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Raytheon Aircraft Profile

Raytheon Aircraft Co. struggled right along with the rest of the general aviation community during the past 12 months- but still managed to notch up a number of noteworthy achievements in most of its lines of aircraft.

At first blush- it might seem that a collection of advances in RAC’s line of new business aircraft are the most noteworthy of those milestones.

Dave Higdon   |   1st March 2002
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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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Depth of focus at 70

Raytheon Aircraft fields advanced business aircraft.

Raytheon Aircraft Co. struggled right along with the rest of the general aviation community during the past 12 months- but still managed to notch up a number of noteworthy achievements in most of its lines of aircraft.

At first blush- it might seem that a collection of advances in RAC’s line of new business aircraft are the most noteworthy of those milestones. But Raytheon Aircraft also saw some changes in management- management style and company focus that also warrants some flag waving – particularly among the company’s customers.

After struggling enormously with the effort for too many extra years- the company last spring landed certification for the game-changing Premier I business jet and started accelerating through a significant backlog of orders that grew to 17 deliveries alone in the final quarter of 2001. Also last year- Raytheon Aircraft logged that all-important first flight of the upcoming Hawker Horizon.

The singular significance of these two events stems from the shared manufacturing and design philosophies of the two jets: They are the first truly composite business jets for sale. One aviation magazine thought the accomplishment significant enough to make the Premier I a new-product award winner- adding a feather to Raytheon’s cap.

Raytheon also landed a new head man in Jim Schuster- who brought with him some new attitudes and focuses that you can sense simply by walking into the company’s headquarters. Under Schuster’s leadership- the company started taking steps geared to realign management and the staff with each other and with customers.

These points provide some bright spots in a year in which recurring rumors of the company’s latest suitor/buyer proved chronic but confirmation of a sale never arrived. At one point last year- parent Raytheon Co. even publicly acknowledged that RAC was no longer on the market.

Add to the array of events a workforce reduction of about 2-000 people in the 12 months ending in February- a change in its fractional business and a year-to-year sales decline- and you might expect an attitude of defeatism or pessimism. But in fact- there’s a tangible sense that things are turning the company’s way and that the problems faced are problems that can be solved.

And Schuster’s focus seems to be steadfast towards making the future better through a combination of products and customer service equal to the philosophy of the founders: Quality and value at a fair price – not average or OK at the lowest price- or- as some have complained- the highest-priced planes at the lowest quality. Quite a lot happening in a company that turns 70 this year.

Truly composite: New line blends the best of both materials
Throughout its seven decades in aviation- the company founded by Walter and Olive Ann Beech served as the source of several firsts. The company managed three of those firsts before turning 15: the Model 17 Staggerwing- the long-lived Model 18 Twin Beech and the Model 35 Bonanza – an airplane still in production today- 55 years after first delivery- in the form of the A36 Bonanza.

The Starship was another one of those milestones- in materials- in design and in equipment. Ditto for the Premier I- an airplane that will forever define a class of aircraft built with an all-metal wing mounted to an all-composite fuselage. The Premier is also the first home-rolled jet to come from the company that evolved out of Beech. The Beechjet- Hawker 800XP and 1000 were purchased and adapted by Beech and Raytheon Aircraft.

The Premier and both new Hawkers also share a first in manufacturing technologies used to manufacture the major components.

The Premier I and Horizon represent Raytheon’s return to the significant use of carbon-fiber structures in a business aircraft. Beech Aircraft Corp. pioneered the use of carbon-fiber composites with the innovative Starship 2000 – a pusher-configured propjet twin with a canard forewing and a tail-less swept-wing that sported a vertical rudder at each wing tip.

Roomy- smooth riding and immensely pilot-friendly- the Starship also came in very late- over budget- and ill timed. By the time Beech was able to begin deliveries- a new class of entry-level jets provided an option with greater speed- lower purchase costs and equally frugal operating costs. In other words- somewhere during its development years- the Starship became too slow and too expensive – in addition to being too adventurous for many a conservative buyer.

Beech scrapped plans to spin off the Starship concept into a full line of composite- canard-configured business aircraft before ending Starship production in the early 1990s. But the end of the Starship did not end Beech’s appreciation for composites- in the mid-1990s the company launched development of a new jet that built on lessons learned from the Starship program that had ended only a few years earlier.

