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At no time in the 99-year history of aviation have business aviation practitioners enjoyed more choices in starter-level jet aircraft. Interestingly- this collection also comes at an all-time high in the recognition of the advantages of private jets for sale to any individual or entity with frequent travel needs.

Dave Higdon   |   1st August 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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Today’s variety of entry-level jets provides best-ever variety of choices.

At no time in the 99-year history of aviation have business aviation practitioners enjoyed more choices in starter-level jet aircraft. Interestingly- this collection also comes at an all-time high in the recognition of the advantages of private jets to any individual or entity with frequent travel needs.

To close the loop- it’s not an outside possibility that this peak in the recognition of utility may also buoy the aircraft market to a degree of stability that might otherwise not exist in the face of ongoing economic malaise- stock-price corrections- wallowing financial indices and low-to-no economic growth.

A fair combination includes depth in the product lines; new incentives to go corporate- and multiple options to access jet aircraft for sale. If these factors are contributing to market stability now- imagine their impact when the economy exhibits enthusiastic rather than tepid performance.

Expect a return to steady- measured growth in the sales of new and used airplanes thanks to a cost of entry lower than ever – and going much lower.

Today’s crop of corporate-oriented- business-capable airplanes includes a little from every segment- from the high-performance economy of piston-singles for short trips to the continental capabilities of business turboprops and the world-trotting traits of today’s top business jets. From the high end of the owner-flown market to the limits of light business jet aircraft today’s prospective corporate-cabin travelers enjoy a number of cost-efficient options that deliver even higher value utility.

This month we address the entry-level jets of today- a list that includes several done-and-flying jets and a few others currently flying only on their dreams of becoming certificated flying machines. In general- these airplanes occupy the lowest rung on the cost ladder while delivering performance and utility in excess of their size and price.

They excel in the variety of airports accessible with their runway requirements- opening up more communities for direct access to the larger world of business- however distant. Whether a few hundred miles close or several thousand distant- little of the world exceeds the efficient and effective reach of even the most-modest business aircraft.

And where jets are concerned- the aircraft described below represent today’s lowest-cost entries into business aviation’s highest-speed segment.

Slight jets – the most-personal business planes
Although the time nears when this statement will no longer be accurate- that which we call “Entry Level” jets today could well be veritable heavyweights with the arrival of a new- smaller- lighter and lower-price strata of business jets already in varying degrees of development.

Today’s lightest personal jets weigh in at take-off limits that range from 9-000 pounds to nearly 20-000 pounds; the future lightest jets barely break 6-000 pounds- about the high end of the light-piston twin segment.

For now- however- the jets listed represent the lower limits of light-jet cost and weight. Performance wise- however- the slowest of these jets out-cruise the fastest propjets by 80 knots or better; the fastest in the class match the vast majority of business jets flying today – around Mach 0.80.

The big differences in price and operating-cost savings reflect cabin sizes that limit movement in-flight; you can move around – but for anyone taller than four-foot-six- it’s far from a standing-room experience. Nevertheless- against the future-generation light-jet population- the ability to move farther than from one seat to the next will reflect a significant size advantage – as reflected by the higher price for that space.

In a striking reflection of their target audience – the pilot/businessperson stepping up from a piston- or propjet-powered aircraft – these entry-level jets share in their approval for single-pilot IFR operations.

Single-pilot IFR- as the approval is called- considerably reduces the costs and complexity of ownership for the aircraft so approved. It’s basically self-explanatory; this jet can be legally flown by a single- qualifying pilot- a departure from a world dominated by jet cockpits that require two pilots.

For the owner/pilot businessperson- the advantages are not merely obvious financial appeal- but the prospect of flying one’s own jet may well approach dream-fulfillment level- even life affirming.

The best of this business owner/pilot population felt the same dream fulfillment or life affirmation on that first tentative company cross country in a Skyhawk or Cherokee and probably never lost it moving up to a Beech Bonanza- Piper Malibu or Mooney Bravo- a King Air or Socata TBM700 - and on to that first jet.

Better still- for even the non-pilot business owner or first-time corporation owner- single-pilot capability enhances operational flexibility – and nearly halves labor costs.

