitting the price-line above the Meridian but below both the PC-12 and TBM.
At the same time- a jet single also offers all other pilots an alternative to the demands and expenses of the twin jets that otherwise dominate the business jet field. Not to overstate the significance- but offering a single-engine jet competitive in speed- range- payload and price with some of its VLJ peer group will at the same time give Piper a market edge with many pilots moving up and a market drag with some pilots untroubled by the additional training and expense demands of flying a multi-engine jet.
But for the majority of pilots with the financial qualifications- a single like the PiperJet will prove more attractive thanks to the potential for lower overall ownership costs. And choosing a PiperJet won’t mean accepting something less luxurious- capable or efficient than a twin in the same class.
“In designing this revolutionary aircraft- we have assembled the finest team of engineers and designers and conducted an extensive consumer research effort to ensure that the PiperJet will be second to none-” Bass said at the PiperJet’s introduction at the NBAA convention in Orlando last October. “In effect- every measure has been taken to make sure that the PiperJet answers what our customers have told us they want and need in a jet- because at the end of the day- its not about being first to market- it's about getting it right in the first place.”
Although in many ways visually reminiscent of Piper’s Meridian jetprop single- the PiperJet comes to the market a clean-sheet design- according to the company. And as a clean-sheet design- Piper made sure the PiperJet holds its own against other jets with double the engines.
Piper guarantees that at its service entry in the first half of 2010- the PiperJet will:
• Cruise at 360kts- in the same vicinity as competitors with cruise speeds just above and below that mark:
• Fly in excess of 1-300 nautical miles (with NBAA reserves- I’m told)- far enough to make cross-continental flights a one-stop affair;
• Will cruise as high as Flight Level 350- comfortably above most inclement weath- er that might hinder turboprop and high- flying piston singles;
• Provide a full-fuel payload of 800 pounds (roughly four average-sized people- each with a little luggage).
While the PiperJet may not top its class in any given category – although it arguably does in range and full-fuel payload – it promises these operating traits in a package accessible to a broader spectrum of candidate pilots at ownership costs that should be appreciably lower than its multi-engine competition.
The Single-Engine Advantage
With business jets- the appeal of the multiengine jet centers almost wholly on redundancy – two powerplants are more reliable than one. And that’s largely true where jets are concerned – save for those rare-but-real instances in which both engines let down the crew- the ability to safely divert with a failed engine is generally higher with twin jets than with propeller-driven aircraft.
But in every other area- multi-engine means more – more fuel than the equivalent single- more maintenance (by a factor that often seems more than two)- higher training and experience requirements- higher acquisition- insurance and ownership costs.
By going single- Piper offers pilots VLJ performance for less – less experience required- no multi-engine requirement- lower maintenance and insurance costs... less of pretty much everything- except performance. In those areas- as noted- Piper is a contender in some areas and tops the pack in others. For example- the PiperJet offers space for seven and capabilities equal to its roll.
In November- about three weeks after unveiling its new jet- Piper named Williams International as the powerplant provider. Williams is developing a new version of its FJ44-A designated the FJ44-3AP. In using a derivative of the engine that powers the Cessna CJ3 and Grob’s spn- Williams is incorporating minor aerodynamic improvements to further boost fuel economy about four percent- while flat-rating the engine to 2-400 pounds of thrust from the normal 3-000 pounds to increase reliability and high-altitude performance.
The Williams FJ44-3AP powerplant employs a full-authority digital engine-management system (FADEC) so that the engine functions at a level optimal for conditions and power demanded by the pilot.
From a safety and reliability perspective- today’s turbofan engines enjoy an in-flight shut-down rate far lower than piston and turboprop powerplants. Shut-down rates for these proven fanjets are so low that pilots may actually improve their safety margins by moving from piston twins to a jet single.
The FJ44 family has an impressive history with more than 2.5 million flight hours to its credit since entering service on the original CitationJet more than 15 years ago.
From a maintenance perspective- one engine is always less expensive than two – even if they’re two smaller fanjets. And the Williams choice fits into the lower-maintenance philosophy thanks to its modular design and a 4-000 TBO cycle.
Most of all- a single imposes far fewer training and qualification demands on its pilot- along with lower insurance costs. And it’s in this area that the PiperJet offers a formidable edge over its competing VLJs.
Jet Sophistication and Capabilities
From pressurization to navigation- flight planning to flight-management- communications to comfort- Piper is following a design philosophy tilted toward making flight easy for the single pilot. Piper designed the PiperJet to offer the ultimate in simplicity and pilot friendliness- as reflected in the choice of a single-engine configuration.
