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LIGHT JET & VLJ REVIEW 2010 (Part 1)

For nearly six decades- the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual gathering has been a bastion of the homebuilding movement that spawned the association’s creation in 1953. The evolution of the EAA’s signature gathering- AirVenture Oshkosh- however- today makes it a showcase for the entire spectrum of general aviation- from the simplest homebuilt airplane to sophisticated kit-built turbine- powered planes – business jets included.

Dave Higdon   |   1st September 2010
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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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Light & Very Light Jets:
When small delivers big - and for relatively little.

For nearly six decades- the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual gathering has been a bastion of the homebuilding movement that spawned the association’s creation in 1953. The evolution of the EAA’s signature gathering- AirVenture Oshkosh- however- today makes it a showcase for the entire spectrum of general aviation- from the simplest homebuilt airplane to sophisticated kit-built turbine- powered planes – business jets included.

These planes are at Oshkosh so that their owners might also revel in a grassroots movement with stratospheric appeal – appeal that extends far beyond the consciousness of those with pilot certificates or a registered airplane. Those companies display their airplanes because some customers do come to Oshkosh to buy airplanes – and some come shopping for turboprops or turbofans.

As a matter of fact- some of the small jets we review here picked up new orders during AirVenture Oshkosh 2010- their purveyors reported. They sold- essentially- because they work for the buyers’ needs – the same logic we see applied up and down the turbine market.

Want is but a small element compared to fulfilling a transportation need – and these small jet aircraft fulfill big needs- as evidenced by their continuing popularity. They perform their work with a high degree of efficiency – cost efficiency as well as transportation efficiency.

Consider the typical business aircraft mission: two or three people traveling an average leg somewhere between 350 and 500 miles – 75 to 100 minutes in-flight. You’d have to be Claustrophobic to the extreme to find even a VLJ too constrained to sit for barely an hour and a half.
For small businesses and business owners who fly- their ability to embrace turbine transportation stems largely from the economics of these smallest business jets. While few can handle full tanks and full seats- that mission need is a relative rarity in real-world business flying. Full tanks and some empty seats are far more typical – a situation also common to larger- faster jets.

The person who observed that speed costs money should have also mentioned that space is even more expensive. Moving up in size may gain an operator multiple increases in volume- but it’s not likely to improve as much on seating capacity – nor generate need that doesn’t exist. Moving up in size will cost the buyer multiple times more than many of these diminutive and standard-size jets – without a concomitant improvement in mission time- but with an equally big jump in operating expenses… not to mention the expense of a large number of airport options.

There’s no way around it: where maximum flexibility is valued- losing access to hundreds of 3-000-- 4-000- and 5-000-foot strips serves largely to deprive operators of options small jets easily handle.

This review combines light and very light- so let’s keep it easy: Aircraft under 20-000 pounds MTOW; the split between VLJ and larger light jets (by our definition) occurs at 10-000 pounds. We’ve allowed some small border excesses on the upper-end with models that started firmly in the Light segment but edged slightly upward of the limit through improvements and enhancements.

We’ve essentially reunited a group that once simply included everything under 20-000lbs – back before clever minds conceived new- much-smaller jets around new- much-smaller engines and- in an effort to differentiate themselves from the existing occupants of the segment- declared them Very Light Jets if they came in under 10-000 pounds.

We still recognize the break –not because of any regulatory or mandated guide- but because of how they’ve been conceived- marketed and accepted. In this case- however- the only reason to break up our coverage was down to space within this issue. So we look alphabetically at manufacturers and their products ranging from A-D this month- and next month tackle E-Z. Without further ado- let’s look at this month’s group.


Still the newbies in the Learjet stable- these two high-performers carry forward the tradition started with Bill Lear’s first fast flyer- the Model 23; in fact- at the debut of the original Learjet 45 more than a decade ago it marked Learjet’s first clean-sheet design in over a decade.

