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Medium Jets Review 2008 (Part 1)

It’s become a big-Mid world out there.

Nothing - the saying goes - sells like success. By that measure- jets in the broad spectrum known as medium jets- mid-size or mid-cabin must be flying off the ramps – because there certainly seems to be a boom in the segment right now. Once again- the middle category of business turbofans we profile exceeds the size of the same class last year… so much so that we’ve opted to review the latest offerings in this class in two parts.

In alphabetic order- we’ll spend this month’s review looking at Bombardier and Cessna’s market offerings- followed in December by those from Dassault- Embraer- Gulfstream and Hawker Beechcraft.

A year ago- we examined 14 models in one go- whether in-production or in-development; in 2006- the group numbered an even dozen. This year- we count 19 aircraft… a number destined to shrink a little as newly launched products replace models now-shipping. And still- it will be a bigger group than a year ago- at 17.

That this group seems to thrive should hold little surprise – their broad range of capabilities and relative costs combine to give them considerable value appeal. You could say that medium category business jets manage an extraordinary sense of balance being neither too big nor too small – in fact- not so small at all.

They’re not capable of covering legs with the greatest in business flying- but they’re far from short range – in fact- they’re often able to fly double (or more) the range of jets in the smaller segments. Nor are they so expensive as to elicit whistles of disbelief- but understandably they are more expensive than those more-compact jets.

And they are not at all slow – capable of the best cruise speeds in private flying – but still able to use many general aviation only airports- and helping operators avoid the unpredictability of using air carrier airports.

Mid-cabin jets tend to offer non-stop transcontinental range capabilities- or close to it; mid-cabin jets can operate into many of the second-tier airports that help keep the mission away from the craziness of major airports and their problems with air-carrier congestion. And mid-cabin jets are large enough to allow cabin installations with all of today’s most-desired communications and entertainment technologies.

It is no wonder that long-term forecasts generally put future sales of mid- to mid-large cabin jets at around the 30-percent range- compared to about 25 percent for light jets- and large and ultra-long-range large jets being around 20 percent.

There’s something about being in the middle range that attracts buyers. But what makes them ‘medium’? With names like ‘mid-size’- ‘mid-cabin’ or ‘medium’ being banded around- it can be confusing as to exactly what is embraced into this category- but for the sake of simplicity- we started this year’s cycle looking at Maximum Gross Take-Off Weight - so we equate the medium jet class as aircraft weighing more than 20-000 lbs- but no more than 40-000 lbs – or- 20-001 to 40-000 lbs.

We don’t use Maximum Ramp Weight or other non-aerial weight limit in order to place aircraft according to what they may weigh at the start of the take-off roll. We may allow ourselves to fudge a little at one end or another for an aircraft that was designed for the medium class but edged over the limit because of an upgrade – such as a higher fuel capacity to increase range. Also- ranges quoted are IFR ranges- minus reserves for missed approaches- diversions to alternative destinations and the like. Otherwise- the parameters are fairly clear and simple. So with this definition- let’s meet the first part of the fleet.

BOMBARDIER AEROSPACE:
Challenger 300

Bombardier engineers truly put together an attractive Challenger when they started translating customer ideas into the finished design for the Challenger 300. Speedy- flexible and endowed with excellent range- the CL300 delivers in distance- useful load and runway access.

Carrying four the Challenger 300 offers a range of nearly 3-300 nautical miles- but carrying a full payload- it still pushes 2-600 nautical miles within its envelope of capabilities. It can make these trips at speeds up to Mach 0.8- thanks in part to the sleek- svelte lines of this Challenger and the miserly fuel numbers of its powerplants (Honeywell’s 6-826-pounds-thrust HTF 7000) and their sophisticated FADEC controls.

At the distances quoted- there’s little in the Lower 48 that the Challenger 300 can’t connect non-stop. Enhancing the range capabilities is the 300’s runway performance- which opens up to it airports with as little as 4-900 feet to offer.

