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Every industry starts with a product that proves the concept. If a market works normally- the pioneer isn’t alone in the field for long as imitators and interlopers seek entry into the field. Soon- other inventive types seek to enlarge the market again with products that grow and expand on what the originals offered to do – and things continue to get bigger. In the case of the following category- however- sometimes they get smaller.

Dave Higdon   |   1st October 2011
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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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A frugal gateway into business jet ownership.

Every industry starts with a product that proves the concept. If a market works normally- the pioneer isn’t alone in the field for long as imitators and interlopers seek entry into the field. Soon- other inventive types seek to enlarge the market again with products that grow and expand on what the originals offered to do – and things continue to get bigger. In the case of the following category- however- sometimes they get smaller.

From humble beginnings the smallest end of the business jet fleet has grown to number nearly 20 models at times - flowing with would-be aspirations of new entrants- but ebbing when some fail to establish a foothold. This month we examine half of the field of Entry Level and Light jets. Next month we will continue to review the remainder of in-production jets along with some of the more promising in-development models.

Together they form a stellar collection of Entry Level and Light jet aircraft capable of helping any individual or company fulfill their travel needs across a broad spectrum of landscapes.

There are many advantages of an Entry Level or Light Jet as a solution for either a veteran corporate operator or a newcomer to business aircraft use:

• They can generally carry full seats on short trips- or fly maximum-range legs with a typical compliment of two or three in the cabin.

• As a group they can access the maximum number of airports available and- individually- some need no more runway than a high-performance piston single. That’s nearly 5-000 runways available in the U.S. (with upwards of 40 percent of those runways inaccessible to larger business jets). More airport choice means increased likelihood of landing closest to where you really need to be.

• They command operating costs commensurate with their size and price- and keeping operating costs comfortably low helps keep use decisions easy and expansive.

• They can easily handle the typical business mission of the typical business flight (350 to 500 nautical miles).

• They offer speed across a range that even at the low-end outstrips all but one or two airplanes among all the turboprop and piston fleets – from 340 knots to about 480 knots.

• Best of all- jets in this segment require an investment that keeps precious capital funds for other needs available. From approximately $3 million to $10 million- the light jets offer the best in overall flexibility- efficiency and affordability.

Our Entry Level and Light Jet category incorporates aircraft weighing up to 20-000 pounds at MTOW. Gone is the prior VLJ split at 10-000 pounds and under. With barely a shadow of the original VLJ segment still viable the term seldom comes up today.

Our category will include a few small border deviations from the 20-000 lbs limit: the line gets fudged slightly in the case of a couple of jets that came to market as members of the Light Jet segment originally- but slightly edge over that limit through improvements and enhancements to today’s production model.

At times- we may still address the Entry- Level/Light jet break – not because of any regulatory or mandated guide- but because of how they’ve been conceived- marketed and accepted. One note on the details provided: all are according to the manufacturer’s information- and all ranges quoted are with NBAA IFR reserves – even if we don’t say so every time.

This month we incorporate products from Bombardier- Cessna and Eclipse - and we’re sure you’ll appreciate that it’s a highly diverse group. Next month- we close out the review of this category - so if you don’t find a particular model in the following review- tune in again during November.

Bombardier’s youngest in-production Learjets are far from newcomers- with the original Learjet 45 program launched in September 1992 and certification in 1997. Today- the Learjet 40XR and 45XR deliver on the same traditions that made Learjet synonymous with speed.

The cabin is what first grabbed the attention of buyers- thanks to Learjet’s decision to embrace the dimensions of the mid-size Learjet 60. Bombardier created the Learjet 40XR cabin slightly under 5 feet in height- just over 5 feet wide and with a length of nearly 18 feet. The Learjet 45XR shares length and height dimensions with the 40XR- but offers approximately 20 feet of length.

As the first all-new design since the original Learjet 23 of 1963- the original Learjet 45 and now- by extension- both the 45XR and 40XR benefited in other ways from the company’s clean-sheet approach. Bombardier tapped Honeywell for its TFE731-20BR turbofans- each producing 3-500 pounds of thrust. Their high fuel efficiency gives the Learjet 40XR a cruise range exceeding 1-990 nautical miles; the Learjet 45XR meanwhile can cover 1-900 nautical miles.

Honeywell’s outstanding Primus 1000 EFIS package remains the standard for both models’ cockpit- while avionics options include dual UNS-1Ew WAAS FMS from Universal Avionics. At the end of the trip- what pilots and passengers have both always loved about Learjet aircraft is their excellent speed and efficiency - and (particularly for the pilots flying them) their outstanding handling and flying qualities.

More information from www.aero.bombardier.com

You might not consider a light jet to be so light when you can pack 1-200 pounds into the cabin and cover more than 700 nautical miles (or 900 pounds for 900 nautical miles). But that’s a part of the appeal owners feel for the Citation Mustang - Cessna’s smallest jet. Capable of cruising as high as FL410 [up to FL370 single pilot] the Mustang can achieve speeds of 340 knots and seat five- plus the pilot. Maximum range tops out at 1-150 nautical miles while runway needs come in at as little as 3-200 feet – accounting for a lot of America’s runways.

