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Change is an essential of life- a wise man once told me- for to resist change is to fight the inevitable. As the line goes- nothing is inevitable but change. Without change – changes in attitudes- changes in science- changes in vision – aviation itself would not exist.

Dave Higdon   |   1st May 2004
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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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Safire Aircraft morphs first model into a metal machine from composite first planned.

Change is an essential of life- a wise man once told me- for to resist change is to fight the inevitable. As the line goes- nothing is inevitable but change. Without change – changes in attitudes- changes in science- changes in vision – aviation itself would not exist.

Changes in the form of technological advances- for example- allowed aviation to progress from lifting the Wright Brothers from the sands of Kitty Hawk into a realm capable of setting down a man on the Moon. In between- aviation embraced seemingly endless changes- from Charlie Taylor’s handcrafted engine for the Wright Flyer- to turbojets- turboprops and turbofans - from tiny crafts for one- to ships of the sky carrying hundreds. Flying moved from eyeballs-only navigation to steering by the guidance of 24 man-made 'stars' orbiting the Earth high overhead.

A few years back the latest evolutionary step heralded the arrival of a new generation of turbofan engines. These powerplants – smaller- lighter and more efficient than previously available – suit an all-new realm of jets smaller- lighter- and lower-priced than any previously flown.

It is into this world of change that Safire Aircraft came into existence back in 1998- at the dawn of this era. CEO and founder Michael Margaritoff intended his composite S-26 to be one of the first off the starting blocks in this new class of very light jets; Eclipse Aviation was a second pioneer in the emerging field of so-called very light jets.

Through the vagaries of engine changes and financial challenges- Safire found itself in tight financial straits- a problem solved in the final quarter of 2002 when a syndicate of Swiss investors entered the picture. In the words of one Safire executive- vice president of marketing Robert Stangarone- the Swiss investors 'gave the company the ability to make long-term plans.'

With those funds- the program entered a year of rapid change that keeps Safire neck-and-neck with competitors while it changed the development program in fundamental ways. Now Safire is closing in on the first flight of its newly designed Safire Jet. The replacement for the S-26 is due to fly later this year- the first of many thresholds the aircraft must clear on its way to certification and first deliveries in 2006.

The fundamental changes:

As initially planned- the S-26 employed a new- unproven engine – called Agilis – on a composite airframe with a gross weight on a par with many piston twins – but with capabilities far beyond those of piston or propjet aircraft of equal seating.

In 1999- Margaritoff began offering an S-26 with a cruise speed of about 330 knots and a range of 1-400 nautical miles. By mid-October 2000- the company had deposits for more than 700 jets worth approximately $560 million at the target price of $800-000.

'This is an impressive achievement in not only the aviation industry- but in any industry-' Margaritoff said back in 2000. 'It signifies the market demand for a safe- fast- reliable jet at an affordable price.'

Beset by ups and downs- the S-26 program progressed slowly forward; money- or the lack of it as is often the case- became a hindrance. By the second half of 2002- the program clearly wasn’t keeping to schedule. The money issue was critical. In addition- questions about Agilis’ ability to deliver a certified engine on time added to the complications.

That was the scene when the Swiss investors arrived and funded the program through first flight. Then came a new CEO and president- Camilo Salomon- and that is when Safire began to evolve rapidly.

Stangarone: 'It’s been an exciting ride…'

Since the start of 2003- Safire’s principals busied themselves with redefining their product and rewriting the business plan to the point that by the time the reformed company held its first press conference at last year’s NBAA convention- everything had changed.

New staff came on board and a new design was created- this one from metal- Stangarone noted. The company also established a timeline for certification – now expected in 2006- with deliveries to begin immediately thereafter.

The Safire Jet- as it is called- employs an all-metal structure and power from Williams International’s FJ33 in a version that provides 1-100 pounds of thrust. Range remains in the low-four digit range – about 1-100 miles with 800 pounds in the cabin and IFR reserves. Speed improved to the tune of 380 knots while the service ceiling remained at 41-000 msl. Runway requirements also remained attractive- with 2-500 feet a nominal number.

