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Business aviation is an arena in which solutions come in many sizes- shapes and sensibilities- but despite the oft-misused line- Bigger is better- where business jets are concerned it’s still a case of Light makes right.

Dave Higdon   |   1st August 2003
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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 world of light Jets is still the most diverse in business aviation.

Business aviation is an arena in which solutions come in many sizes- shapes and sensibilities- but despite the oft-misused line- 'Bigger is better-' where business jets are concerned it’s still a case of 'Light makes right.'

If you have any doubts- you need look no farther than the statistics of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). According to the NBAA Fact Book for 2003- light jets – that is- those weighing less than 20-000 pounds – constituted 28 percent of the 15-569 jets operated around the world in 2002. Jets weighing 20-000 pounds and less in the U.S. also averaged about 360 hours of flying last year – the most frugal flight hours of the fleet.

Not surprisingly- the three companies with the largest selection of light jets – Bombardier- Cessna- and Beechcraft – accounted for more business turbine aircraft sales than the entire balance of the industry. The three captured nearly 70 percent of the market- thanks primarily to the higher sales volume of their lower-priced jet aircraft for sale: That makes the light jet the backbone of business aviation.

In turn- that backbone segment is the topic of our overview this month- in which we examine the current and future light business jets.

Complicated Categorizations:
This was once a simply defined category- but identifying what today passes for a light jet sometimes begs for clarification. Thanks for this small bit of confusion goes to the development of jets both lighter and heavier than the old categorization embraced.

For our purposes today- we’ll stick with those jets that fit the old standard – from 9-000 to 20-000 pounds – and the handful of so-called 'super-light' jets that slightly exceed the upper limit. As for those lighter than 10-000 pounds – all of them developmental at this point – we’ll deal separately with them at another time.

The label 'light' may be a relative term- but there’s nothing relative about the common mission for which businesses and business people buy business jets: Efficient- high-speed travel.

Though variations in speed exist within the class labeled as 'light-' for the most part the actual utility of this group can be considered equal to- or better than jets in the larger- heavier classes. Sure- some light jets trail others by 100 knots in cruise speed; but some can also fly in and out of airports no longer than a half mile and go on to cover more ground than the typical stage length- which falls between 350 and 500 nautical miles.

But even at the 340-to-400-knot speeds of these slower birds- they still beat any non-jet aircraft – and give away only a few minutes on those 'typical' stage lengths mentioned above. So the truism about getting what you pay for doesn’t directly apply where jets are concerned. Depending on the need- sometimes more is actually less – particularly where a faster- larger or heavier jet may not be able to use the runway closest to your ultimate destination.

On the other hand- however- where Mach 0.75 to Mach 0.82 is the dominant realm- what you usually pay more for in business jets becomes more complicated – and more linear. In these cases the higher the price- the faster the jet- (and usually at least)- the longer the range and the larger the cabin. Thanks to the newly populated gaggle of super-lights we mentioned- however- cabin dimensions are also going away as a reliable measuring reference.

In these cases- the cabin height and width comes closer to mid-size jet dimensions- albeit they are shorter in overall length.

Also- these jets tend to run with the bigger dogs where speed is concerned – without requiring the same runway lengths as their larger kin. Time to proceed with this year’s class of light – and super-light – business jet.

No other manufacturer offers more in light jets than Cessna Aircraft Co.- thanks to a line-up of no fewer than six models in this class.

After revolutionizing and re-invigorating the light jet class in 1991 with the first CitationJet- Cessna offers the CJ in three flavors – each numbered accordingly: The original dubbed the Citation CJ1 plus the three-year-old CJ2 and last year’s addition- the CJ3.

Cessna also offers the Citation Bravo, the Encore and the large-cabin-super-light Excel. These six are all straight-wing- FAR 23 jets with great balance between runway requirements- range and speeds.

All three CJs share in fuselage profile and all three share in their Williams-Rolls FJ44 powerplants – as well as in their standard- solid-state panels. Furthermore- all three boast cruise speeds between 355 and 400 knots. And all can get by with 3-600 feet of runway or less on a standard day at gross weight.

With ranges that stretch to between 1-500 and 1-600 nautical miles- any of the three CJ models enjoy the ability to cross the United States one-stop- with two legs of an easy three hours each- thanks to cruise speeds that range from about 330 knots to about 350 knots.