Cessna sourced Garmin for a three-screen version of the G1000 integrated avionics system in the cockpit - the same basic system available on Cessna’s propeller-driven aircraft. With WAAS GPS- VHF nav- comm. And digital flight control- this panel provides the pilot with all the power and flight-management capability as they would have in jets both far larger and far more expensive.

Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PW615F engine powers the Mustang; a package employing FADEC engine management of noted simplicity and functionality - and the engines’ 1-460 pounds of thrust give the Mustang the speed and climb capabilities that make it a balanced player in the airspace – as well as its excellent airport flexibility.

They’ve come a long way in their two decades of evolution- growing from the original CitationJet to a line of CJ-branded airplanes that ultimately numbered four with the approval of the newest member- the CJ4. But then Cessna decided the smallest and oldest of the clan was more redundant than the other Citations- and the CJ1+ was retired from the model line-up.

Even so- those evolutionary steps of airframe stretches- avionics updates and engine revisions still leave Cessna with a group that includes the CJ2+- CJ3 and the CJ4. As have all CitationJet family-members- these models employ variations of Williams’ FJ44 powerplant- just as they also share Rockwell Collins’ ProLine 21 flight deck.

In the hallmark of the CJ line- the three remaining members excel in performance- efficiency and cost-effectiveness. For many- the 1-600 nautical-mile range of the CJ2+ will be plenty providing a solid step beyond that of the much-smaller Citation Mustang; other operators may opt for the 1-875 nautical-mile range capabilities of the CJ3- however- while others will need the 2-000 nautical-mile range of the CJ4.

Cruise speed also differentiates the foursome- but not by much. The CJ2+ and CJ3 both top out at 415 knots- while the CJ4 can achieve 440 knots - the highest of the CJ group to date. Finally- the three current production models also share another excellent statistic: they need barely more than 3-100 feet of runway- again keeping the majority of the nation’s airports accessible.

The name has evolved along with the airplane; what remains unchanged is what caused it to be so well received in the market originally: the outstanding balance of performance- space and price. That’s as true for today’s XLS+ as it was when the program was originally launched as the Citation Excel in 1994.

With tweaks to the engines- a panel change and other continuous improvements- the Excel progressed through the years. Today’s model became the XLS+ through the addition of FADEC controls for the improved PW545C powerplants- along with a redesigned nose-cone. Additionally- the Citation XLS+ is the first of the line to employ Rockwell Collins’ Pro Line 21 Avionics and a four tube EFIS display.

The proportions that originally attracted interest in the then-new Excel remain a key aspect in the jet’s passenger and owner appeal: at 5.7 feet tall- 5.5 feet wide and 21 feet long the XLS+ still carries that sense of space sought when Cessna used the dimensions of the mid-size Citation X cabin on which the original Excel was based.

Size aside- the parameters most important to most business jet buyers include speed- range and runways. The XLS+ more than holds its own at a maximum-cruise speed of 440 knots- a maximum-range cruise capability of 1-850 nautical miles- while needing only 3-560 feet of runway. Credit for much of this outstanding performance belongs to Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PW545C powerplants- which serve up 4-119 pounds thrust at excellent fuel numbers.

More information from www.cessna.com

With every quarter that passes- this company shows signs of making progress toward resumption of production of what was arguably the most-ambitious- if not audacious of all the VLJ programs launched. Through developmental hiccups - foreseeable and unforeseeable - financial challenges and execution that put more than 250 units on ramps spanning three or four variations in equipment and certification- the program finally exceeded its resources and failed.

The Eclipse 500 was the smallest twin of the batch of VLJs that have flown- boasting a 370-knot top speed- 1-100-mile range- sub- 3-000 foot runway needs and the ability to cruise up in the same altitudes as other jets – as high as FL410 - while consuming less than 50 gallons an hour with the PW610 engines.

Today’s resurrected Eclipse Aerospace has been concentrating on achieving the standard originally sought by renewing and revising the original airplanes - and it is succeeding- winning approval to fly back at FL410 recently- and delivering conformal airplanes with all the potential promised in the beginning.

Not only has hope been restored for the program- but expectations for resumed production continue to grow. Yes- the folks at Eclipse Aerospace are working toward resuming production and fulfilling the promise of this VLJ for individual pilots.

Next month we’ll conclude our review of the Entry Level and Light jets with a focus on models from Embraer and Hawker Beechcraft- along with a selection of in-development models from a variety of other OEMs.

More information from www.eclipseaerospace.net

Do you have any questions or opinions on the above topic? Get them answered/published in World Aircraft Sales Magazine. Email feedback to: editorial@avbuyer.com


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