In addition- the spacious cabin stands taller than six feet- spans more than seven- and stretches nearly 17 feet. For those of average stature- the Challenger 300 provides as much stand-up room as its bigger kin- the large-cabin Challenger 605 – albeit in a more-slender- shorter cabin. Well equipped for the role of an international business traveler- the Challenger 300 costs just under $21 million. But if the demand is a worthy indicator- the market has judged the Challenger 300 an excellent value.

Learjet 45XL
The Learjet 45XL stands as one of those designs that challenge category boundaries. Originally conceived as something of a ‘super-light’ jet- the original Learjet 45 boasted a cabin volume closer to that of a ‘smallish’ mid-cabin aircraft - albeit minus about three-quarters of a foot in height and width. Compared to its predecessors in the Learjet family- this airplane broke new ground in size and space.

But a series of improvements to enhance its capabilities (change that earned the “XL” suffix) put today’s Learjet 45XL nearly eight percent into our medium jet weight range. Thus- we deal with it here- in the company of its larger hangar mates- the Learjet 60XR and 85.

Inside- the Learjet 45XL measures 4.9 feet tall- 5.1 feet wide and just short of 20 feet long. Boasting the classic lines of Learjets dating back to the original Lear 23- it flies on a pair of Honeywell TFE731-20BR powerplants flat-rated to 3-500 pounds of thrust at conditions up to 35 degrees Celsius. The combination of Learjet lines and Honeywell power produce a cruiser worthy of the family name – including a top operating speed of 0.81 Mach with efficiency that exceeds that of even the old Learjet 31A- long held as the most fuel efficient jet made.

That level of fuel efficiency in the Learjet 45XL lets it cover more than 1-800 nautical miles while carrying four – and do that on less than 4-800 pounds of fuel. Most days- a 5-000-foot runway will work- and even up high at 5-000 msl- it still needs only 5-800 feet of runway in exchange for giving up about 900 pounds of payload.

A distinct asset to the 45XL and its payload capabilities is the Honeywell Primus 1000 integrated avionics system- a package which eliminated hundreds of pounds of equipment weight compared to the systems typical in prior Learjets. So- if the smallest end of the mid-size weight range appeals to your sense of value- a Learjet 45XL comes in at just under $12 million- equipped to work.

Learjet 60XR
A long-term member of the medium-jet class- the Learjet 60 reigned for years as the top of the marquee for the Learjet line. Today- as you’ll see below- it now has a new relative to look up to- as well as a range of improvements that take the model to a new level as the Learjet 60XR. Pratt & Whitney Canada rates the 60XR’s two PW305A engines to 4-500 pounds of thrust at conditions up to ISA+17 degrees Celsius- power enough to give the model a top cruise speed of Mach 0.81 with the efficiency to cover more than 2-400 nautical miles.

The Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 system brings the flight crew the best in an integrated avionics suite- an asset when an aircraft’s runway capabilities open up fields as short as 5-400 feet. Other features new to the 60XR include Electronic Flight Bag capability with all-electronic charts and plates – that’s right- a paperless cockpit… at least- from the navigation perspective. The value equation for the 60XR gets a boost from a price a bit above $13.5 million.

Learjet 85
There’s a new addition coming to the Learjet stable- an addition representing only the second time since the original 23 that an all-new- clean-sheet design will carry the Learjet badge. Even more groundbreaking: the upcoming Learjet 85 will be the first all-composite jet for Learjet and Bombardier… Yes- carbon-fiber technology is coming to a Learjet.

Unfortunately- the program recently fell into a state of uncertainty about its progress and timing following the insolvency filing of Grob. While many questions remain concerning how the Learjet 85 program is to progress from here- Learjet and Bombardier remain bullish on its prospects and commitment to the program. No wonder; it already boasts a considerable backlog.

First- the Learjet 85 stands to be the first all-composite FAR 25 business jet- in addition to the first for the manufacturer. According to company officials- the goal was an airplane capable of enticing people ready to move up from the 60/60XR range but not looking to move as far as the Challenger series.