The cabin for six – two on the flight deck- four in a club-oriented main cabin – includes 14 cubic feet of luggage space located opposite the enclosed aft lavatory in the aft cabin. The Safire Jet’s cabin- for the record- favorably compares to Cessna’s Citation Mustang and exceeds slightly that of the Eclipse 500- which is to say it is larger than the S-26 abandoned for the new design.

The price also grew- from under $900-000 to $1.395 million – a tab the company plans to increase by $100-000 later this year.

Another fundamental change came in how Safire plans to manufacture its all-new very light jet.

Partnerships pay:

Stangarone also noted the company’s success in attracting world-class partners to the enterprise. 'Our partner suppliers will provide content equal to about 95 percent of the manufacturing costs of the Safire Jet-' he said. 'This allows us to focus our resources where they can be most effective and dramatically reduces the costs of bringing this jet to market.'

Among the vendors and the components they will supply:

• The partnership of Apex Engineering International and Excel Manufacturing in Wichita- Kansas (supplying the wing; tailcone; empennage; and engine nacelles)

• Avidyne- Boston- Massachusetts (supplying its integrated Entegra avionics suite and primary flight display system for the panel)
• Barry Controls Aerospace- Burbank- California (supplying the engine mounting structure with integral vibration isolators)
• Keith Products- Addison- Texas (supplying the vapor cycle air conditioning system)
• Kollsman- Merrimack- New Hampshire (for cabin pressurization);
• Lee Aerospace (for windows);
• Metalcraft Technologies- of Cedar City- Utah- (providing the fuselage and fairings);
• Williams International- Walled Lake- Michigan- (supplying the FJ33 powerplants).

Supplier selection continues for the radar- environmental- anti-ice- fire-suppression and emergency-oxygen systems.

Safire itself will assemble- test fly- paint and complete the jets at a site that is scheduled to be selected soon after press time. The facility will encompass about 500-000 square feet housing four assembly lines- each with eight stations. Aircraft- Stangarone explained- will move down the line at a rate of two days per station – or 16 days from starting down the line to rolling off as airplanes ready to enter painting and flight test. 'That gives us the capability to build 500 Safire Jets a year-' Stangarone noted. That number is scaleable- up or down- as demand warrants.

In the meantime- work on the first prototype continues at Safire’s existing facilities on Opa-Locka Airport in south Florida and at the company’s suppliers’ facilities across the nation.

A market for all? Perhaps not- but…

For the past few years there’s been a wrinkle to the familiar market forecasts delivered at the annual convention of the NBAA by Honeywell and Rolls-Royce: That wrinkle – a separate number for the emerging very light jet class.

The growth forecast at last October’s NBAA meeting predicted slow-but-steady growth in business-turbine aircraft sales stretching out more than a decade. Safire likes to quote another set of predictions- this one by the firm Forecast International: 'We’re looking at a market of 10-000 (very light jets) between 2006 and 2020 – a 15-year period-' Stangarone revealed. 'We believe that market will be dominated by fleet operators – air taxi/charter operators- fractionals and corporate flight departments – and we expect to win at least one third of the overall market.' The company currently holds more than 400 orders for the Safire Jet.

Why so optimistic?

'There’s a paradigm shift in the offing-' Stangarone explained. 'The same way the automobile personalized ground travel in the 20th century- we think these airplanes will personalize air travel in the 21st century.'

Nonetheless- Stangarone conceded- 'This road ahead is going to have a lot of challenges…'

Already the prospect of 10-000 new jets in this class alone – in addition to as many as 7-000 jets from existing classes – gives aviation regulators and controllers something akin to heartburn. Airspace congestion- infrastructure overload- air-traffic demand… all are considerations. With some forecasts predicting as many as 1-000 very light jets a year entering the system- the heartburn could be severe.

Nevertheless- Stangarone’s fellow executives believe aircraft like their Safire Jet- the Eclipse 500 and the Citation Mustang stand to contribute to easing some problems that exist today. 'We believe these types of airplanes will actually relieve some of the strain on the operational infrastructure -' Stangarone noted.