Today- these two fraternal twins deliver on the same traditions that made Learjet synonymous with speed. The cabin is what first grabbed the attention of savvy buyers- however- thanks to height and width measurements similar to the larger mid-cabin 60XR. Learjet made the 40XR cabin slightly shorter than five feet tall and just over five feet wide; the 40XR measures nearly 18 feet in length- the 45XR at nearly 20 feet.

Delivering the motive force for these Learjets are two Honeywell TFE731-20BR turbofans each producing 3-500 pounds of thrust with fuel efficiency that allows the 40XR to cruise more than 1-700 nautical miles and the 45XR to go farther than 1-900 (in particular operations conditions)- thanks to higher fuel capacity.

Learjet still shows the Honeywell Primus 1000 EFIS system as the standard flight deck for both models- while avionics options include dual UNS-1Ew WAAS FMS from Universal Avionics.

More information from


Here’s a jet that seems to keep running like the thoroughbred after which Cessna named its jet line – Citation – in the XLS+ incarnation. First delivered a dozen years back as the XL- the XLS+ represents years of evolution and advances that keep it popular with operators and- in particular- pilots. The combination of a cabin with mid-size height and width mated to a straight wing like those proven on years of light Citations has proven exceptionally smart.

The first point of attraction back in the mid-1990s – when the first incarnation was in development – remains a major selling point: the cabin. Standing a healthy 5.7 feet tall and spanning 5.5 feet at its widest- the XLS+ retains the feel of the Citation X cabin from which it was drawn. Throw in a 21-foot-long cabin and you get a light jet with space approaching that of some mid-cabin models.

Speed and range- however- are the main coins of the business jet realm- and on those fronts the XLS+ acquits itself quite well- thanks to the ability to fly as fast as 440 knots or- at a slower speed- go as far as 1-700 nautical miles.

Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PW545Cs powerplants provide 4-119 pounds of push with excellent fuel efficiency- while up front Rockwell Collins’ Pro Line 21 four-screen integrated cockpit keeps the crew informed and in control – with features to make the pilots’ job easier- including electronic IFR approach plates and satellite datalink weather. The 560 model has come a long way- and shows no signs of falling out of style- out of appeal- or below the value threshold that’s kept it selling.

CJ1+- CJ2+- CJ3 AND CJ4
Introduced more than two decades ago as the CitationJet- the new order of entry-level jet arrived thanks to the birth of a new line of engines - Williams International’s FJ44. Today- through a series of evolutionary steps- airframe stretches- avionics updates and engine growth- Cessna offers the CJ1+- CJ2+- CJ3 and the latest CJ4. All share variations of Williams’ FJ44 powerplant; all share flight decks – Rockwell Collins’ ProLine 21 – and all deliver good performance and efficiency.

Depending on need and budget- the 1-300 nautical-mile capabilities of the CJ1+ may be more than enough; but if you need more- you can notch up step-by-step to just over 2-000 nautical available from the CJ4. Crui

se speed also differentiates the foursome- but not by much. The CJ4 tops the group at 440 knot nominal cruise- while the CJ1+ approaches 390 knots- with the other two in the 400-teens strata. Finally- all four models are runway shy- needing barely more than 3-100 feet at their worst.

Capable of cruising more than 1-100 nautical miles- cruising as high as FL410- and hitting nearly 340 knots true- Cessna’s Citation Mustang stands as the most successful example of the smaller class of airplane launched during the peak of the overheated VLJ phase – a phase that saw many more failures than successes in terms of achieving certification and production.

With a major elevation of Garmin’s three-screen G1000 integrated avionics system adorning the panel- the Mustang’s cockpit delivers as much sophistication and capability as jets dozens of times larger and more expensive. Two 10.4-inch PFD screens flank a huge 15-inch MFD that provides multiple ways to monitor navigation- engine- air and systems data (while keeping tabs on traffic- terrain and position).

The two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW615F engines employ FADEC systems making power management as close to a set-it-and-forget-it process as you’ll find- with pilots needing only to choose between takeoff/ climb- cruise and descent settings.