Best of all- every time the bar drops on entry costs- the potential market of business jet users expands to include a wider range of participants in the benefits of business aviation- individual or entity. So let’s meet this year’s crop of entry-level jets.

Cessna Aircraft Co.
Citation: Two proven platforms for owner/pilots

Frequent stints of hangar flying proved to me long ago that many questions about aviation defy settlement. For example- who invented the business jet?

Well- the Lockheed JetStar was a leader- as were some converted aircraft. Bill Lear’s debut model 23 popularized “private jets” as a generic name for a jet as accessible to individuals as corporations.

That said- it was arguably Cessna’s ubiquitous model 500 Citation that lowered the demands placed on both the logbooks and checkbooks of potential business jet owners. And- of course- the return of the single-pilot business jet flight deck – a phenomenon only briefly available more than a decade earler.

After decades of business airplanes requiring buckets of money for hardware- crew and fuel- the trend reversed heading with the 1972 emergence of Cessna’s first Citation. Credit goes to the straight wing and low-speed handling abilities comparable to piston-single approach speeds.

The blend of piston engine airplane performance demands with the power and reliability of twin jet powerplants gave the Citation shorter runway requirements to match its ease of operation. The user-friendly traits of the 500 – including its single-pilot approval helped make the Citation the darling of the owner/pilot business owner.

Not to oversell the flight-deck demands- we must also acknowledge the relatively low price of ownership and operation that attracted many newly licensed- highly affluent aviators. A small number of the new jet pilots may have exceeded their grasp; but overall- the Citation enjoys an enviable record for utility- economy and safety.

Corporations flocked in droves to the Citation business jets- thanks to those same cost factors. The cost efficiency of the admittedly slower Citation kept the airplane attractive even with two-pilot crews.

Cessna revived all those benefits 20 years after the first Citation business jet with the first CitationJet deliveries in 1992. A modern incarnation of the original 500- the model 525 CitationJet reinvigorated the single-pilot segment and attracted a new stratum of customer previously headed toward the turboprop.

The same is true today of the CJ1- the latest version of the original CitationJet- and its stretched sibling- the CJ2. Much of the credit goes to the new-generation Williams-Rolls FJ44 fan-jet powerplants introduced on the CJ. With fuel efficiency that rivals the best turboprop powerplants- these diminutive fanjets deliver 1-900-pounds of thrust each- sufficient to push cruise speeds above 375 knots on just over 120 gallons per hour of Jet A.

Nestled nicely between the fastest propjets and the Mach 0.8 jets- the littlest Citation enjoys edges in operating costs that make it superior on a per-mile basis to many other turbine-powered airplanes. And today- the jet-prospect enjoys a choice of two CJ models- both of them single-pilot and two of today’s lowest-price jets.

Both the Citation CJ1 and CJ2 sport a panel nicely upgraded from the original CitationJet’s. Equipped with Collins ProLine 21 series avionics- both CJs deliver a level of automation- situational awareness and redundancy traditionally found only on larger- more-expensive jets.

The Citation CJ2 offers an added five feet in length and a more powerful version of the FJ44 that develops 2-400 pounds of thrust versus the 1-900 pounds of the original.

With a price of $3.9 million- the Citation CJ1 jet aircraft retains the mantle of the price leader in business aviation circles- keeping it the object of affection for first-jet buyers and the target of competitors; the CJ2’s $4.8 million gives you about 30 more knots at cruise and a couple hundred more nautical miles of range; about 1-500 versus approximately 1-300.

The two CJ’s blend of speed- economy and utility make them distinct in any class. For example- any community airport with a runway 2-400 feet or longer can handle a CJ1; a pilot can avoid a lot of hubs – in the company of four or five friends – covering up to 1-000 miles between 3-000-foot strips.

Although their maximum payloads nearly match at 1-575 and 1-600 pounds- the CJ2 offers flexibility only available with the larger cabin and luggage space. Fewer corporate jets for sale make it easier to enter the realm of business aviation than Cessna’s two CJs.