Another tilt toward operating simplicity comes in the form of the cockpit- with its planned solid-state instrument panel- also laid out with single-pilot flight uppermost in the engineers’ execution. Piper promises that the panel will reflect the state-of-the-art in hardware and technology at the time first deliveries start in the first half of 2010.
Along with the latest avionics and engine technology- Piper plans to offer another slice of aircraft-management technology to reduce the pilot workload: an optional auto-throttle system fully integrated into the flight-management system.
Big for its Breeches
Now all these benefits might be easy to expect in a larger jet – and in a way- they are being offered in a larger jet- since the PiperJet may loosely fit into the VLJ category- but it defies typical VLJ parameters in another area aside from its powerplant configuration.
While the standard club cabin seating makes the PiperJet appear to be a six-seat VLJ- Piper also offers a compact lavatory and an option for a seventh useable seat – or an office or refreshment center- if the buyer prefers.
The option of a seventh seat sets the PiperJet apart- and the lavatory puts it in rare company. Only Honda’s new HondaJet VLJ offers more seating- at eight. Piper also gave the PiperJet some utility capability by giving the cabin a door 36 inches wide – big enough to allow off-size packages to fit. And with these differences- the PiperJet should also be able to run with its peers thanks to that 360-knot cruise speed.
Smart from the Start
Many a single-engine pilot possesses the necessary hours and high-altitude performance to make a jet an attractive alternative to the turbocharged piston or turboprop single they fly. But many also lack the multi-engine ratings and multi-engine time insurance companies want before underwriting an owner/pilot with a new twin-engine jet.
The PiperJet’s single-engine configuration removes the need for a multi-engine rating and hundreds of hours of multi-engine flight time and a multi-engine instrument rating- greatly expanding the pool of pilots who can qualify in terms of flight experience.
The availability of a single will likely also encourage more prospects to gain the experience and find the finances for a jet single- knowing what they’ll save in multi-engine qualifications and overall ownership costs.
Finally- its overall utility- low operating costs and competitive acquisition price helped start the line forming at NBAA last fall. By first delivery three years hence- that line should be quite a queue. And that’s another tradition that Piper wants to continue.
More information from www.piper.com- or read Jim Bass’ interview below
Customers’ Growth Prospects
Piper’s Jim Bass talks through the decisions behind the PiperJet.
by Dave Higdon
Jim Bass has plenty on his plate – managing a diverse planemaker with 11 models in its current mix while overseeing development of a daring new single-engine jet. With all this going on in Vero Beach- Bass was kind enough to spend an hour or so talking to World Aircraft Sales Magazine in detail about the company’s ground-breaking PiperJet.
WAS: Going with a single-engine jet seems like a bit of inspired thinking in a market where twin powerplants dominate - was it difficult to decide to make that departure when launching the PiperJet?
Bass: It wasn’t a difficult decision but it was a very important decision. Our first aspect was asking whether the market would accept a single-engine jet. I wasn’t interested in settling on the anecdotal information. So we sent out surveys to 2-000 individuals – to owners- schools- dealers- suppliers and did an analysis with an accuracy level of plus or minus three percent. People told us they thought going to a single would be easier.
We found out that 85 percent said if the plane had certain speed- range and payload capabilities- they would buy a single-engine jet. But we didn’t settle on that. We found that there was a great reliability of single-engine turboprops that we thought would be even better with a jet.
So when we went out to engine suppliers- we wanted to make sure the engine had a great deal of time on it and a great reliability record. That’s why we went with the FJ44; it has more than 2.5 million hours and a great reliability record. So reliability wasn’t an issue.
We send pilots in harms way in combat in single-engine jets- so we thought we should be able to make a reliable single-engine business jet.
We want to dominate the market between the Mirage and a jet.
WAS: Engines in the desired thrust range with the track record you’d want for single use are rare: Did Piper consider any other powerplant?
Bass: There were others- but maybe unlike some of my competitors- I’ll never talk about suppliers we didn’t select. It’s not respectful. And we know we might want to deal with those suppliers in other areas. But we talked to all the normal suspects.
We did an RFP with all the engine makers and looked at all of them. We felt Williams had the ideal combination of power and reliability for what we wanted.
WAS: How soon do you expect Piper to announce a vendor for the PiperJet’s panel?