Heavy use by a new breed of air-taxi operators can contribute to easing loads on airlines – as in- relieving commercial carriers of passengers – and reduce the loads on many high-density routes- hubs and destinations.

The ability to employ point-to-point routing between smaller airports would help disperse the air traveling public- relieving congestion on the airways- at airports and in the airspace surrounding the busier airports. The replacement of older cabin-class piston twins and propjets with new jets could also ease the load on ATC by moving through the system much faster than the planes replaced. In addition- with seat-mile costs comparable to some piston twins and better than many propjets- the attraction for both owner/operators and fleet operators will be financially tough to resist.

'This type of airplane is reaching up and reaching down for market share-' said Stangarone. 'These jets – the Safire- Eclipse and Mustang- particularly – are also appealing to mid-cap and small-cap corporations previously unable to justify the cost of entry-level jets with price tags and operating costs two- three and four times higher than this new-generation of light jets.”

Future flight:

Finishing a prototype- achieving first flight- selecting a new home and certification - these are only a few of the steps Safire must take between now and delivering that first Safire Jet in 2006. Since the Swiss financing arrived- the company has grown to more than 100 employees. Already- the company has begun hiring people to design the manufacturing facility and assembly lines.

'We have also started dealing with company infrastructure issues-' Stangarone noted. Among those matters of focus already underway: Meetings with insurance underwriters and brokers; informational in nature to show the airplane as suitable for the target population and a reasonable insurance risk. 'We’ve been having those meetings over the last three or four months-' said Stangarone.

The company has engaged in talks with financial institutions to flesh out purchase financing and to determine how Safire should best proceed.

Product support- another issue of critical importance to buyers- is also under the microscope. 'We’ve been talking with companies with world-class reputations to explore partnerships for product support.

'And pilot training is now being addressed-' Stangarone continued. 'We’re in the process of deciding how we want to approach the issue- and we have had discussions with virtually all the major training providers.'

'Frequently in aviation- when there’s a significant step up in operational capability – such as with the Learjet- the Bonanza- and the Cirrus – initial operating experience can be a challenge. Training plays a key role in determining just how successful IOE will be. Right now- training is one of the most important issues we’re addressing-' Stangarone noted. 'We may decide to subcontract- we may form a partnership with a training company- we may opt to do it in-house… We’re in our data-gathering mode right now.'

If all these different efforts seem premature- remember – Safire is working hard to stay on schedule. With funding- with suppliers committed- and with deadlines to work toward- there’s a method to Safire’s seeming madness.

'We expect to complete our infrastructure assessments and have many decisions made by October in order to make some significant announcements at NBAA-' Stangarone explained.

Indeed- by NBAA this fall- Safire hopes to be looking back at a first flight- ahead to certification and on to first deliveries – all by the end of 2006. Yet if the company sustains its current pace and succeeds at keeping on schedule- it’s not a bad bet that we’ll be seeing Safire Jets on busy ramps within two years – right in sync with its two toughest competitors- the Eclipse 500 and the Cessna Citation Mustang.

Safire’s success will be determined- in large part- by the company’s ability to manage the changes ahead. Competition in this segment has become significant – and that’s one thing we never expect to change.

• For more information from Safire Aircraft;
Tel: +1 305 779 4040; Fax: +1 305 779 4050; Website: www.safireaircraft.com

Safire Jet

First Flight: 2004
Projected Certification Date: 2006
Certification Basis: Part 23 (Normal Category)
First Delivery: 2006
Price: $1.395million (2003 dollars)
Aircraft Ordered: 396

Length 36.3 ft
Height 15.0 ft
Wing Span 39.4 ft

Length 13.9 ft
Height 55.0 in
Width 56.5 in

Engines (2) Williams FJ33-4A11
Thrust 1-100 lbs each

AVIONICS Avidyne® FlightMax® Entegra

MTOW 6-250 lbs
Max Landing 6-250 lbs
Max Payload 1-400 lbs
Useful Load 2-455 lbs
Max Fuel 248 U.S. gal

Take-Off 2-500 ft
Landing 2.500 ft
Range 1-300 nm

High Speed 380 KTAS (Max)

Flight Crew 1
Passengers 5


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