Most-importantly- the company- now called Raytheon Aircraft- hit on a combination of advanced manufacturing technologies that cross the lines of materials. These advances in making aluminum and carbon-fiber structures form the foundation for the Premier and the Hawker Horizon. And if the trend holds- generations of yet-untold aircraft should evolve from the hangars at Beech Field in East Wichita sharing the same design- manufacturing and quality philosophies.

For the metal wing- RAC employs computer-controlled tools that cut aluminum at an exceptionally high speed with extraordinary accuracy. Called 'high-speed machining-' this process creates the few parts that go into the all-metal wings. These wings use a fraction of the individual parts and fasteners common to such a structure. For example the upper and lower wing skins come from a single piece of metal.

For the fuselage- Raytheon uses a process called 'Tow Winding-' in which a machine called 'The Viper' places carbon-fiber ribbons over a mandrel shaped to conform with the fuselage dimensions. After a complete layer of carbon fiber is in place- workers follow a laser-projected pattern to place precisely cut honeycomb sections over the carbon.

The Viper machine then lays down a final layer of carbon-fiber ribbons until the fuselage is complete. The shell – two pieces in the case of the Premier- three in the case of the Horizon – gets covered in a rubberized bladder before it comes off the mandrel and goes onto a holding tool. Next- the air is evacuated from the bladder and the assembly goes into a huge oven called an autoclave. Here- the fuselage sections bake under pressure until the composite bonding agents have cured and hardened each assembly into a single piece.

From the autoclave- the fuselage parts go into a jig that holds them for the installation of interior components before the individual parts are aligned- assembled and bonded into one piece.

The savings in weight- in parts and manufacturing time are massive. With five Vipers running- according to the company- the line can turn out a fuselage a day if the line rate warrants. And the Vipers can be programmed to make any fuselage size and shape for which the company makes a mandrel.

Had it not been for the issues that delayed certification – engineering- aerodynamic and flight-test related – there could well be more than 100 Premier’s already flying. The appeal should be obvious to anyone who examines the jet. The fuselage inside is several inches larger than one made of metal to the same outside dimensions. The fuselage itself weighs less than 1-000 pounds total – thousands less than the same fuselage volume built in aluminum.

Coupled with Williams International’s FJ44-2-series fan jets- the Premier provides a level of speed- performance and comfort that makes it a value leader in a single-pilot airplane.

Raytheon is already applying its new technologies to improve its line of business jets- starting with the Hawker Horizon- which first flew in August 2001.

And with the repeatability of the manufacturing technologies- expect to see even more evolution throughout the company’s product line over the coming years. There is no limit to the permutations possible.

Managing better: New boss refocuses RAC on Beech values
Among the other upbeat aspects of 2001 was the U.S. Air Force’s approval of full production of Raytheon’s T-6A Texan II trainer and the appointment of a new chairman in Jim Schuster. A veteran of the aerospace industry- Schuster favors crew-collar shirts and sports jackets to the more business-formal uniform that defined the headquarters look of the last few decades.

Relaxed- comfortable and engaging- Schuster is interested in returning Raytheon Aircraft to its strengths in quality and product support – two areas of the company’s business that have enjoyed less than shining reputations in recent years. There are also efforts underway to improve production quality to the point that product support is less of an issue. The 'No Squawks' delivery is the goal.

To that end- Schuster removed himself and his management team from the offices of the Administrative Office Building- a striking pyramid-like building that the company’s upper management moved into in 1994.

The move eight years ago took company executives out of decades-old offices adjacent to Plant One and put them adjacent to the Customer Delivery Center – and away from the manufacturing and engineering staff.

Overcoming adversity: Schuster steps up to the plate with new ideas
Schuster took the executive staff back to its old digs and moved 150 customer support staffers into the AOB from digs several miles east of the factory in Andover- Kansas.

'This is where you belong-' Schuster told those customer-support workers in ceremonies celebrating the move and a name change for the building. The new name: The Walter H. Beech Customer Support and Delivery Center- after the company founder.

'We’ve gotten too far from our roots-' Schuster told the assembled staffers during the ceremony a week before Christmas. 'We’re not going to stop until we’re back at the top-' he said.