Best of all- all three models offer operators the comfort of cabins large enough for a typical trip carrying four- plus plenty of baggage. Prices for the three CJs range from just above $4 million to just short of $6 million.

The Bravo delivers an honest 400-knot high-speed cruise- while the larger Encore and the stand-up-cabin Excel super-light both come in at nearly 430 knots at high-speed cruise-power settings. Both the Bravo and Encore can seat up to seven- if needed.

Meanwhile- the Excel breaks the 20-000-pound light-jet weight bar by a mere 200 pounds in excess ramp weight – but the 20-000-pound MTOW keeps the airplane an honest member of the light class. Out of character with the rest of its light-class Citation stable mates- however- is the Excel’s voluminous cabin.

Not only does the Excel offer cabin space for eight- but it also delivers the tallest- widest cabin of any jet in its class. Credit for the 5.7-foot tall x 5.6-foot wide cabin belongs to Cessna’s speedy Citation X. Cessna engineers essentially used a shortened version of the X’s cabin for the Excel and mated the resulting fuselage to an Encore’s wing.

The prices- NBAA equipped- range from about $5.8 million for the Bravo- to $7.6 million for the Encore and $10.1 million for the outstanding Excel.

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

Bombardier Aerospace:
Learjet 45

The Learjet 45’s success in succeeding the legendary 31A as Bombardier Learjet’s entry-level jet is at risk today – thanks to last year’s introduction of the Learjet 40- a slightly smaller version. But despite the passing of the torch- if you will- there’s no loss in heritage – an intangible element with strong meaning for many business-jet operators.

Forty years after the introduction of the first Learjet – the fighter-like Learjet 23 – this segment of the Bombardier Business Aircraft line remains the senior player in business aviation.

Today’s light Learjets are second-generation planes that did not evolve directly out of the original 23 of 1963 as did the 30-series- the 55 and 60. Unlike those other Learjets- the 45 came to life as an all-new design from a clean sheet of paper. The 45XR and the 40 are variations on the 45 itself. Nonetheless- the Learjet 45 remains a valid heir to the 31A where speed and efficiency are the goals – and the defining model of a new generation boasting cabin room atypical of the light-jet class.

The Learjet 45 for sale boasts a cabin with a profile as generous as the mid-size Learjet 60 – albeit at a length somewhat shorter than the mid-size model. Yet even with a 4.9-foot tall cabin with space for up to nine- the 45 still delivers on the speed and fuel efficiency that made the 31A such a legend- thanks to a cruise speed that maxes out at 456 knots.

The 45 does exceed the arbitrary 20-000-pound light-jet cut-off by 750 pounds at maximum ramp weight. Nonetheless- priced at just over $10.2 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 airports as short as 4-350 feet at gross weight.

With 2-000 nautical miles available at long-range cruise- 45 operators can span non-stop the mileage between Denver and New York- L.A. and Chicago- Atlanta and Seattle or London and Athens. Flying max-range legs takes barely more than 4 hours at the 45’s FL510 ceiling – an altitude that typically makes a cinch of acquiring direct routings.

For the two-person cockpit crews who fly the 45- Bombardier Learjet retained all the distinctly predictable control harmony that made the 31A a legend among its pilots – and will help keep pilots of some single-pilot IFR jets wondering what they’re missing.

In development:
Learjet 40- 45XR further expand light-jet class
With the Learjet 40 for sale newly certified and the 45XR proceeding toward certification around year’s end – if on schedule- the development period of the Learjet 45XR would be a mere 18-month cycle- literal fast-track development in this business.

Still- there’s every reason for Bombardier Learjet to keep to the ambitious schedule announced in July 2002- when these two 45-follow-on models were introduced to the business aviation community at Farnborough- UK.

Learjet designed the 40 by basically shortening the 45 by two feet- and the 45XR by taking the original 45 and giving it a power boost.

The smaller 40 is designed to fly four and a two-pilot crew across distances as long as 1-800 nautical miles at cruise speeds of up to Mach 0.81. Likewise- the 45XR offers comparable performance.

Like most other Learjets of the last 20 years- both new models boast the same stratospheric service ceiling – a direct-routing enhancing ceiling of 51-000 msl – or FL510. This combination of traits gives the 40 the best range- speed and altitude numbers of any other jet in its class – save for its larger cousins- the 45 and 45XR.

The main appeal of the Learjet 40 is its lower acquisition and operating costs – and a small improvement in runway performance. The Learjet 40 shares the high-performance wing- cockpit- major systems and Honeywell TFE731-20AR powerplants used on the 45.

