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Among the wonders of jet aircraft is how the past decade helped bring about a trend that’s the reverse of the typical: the development of ever-smaller jets. Through much of the age of purpose-built business jets the preponderance of development focused on making business jets incrementally larger and more expensive to own and operate.

Dave Higdon   |   1st November 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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Entry Level & Light Jet Review 2011 (Part 2):

Among the wonders of jet aircraft is how the past decade helped bring about a trend that’s the reverse of the typical: the development of ever-smaller jets. Through much of the age of purpose-built business jets the preponderance of development focused on making business jets incrementally larger and more expensive to own and operate.

That was before Sam Williams and his diminutive jet engines arrived on the scene- offering a smaller- lighter- simpler option with lower costs (both acquisition and operation). In the years that followed- Williams developed several engine models even smaller than the original FJ44 with which he found commercial success- and then Pratt & Whitney Canada got into the small-engine act too…

Suddenly- we witnessed the emergence of a group of aircraft dubbed the ‘Very Light Jets’ offering weights and costs well below the bar of the existing light jets. Before long- we saw even smaller designs begin development in the ‘Personal Jet’ category.

Now considered as a single- very broad category of Entry Level and Light Jets- 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- with operating costs generally nicely below $1-000 per hour; 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- which is as fast as all but a handful can go.
• 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 may 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. Last month we reviewed products from Bombardier- Cessna and Eclipse. This month Embraer and Hawker Beechcraft feature- and we also include a number of developmental programs and group them together. Even at only half a list- it’s a highly diverse group.

While Embraer’s rapid expansion into Business Aviation may have started with the company somewhat trailing its newest competitors- Brazil’s indigenous planemaker hit the runway running- quickly claiming a noteworthy chunk of the business jet market. That reality shows nowhere more than in the Light- and Entry-Level segment- where the company has enjoyed some big deliveries.

The Phenom 100- for example- barely clears 10-000-pound MTOW but in size and performance the Phenom 100 excels - competing well among Light Jets- let alone Entry Level. Capable of cruising at an efficient 390 knots- the Phenom 100 edges out a couple of its segment rivals- but is as much as 80 knots slower than others. In terms of cabin size and volume- the Phenom 100 beats the Citation Mustang and the Cessna CJ1+- but is notably smaller than the higher-priced Hawker 200.

The Phenom 100 offers the G1000 integrated system in the cockpit- while a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW617F make 1-695 pounds of thrust flat-rated to +10°C. That helps the Phenom 100 reach cruising altitudes as high as FL410 – enabling it to clear most weather most of the time. The powerplants retain the efficiency needed to cover legs up to 1-178 nautical miles – plus NBAA Reserves- of course. With a couple of hundred already in service- seeing a Phenom 100 on a ramp nearby is getting increasingly likely. While not the least-expensive of its group- the Phenom 100 remains a cost-effective solution to a need for a light jet.

Offering legs of more than 1-971 nautical miles (carrying six) the Phenom 300 shares many of the Phenom 100’s best traits and offers more.

The Embraer-specific Prodigy Flight Deck based on the G1000 panel is an example of a shared trait. The Phenom 300 also takes two of the three cabin dimensions of the Phenom 100 – standing 4.9 feet tall- 5.1 feet wide (at its widest)- but adds about 50 percent in length to make it more than 17 feet long.

The engines come from the same powerplant maker- but another of its families – the PW535E- which creates 3-360 pounds of thrust flat rated to ISA+15°C. With so much residual thrust the Phenom 300 can reach FL450 and still make Mach 0.78 at its high-speed cruise. Alternatively- by cutting back on the speed- ranges as noted above are within reach.

Embraer gave the Phenom 300 extra in the way of advanced control technology- tapping a control-by-wire system for the Phenom 300’s anti-skid brakes. It also features a unique-in-class all anti-ice system- externally serviced lavatory and single-point refueling. Meanwhile- the voluminous storage space encompasses 74 cubic feet - enough to accommodate most luggage needs most of the time.

With seating for as many as eleven (including crew)- the BMW Group DesignworksUSA-created interior is winning good marks from users- thanks to innovative elements such as the satellite communications system- private lavatory and the operator’s choice of a demi-galley/refreshment center or a wardrobe.