Used aircraft have been stacking up around Kansas- as airplanes taken in trade and returning from leases have been filling hangars across the state. To expand the company’s efforts to divest those assets- Raytheon recently launched a new webpage devoted to moving the pre-owned planes. It’s a step many observers believe would have never happened with the chief executive typical of Beech’s past.

But it’s happening under Schuster- one company insider volunteered. 'He thinks in real terms and acts in real ways-' the company marketing staff member noted. That propensity for concrete action should next show up in efforts to counter a sales slump that hit last year- affecting pretty much the entire business aviation industry.

For 2001- Raytheon saw its deliveries slip almost 22 percent to 411 from 525 delivered in 2000. Thanks to the delivery of 17 Premiers- Raytheon managed to match 2000’s fourth-quarter deliveries of 129 airplanes in the final quarter of 2001.

But the surge at year’s end doesn’t portent a return to growth numbers this year- according to company figures. RAC expects 2002 deliveries to drop about 10 percent further to 371 airplanes- a larger percentage of those shipments in Premier Is.

Growing aspirations: Raytheon still showing positive signs
Still- the lower numbers projected for 2002 doesn’t indicate that the entire company is on a decline. For example- the full-production approval by the U.S. Air Force for Raytheon’s new trainer- the Texan II- should provide a stabilizing effect on the company- if not some revenue growth to balance the decline in income from business and private aircraft sales.

Billed by RAC as the largest military contract in its history- the multi-year pact covers 234 Texan II trainers and ground-based training hardware in a package valued at more than $1.22 billion. The first year covers 40 aircraft with a value of $193 million. Follow-on contracts will fulfill the entire planned 800-aircraft buy from the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy through 2017. The company also expects substantial international sales of the aircraft.

But back in the business aviation corner- RAC assured itself of some new orders and added cash flow with the December announcement of a joint venture between its Raytheon Travel Air fractional operation and Flight Options Inc.- an established fractional in its own right.

Flight Options- which specialized in building its ownership base on value-laden pre-owned business aircraft- will operate Flight Options LLC- the joint venture- on behalf of the partners- and will hold 50.1 percent of the venture- with RAC holding the remaining 49.9 percent of the joint venture.

One of the new venture’s first acts came in the final days of 2001: An order for 115 new business aircraft worth more than $900 million to be delivered in the coming years.

Another new customer announced a stabilizing purchase order a week earlier at the NBAA convention in New Orleans. Avolar- United Airlines’ new fractional operation- used the NBAA convention to unveil orders for 15 new Beechjet 400As- with options for 10 more. This $150 million order adds to the Beechjet backlog through 2006- when deliveries of the order should be completed.

Positioned for performance: Raytheon future built on balanced business lines
Raytheon now builds among the most-extensive line of private planes in the industry- with three piston models- three propjet twins- three business jets in production and one more in development.

All in all- with no limit to the new technologies’ potential- and successes in fields as diverse as military trainers and fractional ownership- Raytheon is fairly well positioned to capitalize on what many analysts expect to be a boom decade for general aviation.

The Premier I is winning accolades for its performance- for its size- comfort and efficiency; the Beechjet continues to attract its share of customers; sales of the piston and propjet models continues steadily- if not spectacularly. But all are expected to continue to struggle to find buyers as the new models progress and enter production.

If there’s a dim bulb in the lights illuminating Raytheon Aircraft- it’s the airliner business- against which the company took a $693 million charge last year. The company recently reported having more than 100 Beech 1900D previously operated airliners in its inventory and that number should grow.

But the advent of new efforts to move pre-owned inventory and the progression of new products should begin to reverse the loss trends of the past year. Last year’s operating loss of $772 million on $2.57 billion in sales should shrink to an operating loss of only $77 million this year on sales-down about 8 percent to $2.35 billion.

And by 2004 to 2005- say key analysts- Raytheon Aircraft should see black ink again- with the aircraft line earning 9 percent to 10 percent on sales- a product of the forward thinking that launched the new product lines a decade earlier.

For sure- Raytheon has seen better times and worse- but after 70 years in a cyclical business- Raytheon remains positioned to provide the business aviation community with new cutting-edge products. That is what corporate operators increasingly want to see: Progress toward the planes of tomorrow- even if the struggle is long and arduous.

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Read more about: Raytheon Aircraft | Beech

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