The engines’ 1-460 pounds of thrust give the Mustang the ability to launch from fields as short as 3-200 feet- and low approach speeds make landing distances even shorter. The Mustang’s runway numbers work with its speed and climb capabilities to give it excellent airport flexibility. The Mustang’s 8-645-pound MTOW puts the diminutive jet in the upper range of the VLJ’s- but below the CJ1+ - the next rung up in Cessna’s well-spaced product ladder.

More information from

Launched just before market forces put so much of the business aviation market at a tilt – and before corporate upheavals at Cirrus changed the management and leadership – the SF50 Vision was Alan Klapmeier’s answer to a question about Cirrus entering the overheated VLJ market.

At the time of the question- back in the middle of the first decade of this century- he answered “No-” then coaxed- “now ask me about a personal jet.” A year ago- the Vision’s ultimate future seemed clouded; this year at Oshkosh the company noted it is earnestly working the project and progress is continuing.

Sized to fit into a standard 40-foot hangar- the SF50 is intended to give the company a step-up model from the best-selling SR22 line of piston singles. That means the Vision also sports the same Cirrus Perspective by Garmin Avionics version of the G1000 system – which will also include the avionics maker’s new ESP system - Enhanced Stability Protection - which uses autopilot sensors and servos to help pilots avoid mistakes common to many accidents: over speed- stall and loss-of-control.

Powered by a single Williams FJ33-5A making 1-900 pounds of thrust- the Vision boasts the ability to cruise as far as 1-100 pounds carrying 400 pounds in the cabin – or- 800 pounds in the cabin for 800 miles. The Vision is designed to provide space for as many as seven on flights at altitudes as high as FL250- thus avoiding many of the pilot-qualification and aircraft certification issues that arise for aircraft flying much higher. And like all Cirrus piston singles- the Vision has been conceived and designed to carry the CAPS airframe parachute recovery system.

More information from www.cirrusaircraft.com

This one has been a long time coming- but the first single-jet/personal-jet design out of the starting gate is looking more and more like it will also be the first to cross the certification finishing line- finally delivering to private aviation one of its many holy grail quests.

Diamond launched the D-JET in 2006- and with the third prototype flying on the designated engine- progress seems to be happening much faster than a year- or two years previous – or even four years ago when the first prototype arrived at Oshkosh to show the masses the proof of the company’s intent. Significantly refined since then- the current prototype features the Williams FJ33-5A turbofan with FADEC.

For an airplane with a gross take-off weight just shy of 5-700 pounds- the 1-900 pounds of power is more than enough to give the D-JET thrust to climb at about 3-000 fpm- speed along as fast as 315 knots – at only FL250 – and make more than 1-300 nautical at a more leisurely cruise speed of 240 knots. The D-JET can reach its service ceiling in a scant 15 minutes after launching from runways of only 3-000 feet.

Diamond signed on with Garmin to equip the D-JET’s panel - a “stack” even more space intensive than the system in the Mustang- utilizing two 12-inch PFDs flanking the 15-inch MFD- fully integrated with the Garmin GFC 700 three-axes flight-control package. Thus- the D-JET pilot can fly with capabilities comparable to many a large cabin jet – with the ease of managing the G1000’s many functions.

With seating for as many as five- the D-JET is still sized small enough to fit into many a hangar previously occupied by a large piston single or twin – the very market Diamond is enticing with this turbofan alternative to the propeller world.

If it can be said that there’s a weakness in the D-JET’s specifications it’s one shared by many of the single-engine piston and propjets flown by the pilots Diamond seeks: the ability to carry only a small load with full-fuel: two and luggage. But the pilots of those other airplanes similarly limited generally know how to balance fuel- distance planning and cabin load to make the numbers work – and there’s little reason to believe they’ll be less sophisticated in their use of an airplane both simpler to fly- and more capable.

More information from

That’s it for this time. Next month- we’ll continue our look at this segment with offerings from Eclipse- Embraer- Hawker Beechcraft- Honda and Piper Aircraft.

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