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It may not strike everybody out there- but a metamorphosis of some sort befell the group that consists of business aviation’s smallest-sized- lightest-priced jets- and it expanded in two directions.

Dave Higdon   |   1st September 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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The diverse jet group that encompasses owner-flown- entry-level and step-up models.

It may not strike everybody out there- but a metamorphosis of some sort befell the group that consists of business aviation’s smallest-sized- lightest-priced jets- and it expanded in two directions.

At one end- light jets picked up some weight with the evolution of so-called super-light jets. These models hover within a few hundred pounds above the old- largely arbitrary 20-000-pound limit used to mark the departure into the mid-weight class.

At the other end- new- lighter- less-expensive models began emerging to form a subset that some label 'Ultra-Light' jets. These jets all weigh less than 10-000-pounds- going down to weights more associated with light piston-twin jet aircraft.

Somewhere among this vast group we managed to mark out another delineation last month: 'Entry-Level.' These jets- both existing and in-development- generally require only a single pilot for legal operation- as well as demanding among the lowest prices and operating costs in jet aviation.

This month we want to focus on the rest of the light-jet category above the entry-level bar; in the coming month’s issues- we’ll move on to examine the mid-size- large and ultra-large categories before closing the circle on business jets with a look at the new up-and-coming group of ultralight at year’s end.

By default of generally accepted definitions of the light-jet category- we’ll note the entry-level models of each manufacturer’s line that we examined last month… where one exists. Although these jets may be part of a class labeled 'light-' remember that most of them deliver speed and overall utility equal to- or better than members of the roomier-but-heavier groups.

Commonalities: Speed = Appeal
In most cases of products and services- you get what you pay for- but in business aviation- that doesn’t always hold true where one aspect is concerned; namely speed.

While the smallest- lowest-cost of the light-jet class entry-level models don’t exactly smoke through the sky at speeds equal to their more-expensive- usually larger kin- even at 340-to-400-knot speeds- they beat everything outside the jet neighborhood.

Beyond this exception- however- where Mach 0.75 to Mach 0.82 is the dominant realm- what you usually pay more for in jets is firstly space on the interior frontier- and secondly range – for going the distance non-stop. In the real world- that sort of range tends to come with space to match; no executive wants to duck-waddle to the lavatory and the galley on a 4-000-mile leg.

This means that these smaller jets tend to have enough speed to hold their own against bigger airplanes albeit on maximum-range legs that seldom reach 2-500 nautical. With the average mission of the typical business aircraft more in the realm of 350 to 500 nautical- flying between 450 and 500 miles an hour means seldom sitting through legs longer than an hour.

Thanks to the newly populated group of super-lights- though- many a back-cabin occupant gets both the speed and the stand-up space of some larger jets without the requisite purchase and operating costs.

Furthermore- better than many of their non-aircraft-operating contemporaries- companies that operate business aircraft seldom buy more planes than needed. More often- such companies find that they need more aircraft than they operate over time and usually after discovering more possible benefits thanks to owning that small one. So- here we go - Light jets with at least some heavyweight utility.

Cessna: Offering the most of the lightest
If you read our previous installment- you were introduced to the duo of CitationJets that now make up Cessna Aircraft Co.’s double-threat CJ line- the CJ1 and CJ2. But these two didn’t end Cessna’s offerings in the light-jet realm.

In fact- allowing for the 200 pounds in excess ramp weight that puts the Cessna Citation Excel over the arbitrary light-jet limit of 20-000 pounds – the Excel’s maximum take-off weight – Cessna offers five planes in the light category- the two entry-level CJs- the Excel we just mentioned- and the Citation Bravo jet  and Citation Encore jet.

All five are straight-wing jets- and the three largest models all deliver the level of speed and utility for which well-balanced business jets are known.

For example- the Bravo boasts a high-speed cruise rate of 400 knots; the Encore and Excel both approach 430 knots at high-speed cruise power. All can get by with 3-600 feet of runway or less on a standard day at gross weight. Meanwhile- with ranges that stretch to between 1-500 and 1-600 nautical miles- any of the three enjoy the ability to cross the States one-stop- with two legs of an easy three hours each.

Best of all- all three offer operators the comfort of cabins large enough for a typical trip carrying four plus plenty of baggage. The Bravo and Encore can seat up to seven- if needed.

The Excel not only offers cabin space for eight- it also provides the most height and width among jets weighing 20-000 pounds and under- at 5.7 feet high and 5.6 wide. If these numbers sound familiar- they exist because Cessna borrowed the roomy cabin cross section of its speedy Citation X jet aircraft for sale with a shortened length to give the Citation Excel its best-in-class cabin space.

The prices- NBAA equipped- range from about $5.4 million for the Bravo- to $7.6 million for the Encore and $9.5 million for the outstanding Excel.

If a potential business jet user can’t find a suitable Cessna among the five available in this size range though- there are some other options still available.

Bombardier Aerospace:

Bombardier Learjet 45
Heritage means a lot to many a business jet operator and without a doubt- Learjet’s heritage is without parallel in the business today.

Those competitors that existed when the first Learjet 23 emerged in 1963 have pretty much moved on to other things. Meantime- Learjet has continued to build on the name most people conjure when the words 'business jet' are spoken.

Today’s light Learjets include the high-efficiency 31A that we profiled last month- a model evolved out of the first 23 – just as almost every other Learjet of the past 40 years evolved from that original model. This month we address the first all-new model designed and certificated since the original- the stand-out leader of the light-jet class; the Learjet 45.