Bass: We’re currently going through a bakeoff now with three or four potential suppliers. We have not yet decided whether we want a single platform or whether to offer several platforms for the customer to select from.
We’re stressing reliability and pushing the suppliers hard on this issue. We hope to announce a supplier by the end of the year but that’s not set in stone. If you announce prematurely- you don’t always wind up with the best system.
WAS: Does Piper see a potential for more single-engine jets- larger or smaller than this ground-breaking model?
Bass: Yes. The engine we have chosen is a de-rated engine. It’s nominally rated at 3-000 pounds. Our aerodynamic design envisions a need for 2-400 pounds of thrust. I like to build things with robust- reliable systems- especially powerplants. With this engine- we have the potential for growth with the same engine. We plan to build this jet in a modular fashion so it can be expanded or shrunk relatively easily.
WAS: How much of a market does Piper see for a single-engine design like the PiperJet?
Bass: Going back to my earlier comments about use- and desirability and acceptance of a single-engine jet- we used the same survey to try to get an understanding of the market size. Our potential customer is the single-pilot – we’re not targeting the air-taxi model because we think the jury is still out on whether the air-taxi market is viable.
Our production projections are based on a demand of 80 to 120 jets per year. It’s a less grandiose view than some others- but if we’re wrong – if we’re wrong on the high side – we’re not struggling with a model we can’t support. And if we’re wrong on the low side- we can adjust to meet the higher demand.
Building a business model on the philosophy of “if you build it- they will come” and targeting high-volume production to make it profitable- that’s a very risky model. No matter what- the customer will decide if this product is successful.
WAS: Can you give us an idea of the edge in operating and ownership costs you see the PiperJet has over its VLJ competitors?
Bass: We don’t completely know yet- because the design hasn’t been completed to the point of testing a prototype. We have some estimates- but I’m not comfortable talking about them until our testing is more mature. I can say our estimates are that costs are much less than our twin-engine competitors – and I’m talking fuel- maintenance- and insurance - the whole thing.
WAS: Piper is on the record saying the PiperJet is being designed- and will be manufactured using state-of-the-art technologies. Can you elaborate on what sort of advanced design and manufacturing technology Piper plans to employ in the production of the PiperJet?
Bass: Sure. I think the first aspect is that of the core design being based on the Malibu series. So what we seek to do is to streamline manufacturing to reduce variability and increase accuracy. We built 11 models and delivered more than 200 airplanes last year. From a design perspective- we want to have more design commonality between models to better use our resources.
Second- we’re also using a great deal of CAD in our design work to make sure everything is thought through and fits to the greatest extent possible.
Third- we have a core expertise in bonding. The wing of the Meridian is bonded and we’ve been doing this successfully for more than a decade. So we’re seeking to extend that technology into the fuselage and will make it a lighter- stronger structure.
The plane will still be all-metal- but it will have the outside finish of a composite – our test articles have had an outside finish that’s second to none. It’s going to be a very strong- very reliable- very robust plane.
Testing indicates that the bonding strength of our prototypes is stronger than riveted structures in all areas. So you get all the benefits of an all-metal- frame- but without the 1930s rivet lines.
WAS: How many PiperJets do you expect to deliver in the first year of production?
Bass: Our anticipation is that we’ll deliver somewhere between 30 and 60 in the first year – possibly more. But my plan is to start with a low-level of production and grow it. I’ve been on too many programs that targeted high production from the start- but that didn’t go well.
We’re already experimenting with a variety of tooling and production techniques to come up with the best fit and finish on the air surfaces.
WAS: If a buyer contracts today for a new PiperJet- how far out into the future will the buyer have to wait for delivery?
Bass: Our intention is for deliveries to start in 2010- so they’re looking at three to four years. We now have about 180 orders- but we have plenty of capacity to take more orders and still deliver in the timeframe I mentioned.
WAS: In announcing the selection of the Williams International FJ44-3AP for the PiperJet- engineering vice president John Becker noted that the selection was made in part to support “a built-in growth path for the family of jets we envision.” Can you enlighten us on how extensive this family might be- and whether Piper will be looking at any multiengine jet projects downstream?
Bass: (Chuckling) Our engineering manager is an enthusiastic fellow. I’m a bit more conservative- but I think he was noting that we’re designing a six-place jet that would be very easy to grow into an eight-place jet with another version of the same engine. And it would be easy to grow that some more- add a second engine and make an even bigger jet. WAS: Jim- thanks for your time!
More information from www.piper.com