The new Learjet 45XR for sale offers the same eight-passenger cabin as the 45 and- with a crew of two- can cover more than 2-000 nautical miles non-stop. Other advantages of the 45XR include faster climb rates and a higher top-cruise speed at any given altitude – right up to its FL510 certified ceiling.

Another benefit of the more-powerful TFE731-20BR engine- as used in the XR- is a significant gain in hot-and-high performance. The difference is significant enough to give the jet the ability to carry enough additional fuel coming out of Aspen- Colorado- on a hot day- to fly an additional 1-000 nautical miles – or to carry more in the cabin for a shorter leg on the same day.

Despite using the same fuselage dimension- Bombardier revamped the interior of the XR to add six inches additional legroom in the cabin- another two inches in seat width- and additional storage space in the galley.

As it stands- the Learjet 45XR exceeds the light-jet weight limit by more than 1-000 pounds. But given its size- price and market- the XR still seems a better fit among light jets than among the larger mid-size class.

And should any Learjet 45 operators covet the performance improvements of the XR – but lack need or interest in the cabin changes – operators can upgrade their 45s to XR performance levels by applying a series of service bulletins available from Bombardier.

Raytheon Aircraft Co.
Hawker (formerly Beechjet) 400A

What’s in a name? In this case- an attempt to differentiate the diverse products of Raytheon Aircraft Corp. – and re-establish the brand recognition of the Beechcraft and Hawker product lines.

Raytheon renamed the former Beechjet – originally purchased from Mitsubishi as the Diamond – in time to announce the 'new' Hawker 400A at the European Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (EBACE) earlier this year in Zurich.

Regardless of the name- it’s this model that permanently established the old Beech Aircraft Corp. in the business of business jets 18 years ago. Beech bought the Diamond from Mitsubishi and gave the jet a substantial 'Americanization' update to make it over into the Beechjet 400A - renamed as the Hawker 400A. Raytheon Aircraft undertook further refinements to give the company’s Hawker product line a light-jet presence.

Today’s Hawker 400A for sale sports a cabin completely redesigned just over two years ago – a cabin sporting a business-standard center-club configuration that includes new seats that convert into full-length sleeping berths for those long or late-night trips.

Raytheon also made the cabin considerably quieter by employing new sound-deadening materials and redesigned engine mounts for the 400A’s Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D-5 engines. Other aspects of the upgrading include the Collins Pro Line 4 integrated avionics suite- a panel geared to enhance crew awareness and flight management.

These changes help make the Hawker 400A a better jet without compromising on its fundamental strengths: Its blistering 468-knot cruise; its ability to carry up to seven passengers and fly legs up to 1-700 nautical miles; and its flexibility to use runways as short as 4-200 feet.

Regardless of the product line to which it is assigned- the Hawker 400A clearly delivers all the good things operators covet. Had it been otherwise- the 400A would have gone the way of all other jets unable to meet their competitive missions.

Beechcraft Premier I
Part and parcel to Raytheon Aircraft’s rebranding strategy was the re-emphasis of the Beechcraft product line and the assignment of the Premier I from its original 'Raytheon Aircraft' name to a Beechcraft – a name with as long a heritage and as high a name-recognition level as any in aviation today.

Not only is the Premier I the first original Beechcraft jet ever- it is the pioneer in a new way of building aircraft that employs a lightweight- ultra-strong composite fuselage flying on an all-metal wing. The methods used to make these parts are as revolutionary as the concept of a part-metal-part-plastic airplane.

Conversely- the powerplant represents the embrace of the mature Williams-Rolls FJ44 powerplant first flown in service on the original CitationJet in 1991.

Raytheon Aircraft makes the fuselage in two pieces using a new process the company pioneered called 'tow winding' that employs a computer-controlled Viper machine. The Viper winds carbon-fiber ribbons over a metal mandrill cut to conform to the exterior lines of the structure. Once the first layer of carbon is set- workers apply a layer of pre-cut honeycomb panels that the Viper covers with a second layer of carbon-fiber ribbons.

The two fuselage halves are vacuum-bagged next- then rolled into an autoclave and cured before moving over to the assembly line- where the interior and flight-deck components are installed. Two other parts go into the fuselage before the two halves are mated: The fore and aft pressure bulkheads- both single pieces.