Bombardier Aerospace: Learjet 31A
It’s hard to imagine- but a few years back- some business aviation insiders worried that the approval of the then developmental Learjet 45 spelled the end of the flight line for the svelte Learjet 31A.

Now approaching five years since 45 deliveries started- the Learjet 31A remains as popular as ever – and solidly in the product line of Bombardier Aerospace. In fact- nothing flying more obviously says “Learjet” than the 31A – even to people for whom anything smaller than “jumbo” is a “small plane.”

It is not difficult to understand what keeps this decade-old model a particular favorite of many flight departments; the Learjet 31A remains the prize winner for light-jet efficiency. It is the particular blend of speed- efficiency and utility that made the name “Learjet” the generic namesake of all business aircraft.

Born as a hybrid of the Learjet 35’s cabin and the Learjet 55’s advanced winglet-equipped wing- the 31A quickly caught on with the business aviation world. Its Mach 0.8-plus cruise speed- Flight Level 510 altitude capability- 1-400 nautical mile range and 120-gallon-per-hour fuel consumption rate put the sleek little 31A among the top jets in overall efficiency and utility.

Such combinations keep the company boasting that the 31A delivers the lowest per-mile flying costs of any business jet flying. The $6.6 million price is the highest in this class – but then- the performance is unparalleled.

For trips with a crew of two and four passengers- there’s little to beat the 31A’s combination of performance and economy. For those who might think the cabin a bit constrained- remember that at 31A airspeeds- fuel stops are seldom much farther apart than two hours – and that two legs and a fuel stop takes you across a continent. Such traits seldom lose their appeal – which means we’re likely to see the 31A produced by the Learjet line for years to come.

Raytheon Aircraft: Premier I Business Jet for Sale
The latest expression in advanced technology and stretched boundaries provides proof positive that old dogs can- and do learn new tricks. In this case the new trick came in the form of an all-new business jet that represents both the first homegrown design from Raytheon Aircraft- and the first of a new generation of aircraft production. Additionally- this is the latest of this field to enter service. The airplane is Raytheon’s model 390 Premier 1 jet.

Airframe construction of the Premier I involves the first truly composite blend of materials- thanks to the complementary use of traditional aluminum and advanced carbon-fiber-and-honeycomb structures. In addition to the advance in blending materials- the Premier I also boasts of advances in computer-controlled manufacturing.

For the fuselage- Raytheon has pioneered a process known as “tow winding” that involves the computer-controlled application of carbon-fiber ribbons over a metal mandrill that conforms to the shape of the structure. After one layer of carbon goes down- workers install precut panels of honeycomb board over the carbon fiber layer; the automated “Viper” machine then puts down the ribbons and installs a second layer.

The two pieces are vacuum-bagged- rolled into an autoclave and cured before starting down the assembly line.

For the wing- Raytheon uses a combination of high-speed machining and CAD/CAM control processes to make the few parts that go into each panel. Indeed- the parts count for the wing is among the lowest ever achieved – but not close to the four parts that make up a completed fuselage which consists of the forward and aft parts made on the Viper- plus the one-piece fore and aft pressure bulkheads.

It’s the blend of construction types and materials used that make the Premier 1 unique – at least- unique until Raytheon starts deliveries of the upcoming Hawker Horizon.

Flying on a pair of 2-300-pound-thrust Williams-Rolls FJ44-2A powerplants- the swept-wing Premier I cruises at more than 460 knots.

Raytheon engineers have created a light jet with external dimensions similar to Cessna’s CJ2- but with significantly more interior volume – approaching that of the larger Citation Excel.

Flying with the same passenger/crew combo cited above for the two CJs- the Premier can fly that 1-000 nautical mile leg in less than 2:30 on about the same 2-300 pounds of fuel needed by the CJ2.

Much of the credit for this efficiency goes to the Premier I’s all-metal wing and a computer-refined fairing that provides the interface for air moving along the powerplants and fuselage; the application of the so-called “area rule” gives the aft fuselage of the jet a pinched appearance – while the shape reduces drag between the aft fuselage and engine nacelles.

In addition- the Premier can easily fly from runways shorter than the two CJs.