The design targets tell the tale: The Learjet 85 interior measures 71 inches –three inches taller – and 73 inches wide – about two inches wider than the 60XR. At 25 feet in length- the 85 is about 30 inches longer than the 60’s interior- too. With this much space- this Learjet could fit two double-club seating areas- additional seating and an aft-cabin lavatory as wide as the inside fuselage.

Pratt & Whitney Canada’s new PW307B in a 6-100-pound thrust setting will provide cleaner power- thanks to its state-of-the-art design touches- such as its TALON low-emission combustor- among a number of high-tech advances made for reliability and fuel efficiency. And Rockwell Collins’ Pro Line Fusion integrated flight deck will bring to the Learjet 85s’ flight crews benefits and enhancements found on no previous Learjet. The plan calls for a cockpit configuration with three 15-inch screens handling all the necessary displays needs.

Bombardier promises a 3-000-nautical range with four- at Mach 0.82 top cruise speed- and Learjet-standard fuel efficiency - and the most comfort ever available from the mark. Learjet definitely plans to give the market a new design at a size- price and performance price-point of around $18 million – a segment lightly populated today.

More information from www.aero.bombardier.com

CESSNA AIRCRAFT:
Citation Sovereign
If you viewed the business jet market at a cross section sliced for optimal observation- you might notice that planemakers seem to strive to leave no niche unfilled. This- from that view- may help explain the success of Cessna’s latest mid-size addition- the Citation Sovereign.

Sporting a four-screen version of Rockwell-Collins’ Primus Epic advanced integrated flight deck- the Sovereign also came to market with a new-generation engine variant and an aerodynamic profile that makes it a stand-out performer at both ends of the flight envelope.

Take the runways that book-end any mission- for example: the Sovereign’s efficient airframe design works with the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW306C turbofans to shrink runway needs down to as short as 3-600 feet- a class-topping number. At the opposite end of the flight regime- in the flight levels and cruising fast- those engines’ 5-770 pounds of thrust deliver thrust enough to deliver Mach 0.8 with efficiency to fuel legs exceeding 2-800 nautical miles.

With a cabin measuring 5.7 feet tall- 5.5 wide and more than 25 feet long- the Sovereign may be more svelte than other contenders in this class. And if access to runways under 4-000 feet is an important box to check off the list- the Sovereign may be your only choice in a mid-cabin jet.

Nonetheless- until the Learjet 85 starts challenging the Sovereign in their narrow slice of this segment- this Citation should rule its neighborhood thanks to its competitive numbers and a value price of around $17 million.

Citation X
Still the reigning king of the Citation line – at least- until the Columbus large-cabin Citation arrives in a couple of years’ time – the Citation X no longer holds claim to being the largest Citation. Cessna handed across that laurel when it received the papers for the Sovereign. But the Citation X still reigns Cessna’s line- as well as all of corporate aviation- as the fastest business jet flying. And based on the continuing popularity of the Citation X- there seems no doubt: speed thrills- chills – and sells.

Capable of efficiently using its smoking Mach 0.92 Mmo- the Citation X may soon have a challenger nibbling at its wingtips- but for now and some time to come- the ability to cruise comfortably at 600mph remains a trait unique to the Citation X.

That kind of velocity means sprints between L.A. and New York in a mere four hours- give or take- with equal savings on the return. How about a 12-hour day starting on one coast- going to the other for a three-hour meeting- and then back before ticking into the 13th hour?

The power and reliability of the 6-764-pounds-thrust AE3007C1 engines from Rolls-Royce make oceanic trips non-events. And the five-screen Primus 2000 flight deck from Honeywell assists the flight crew in keeping track of all the information so necessary when you’re hurtling through the sky at a mile every six seconds. Lining up a Citation X will cost you a bit less than $21 million. And then you’ll have one less excuse for ever being tardy.

More information from www.cessna.com


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