Raytheon also employs a new approach to wing manufacturing that employs a combination of high-speed machining and CAD/CAM control to make the few parts that go into each panel. You won’t find a wing that uses fewer parts.

Also employed to manufacture the upcoming Hawker Horizon- this unique blend of construction types and materials have created a light jet with external dimensions similar to Cessna’s CJ2- but with significantly more interior volume- a volume that more-closely matches that of Cessna’s largest light jet- the Citation Excel.

The Beechcraft Premier flies on two 2-300-pound-thrust Williams-Rolls FJ44-2A powerplants that give the swept-wing aircraft a cruise speed of more than 460 knots- and the ability to cover a 1-000 nautical-mile leg in less than 2:30 on about the same 2-300 pounds of fuel needed by the smaller- slower CJ2.

Most of the credit for this degree of efficiency belongs to the Premier’s clean wing and a computer-refined chin fairing which smoothes the transition of air moving along the airframe. The application of the so-called 'area rule' gives the aft fuselage of the jet a pinched look that also dramatically reduces drag between the aft fuselage and engine nacelles. As a result- the Premier I can easily fly from runways shorter than the three CJs.
Raytheon tapped Honeywell for the flat-panel avionics suite- giving the Premier I a ‘front office’ as advanced as the airframe.

The cost of this class-leading business jet: A competitive $5.6 million. The blend of speed- efficiency- runway flexibility- price- single-pilot IFR approval and all-weather capabilities make the world’s first truly composite business jet appear to be a value leader. Find Beechcraft Premier 1 jets for sale.


The year 2003 was to be the year that Sino-Swearingen finally made its mark on business aviation by certificating the promising SJ30-2. But the mixed blessings of a high-level management change- funding delays and a devastating crash of the first prototype earlier this year have thrown the timetable into doubt again.

However- the flight-test program is back on-track and progressing after a hiatus of several weeks- which means that sometime in 2004 this promising little jet could finally achieve reality and enter service with its anxiously awaiting customers.

Sino-Swearingen last year started building SJ30-2 business jets at a new factory in Martinsburg- West Virginia- with plans for certification late last year. That was before the different shake-ups of 2002.

Nonetheless- the design started by legendary aircraft creator Ed Swearingen still boasts among the best numbers of any jet in its class – numbers that are the envy of even larger jet operators.

Some examples of what makes the SJ30-2 unique: There’s an innovative new wing design; a fuselage capable of maintaining a sea-level cabin while speeding along at 41-000 msl; and a top cruise speed of Mach 0.83 – thanks to the now-familiar FJ44 engine used on four of the airplanes detailed above.

Not only does the airframe-and-engine combination deliver enviable speed- but the combination also works with such efficiency that the jet can cover legs of 2-500 nautical miles – the longest range in its class – with a full-cabin payload.

This blend provides the SJ30-2 with a no-compromise capability for crossing the continent non-stop- fully loaded. Indeed- presuming no changes to plan- the SJ30-2 will be one more light jet capable of single-pilot IFR operations. It’s a blend of traits that have already helped Sino-Swearingen book orders extending three years out into the future.

VisionAire Vantage
The bridesmaid of our light-jet group is the Vantage- an innovative composite- single-engine jet first flown in November 1996- but at last reports the program remained on hiatus- flight tests suspended – and its future in question. Company chairman and founder Jim Rice told World Aircraft Sales last year that work to secure needed funding was still underway.

Securing funding would revive a program long admired for its daring and innovation. For example- in addition to embracing composites – at a time when metal was still considered the way to go – VisionAire also opted to make the Vantage the world’s first single-engine business jet. The company selected the mature- proven Pratt & Whitney Canada JT-15D-5D for power – an engine with legendary reliability and an in-flight shut down rate that is the envy of the industry. The little JT-15D promised cruise speeds exceeding 350 knots and fuel efficiency to gives the Vantage a 1-000-nautical-mile range.

On the flip side of this equation- the Vantage’s innovative forward swept wing also promised landing speeds comparable to most piston airplanes and gross-weight runway requirements barely longer than the 2-500 feet typical of thousands of small-town airports.

Of course- with these and other favorable traits- VisionAire had from day one set its sights on winning approval for single-pilot IFR operations. Certification and production would likely take another two years – once the program re-launched.

Read more about: Light Jets | Cessna | Beechcraft Premier I | Bombardier Learjet 45XR | Bombardier Learjet 45 | Hawker 400A

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