Raytheon elected to use Honeywell flat-panel avionics- giving the Premier I a front office appearance as advanced as the technology used to make the airframe.

Despite beating the technological advances and advantages of larger- heavier- more-expensive  jets Raytheon managed to keep the Premier I priced competitively at $5.4 million. Throw in the single-pilot IFR approval and its all-weather capability and the world’s first truly composite business jet seems like an all-round good deal.

Sino-Swearingen: SJ30-2 developing into a major contender
It’s been a long time coming- but Sino-Swearingen is finally building SJ30-2 business jets at a new factory in Martinsburg- West Virginia. When certificated later this year- this $5.1 million speedster may well rewrite the formula that goes into making a great business jet.

It starts with a near-genius wing design- moves on into a cabin altitude that’s down at sea-level while you are soaring high at 41-000 msl- and ends with a version of the same FJ44 engine used on the prior three airplanes – but on this airframe providing thrust enough to achieve Mach 0.83 cruise speeds.

Sino-Swearingen SJ30-2 jet may be the company’s second design- but it will be first in the hearts of hundreds of aviators anxiously awaiting its blend of traits. For example- the SJ30-2’s cruise speed sets it up among other- much larger jets that cruise at that rarified speed.

The same can be said for the 2-500-nautical mile range of the Swearingen SJ30-2. Legs that long come with a full-cabin payload- giving the SJ30-2 a no-compromise capability for crossing the continent non-stop- fully loaded. In fact- the SJ30-2 boasts the longest legs in its class.

Best of all- this jet is yet another aircraft destined for single-pilot IFR status. Combine the single-pilot capability with speed- efficiency and price- and you have a combination of traits that have already helped swell Sino-Swearingen’s order book beyond the next three years.

Alberta Aerospace: Phoenix Fan-jet/MagnaJet/SigmaJet
Take a little known military trainer prototype- give it a power transplant and a personality injection- and you have the newest prospect for entering the entry-level jet class.

If successful- Stellio Frati’s Jet Squalus trainer making the transition to the two-place SigmaJet and four-place MagnaJet will also mark the addition of a new manufacturer to the business jet community- Canadian-based Alberta Aerospace in Calgary.

After going through two engine incarnations- the company decided to use a single Williams-Rolls FJ44 – the first single-engine application of this engine in a passenger aircraft- if successful.

Regardless of seating configuration- Frati’s basic design easily adapts to single-pilot IFR- thanks to basic design originally conceived with soloing student pilots in mind.

Avionics and other accouterments remain undecided as the company works to secure sufficient financing and resume certification work. Price should be less than half a CJ1; certification date is currently uncertain.

VisionAire Vantage
In development longer than any other design in the pipeline today- the Vantage from VisionAire first flew November 1996 and remains in flight tests.

Much of the program remains on hold as the St. Louis-based company works to secure final financing. Company chairman- founder and Vantage visionary Jim Rice remains more optimistic than ever that his decade long effort will reach fruition. Indeed- with a price still projected at about $2.3 million and its single-engine status- the Vantage remains a ground-breaker.

The company selected the mature- proven Pratt & Whitney Canada JT-15D-5D for power that propels the Vantage to speeds exceeding 350 knots. The JT-15D’s fuel efficiency gives the Vantage a maximum range of up to 1-000 nautical miles. And with a piston-single slow landing speed and easy low-speed handling – thanks to its innovative forward-swept wing – the Vantage needs little more than 2-500 feet for gross-weight operations. Together- these traits also favor single-pilot IFR operations- a goal of the program from day one.

The Vantage sports an all-composite airframe- an attraction for buyers interested in low maintenance and high tolerance for the elements. Furthermore- VisionAire’s plans include adaptation of latest aircraft avionics from Garmin International- flight- and engine-situation displays from Meggitt and autopilot/flight-direction equipment from S-Tec.

Certification and production could come within two years of the program again making progress – at this juncture- sometime in late 2004.


Read more about: Learjet 31A | Cessna Citation CJ1 | Cessna Citation | Raytheon Aircraft | Cessna Citation Cj2

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