More information from www.embraerexecutivejets.com

As part of Hawker Beechcraft Corporation’s (HBC) ongoing product alignment and production adjustment the erstwhile Premier II – an update of the Premier I – last fall received both a name change and some added spruce-up to become one of the all-jet Hawker line.

Just as the company previously changed the BeechJet 400A into the Hawker 400XP- the company decided to realign its product line so that all jets are Hawkers and all propeller aircraft are Beechcraft products. It’s simply easier for the marketing and simpler to explain than a number of products that cross lines.

Yet the changed name means more than a logo alteration or moniker shift. HBC further refined the composite-fuselage aircraft to truly reflect the Hawker line. The OEM was already upgrading the Williams FJ44 to the newer FADEC-managed 3-050-pounds-thrust -3AP- from the 2-300-pounds-thrust -2A originally employed on the Premier model- and this change yields more than mere power available across the operating range.

The engine and fuel-control upgrade also produced improved fuel efficiency through a reduction in fuel consumption and an increase in speed to 465 knots at cruise. The result: A Hawker 200 capable of covering 355 more miles on the same fuel and payload as the Premier I. (Think Aspen- Colorado to Chicago - non-stop - carrying four and cruising as high as FL450 and as fast as Mach 0.80.)

Other improvements spun off the powerplant-change include better climb performance. And that cruise-speed increase is partly due to the new winglets designed for the aircraft. On top of all this- the Hawker 200 boasts a higher useful load- better runway performance and longer intervals between mandatory inspections.

Otherwise- the Hawker 200 continues to offer the mid-size cabin space made available by the tow-wound composite fuselage and the clean aerodynamics of its metal wing.

This aircraft model underwent a third significant metamorphosis to become the Hawker 400XP since its original introduction decades ago as the Mitsubishi Diamond. Americanized by Raytheon Aircraft into the BeechJet 400A- HBC opted to revise and refine the jet yet again to make it the aircraft it is today.

The company rightfully boasts of the Hawker 400XP’s advanced construction which encompasses fail-safe design- a swept two-spar wing and a bonded double-skin pressure vessel - traits which lend themselves both to its unlimited airframe life and a spacious- very quiet cabin. The airframe’s refined aerodynamics blend with the power of two Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D-5R engines to yield impressive cruise performance – an economic 450 knots on the two 2-950-pound-thrust fanjets- or 465 knots if there is a need for more speed.

Carrying four and the balance of its 5-515- pound useful load results in a jet ready to fly more than 1-450 nautical miles (plus reserves); loaded with maximum fuel and available payload- the Hawker 400XP will give you an additional 100 nautical miles range.

The Collins Pro Line 4 integrated cockpit system provides the flight crew with everything two aviators should need; the airport-friendly landing and take-off distances (under 4-000 feet in both directions) make it more flexible than usual in the choices of destinations. With interior configurations to seat as many as nine people- the Hawker 400XP delivers large on light-jet utility.

More information from www.hawkerbeechcraft.com

Having explored the in-production Entry Level and Light Jet offerings from Embraer and Hawker Beechcraft we now devote a little space to reviewing the more feasible in-development models. There are seven other Entry Level/Light Jet aircraft at various stages of development outlined below. Of course the goal for all of their proponents is to ultimately see them certificated- in production and delivering.

Naturally some of the following aircraft will make it- while others won’t. All are banking on much the same degree of market rebound that planemakers’ of established Light Jet programs hope to see.

At this year’s AirVenture- Cirrus co-founder Dale Klapmeier said the company’s recent majority acquisition by AVIC will provide the capital necessary to resume the moribund SF50 Vision program.

First Cirrus is taking time to re-staff the program – cut progressively to about 20 engineers from its peak of 150 – and start working on how to resume. At the time Klapmeier said the new timetable for the jet is at least four to five months out (which puts any new word on the program near year’s end).

“We now have an airplane company that owns us and wants to build airplanes- and they want to expand aviation worldwide-” he explained. It is believed the path to certification should be about three years. The Williams FJ33-powered single was shaping up well thanks to runway performance under 2-500 feet – in both directions.