Unlike the Learjets that came before- the 45 did not evolve from- or use any parts or components from an earlier model. Instead- the Learjet 45 serves as a valid challenger to the 31A where speed and efficiency are the issues. And the 45 boasts a cabin that the roomy mid-size Learjet 60 could envy – if it wasn’t so much shorter.

Yes- the Learjet 45 sports a stand-up cabin for up to nine while retaining the speed and efficiency of its cousin- the 31A; and yes- it does beat the arbitrary 20-000-pound cut-off on the light-jet class by 750 pounds at maximum ramp weight.

Nonetheless- priced at just under $9.9 million- the 45 fills the role that many light jets fulfill- while delivering more speed and space with equal efficiency in a package able to use runways as short as 4-350 feet at gross weight.

With 2-000 nautical miles available at cruise- the 45 can connect L.A. with Chicago- Denver with New York- even Seattle with Atlanta or Athens to London. At the longest legs- the 45 delivers its charges in just over 4 hours- thanks to its ability to cruise at nearly 460 knots – or Mach 0.81 – at its ceiling of FL510 – an altitude that should make direct routings a routine.

Best of all- the 45 provides the same distinctly predictable combination handling harmony that should keep some single-pilot airplanes back over their wingtips. Yet this is a two-crew aircraft- in fact- with enough modern cockpit accouterments to make the workload as easy as it gets in a high-speed business jet.

Back in July- during the biennial Farnborough Air Show- Bombardier launched a new model- the Learjet 40- and announced an upgrade for the 45- both on fast tracks for certification by the end of 2003. While these are both covered in depth elsewhere in the magazine- here’s a brief run down of the two:

The Learjet 40 jet- essentially a smaller version of the 45- will carry four passengers and a crew of two on legs as long as 1-800 nautical miles at cruise speeds of up to Mach 0.81 and a service ceiling of FL510. This performance profile would give the 40 the best range- speed and altitude profile of any jet in the light class – excepting its bigger kin- the 45.

The new Learjet 40 is specifically designed to respond to the needs of light jet owners drawn to low acquisition and operating costs. Of course- Bombardier plans to equip the 40 with a custom-crafted cabin with a lavatory. The Learjet 40 also shares the high-performance wing- cockpit- major systems and Honeywell TFE731-20AR powerplants used on the 45.

Which brings us to the new Learjet 45 XR jet- also debuted at the Farnborough exhibition. Scheduled to enter service in mid-2003- the aircraft will be able to carry eight passengers and a crew of two over distances exceeding 2-000 nautical miles. The 45 XR also offers quicker climb rates and a higher maximum speed at any given altitude- up to and including its certified service ceiling of FL510.

Better still- the Learjet 45 XR promises significant improvements in hot-and-high conditions- such as an additional 1-000 nautical miles available for flights out of Aspen- Colorado.

Bombardier redesigned the XR’s interior to increase comfort and functionality. Improvements include six inches more leg room in the cabin- two inches increased seat width- and more galley storage.

The Learjet 45 XR’s number actually pushes it higher into the super-light class – or more into the low end of the mid-size class- with a 1-000 pound boost in maximum take-off weight made possible by structural upgrades and new Honeywell TFE731-20BR engines.

And Bombardier didn’t neglect its existing Learjet 45 operators with this upgrade. Current Learjet 45 operators will be able to upgrade their aircraft to the performance level of the Learjet 45 XR through service bulletins available from Bombardier Aerospace.

Raytheon Aircraft Co.
Beechjet 400A

Another model prematurely predicted to be waning is Raytheon Aircraft’s strong-selling Beechjet 400A- the model that permanently brought the old Beech Aircraft Corp. into the business jet market more than 15 years ago.

Originally certificated and sold as the Mitsubishi Diamond- the 400A underwent considerable 'Americanization' by the Wichita planemaker before entering the market under the Beechjet name. Today the Beechjet 400A jet  stands as the heavier brother to the all-new Premier 1 we previously profiled in this section.

Last year- Raytheon Aircraft’s designers redesigned the cabin completely to give it a new center-club configuration with new seats that convert into full-length sleeping berths for those long or late-night legs.

The application of new sound-deadening materials and new mounts for the 400A’s Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D-5 engines helped reduce cabin-sound levels considerably. RAC also re-engineered the flight deck around the integrated Collins Pro Line 4 avionics suite in a step that improves crew awareness and effectiveness.

However- the fundamental strengths of the 400A remain undiminished by these detail improvements. The 400A still delivers a scorching 468-knot cruise speed with the ability of carrying up to seven passengers across legs of up to 1-700 nautical miles. Runways as short as 4-200 feet remain usable options for the 400A loaded to gross weight.

Clearly- Raytheon Aircraft knows how to give operators a good thing; otherwise the 400A would have gone the way of so many other business aircraft with surpassed performance.

The rest of the pack:
Upstart planemaker Eclipse Aviation rolled out its first Eclipse 500 in mid-July; first flight was imminent as of this writing- with certification on-track for the end of 2003.

Throw in some other possible players – Century Aerospace and the Century Jet CA-100- Safire Aircraft’s S-26- the Maverick Air TwinJet 1500 and the fighter-like Javelin- and there seems little question that the light-jet category is on a growth spurt that shows no signs of running out of thrust.

Stay tuned.

Read more Jets For Sale Review Articles

Read more about: Light Jets | Bombardier Learjet 45XR | Citation Encore | cessna citation excel | Bombardier Learjet 45 | Beechjet 400A

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