The 300-knot- 1-100-mile single allowed a 400-pound payload with full fuel – enough to cover that distance at altitudes up to FL280. Shorter trips with lighter fuel allows for more cabin load.

More information from http://cirrusaircraft.com/vision

Another FJ33-powered jet single – and another victim of financial declines around the world – the D-JET recently resumed flight test amid Diamond Aircraft’s efforts to complete certification – which would- as it stands- make the D-JET the world’s first single-engine private jet.

Diamond said that its single-engine jet resumed flight testing following the company’s temporary grounding after a funding shortfall and significant employee furloughs earlier this year. “Our team's spirits are certainly lifted with the resumption of flight activities-” said Peter Maurer- President.

Diamond’s 5-place D-JET should cruise at up to FL250- and offer a useful load of 2-240 pounds with cruise speed topping out at 315 knots. The long-range 240-knot cruise allows a maximum leg of 1-350 nautical miles.

More information from www.diamondaircraft.com

This program appears to be gearing up in a major way as Honda hones in on completing the test program for its innovative and distinct HondaJet. Earlier this year the first FAA-conformal prototype of the twin achieved speeds better than forecast to mark its official 425-knot capabilities and its ability to climb and cruise at FL430.

Sporting an aluminum fuselage and composite wings- and engines mounted on vertical pylons in the inboard portion of each wing- the little jet is destined for certification and deliveries beginning in 2012. The distinctive over-wing mounting of the two Honda HF120 engines solves a variety of challenges- to structures- for cabin space- and- in particular- for the aerodynamics of a light jet with cabin volume far in excess of the norm for its size.

More information from http://hondajet.honda.com

Piper’s PiperJet - renamed “Altaire” at last year’s NBAA Convention in Atlanta is essentially an outgrowth of the Meridian turboprop. The Altaire metamorphosis introduced us to a larger cabin- new avionics- the larger-than-average cabin door- and an unusually spacious cabin. Instead of incorporating the powerplant within the fuselage Piper engineers opted to use the vertical stabilizer structure to hold the jet powerplant- thereby aiding the cabin volume.

With side-stick controllers opening up the flight deck space- the Altaire employs Garmin’s new G3000 flight deck with touch-sensitive controllers. The Altaire produces nominal cruise speed of 320 knots (top speed 360 knots)- range into 1-000-nautical mile territory (carrying an 800-pound payload) and excellent cabin comfort.

First flight of the four conformal prototypes is expected next year- with certification targeted for 2014.

More information from www.piper.com

This was to be the year that Spectrum began deliveries of the S-40 Freedom- the larger of two light-jet weight twins – one with mid-cabin-size despite its light weight. 2012 was when we originally were to see the S-33 Independence- another twin with light jet size and VLJ weight.

Sadly- Spectrum’s efforts started struggling with financing as the recession and jet market began contracting in the fall of 2008 and in late 2010 the company slowed the program further due to resource constraints. Yet these are still viable programs- according to Austin Blue- son of founder Linden Blue and a principal of the company.

“We’re still working on them-” he told World Aircraft Sales Magazine in a brief conversation in early August. “We’re still after it. We still have a pretty good team involved and we still hope to bring them on-line as quickly as conditions allow. We are working toward getting the program moving better.”

More information from www.spectrum.aero

The final aircraft in our review is the Stratos 714- launched in the summer of 2008. Progress slowed- but the company is now progressing again- in late August announcing completion of wind-tunnel tests of a scale model- and the resumption of work on a prototype.

The company’s extensive engineering defined the 714 around carrying four (or five) at altitudes as high as FL410 and at cruise speeds exceeding 400 knots- while delivering a single-leg range of 1-500 nautical miles – with NBAA reserves.

The company said only that the panel will sport the best high-tech glass-panel system and side-stick controllers to help open up space on the flight deck; the fifth seat- if used- is centered aft of the second seat row as something of a jump seat. Stratos continues to seek investors- but expects to have two flying prototype aircraft within the next two years.

More from www.stratosaircraft.com

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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