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No event in the annual calendar better represents the broadest cross section of general aviation users than the annual convention of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Indeed- AOPA Expo 2002 proved as good a showcase for the promise of new-generation light jets as any.

Dave Higdon   |   1st December 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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No event in the annual calendar better represents the broadest cross section of general aviation users than the annual convention of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Indeed- AOPA Expo 2002 proved as good a showcase for the promise of new-generation light jets as any.

With the introduction of yet another model at AOPA Expo 2002- the newly minted 'super-light' class of light jets grew to at least six in development. Three companies have actually flown their creations in one form or another. The other three firms look ahead to first flights falling anywhere from one to three years.

It’s the prices for these planes for sale that make for some jaw dropping when pilots discuss the prospects. The range starts at under $900-000 and range up to $2.3 million; the lowest that jet performance has ever cost. Plenty of people are convinced these dream machines will happen.

More than 3-000 firm orders- options and purchases already exist filling backlogs that extend only five years into the future. Industry outlooks and corporate forecasts anticipate a class-specific market upwards of 1-000 units annually in the next 10 years.

Clearly- the end of this decade could come with a new population of general aviation jets and jet users unimaginable in the final years of the 20th century.

Just as clearly- the spectrum of a private jet population doubling within 10 years poses some interesting challenges for aviation regulators- airport operators- industry planners and other suppliers- from flight training to flight planning. Imagine the worries of making the system ready to accommodate three times as many business jets in 2012 as are flying in 2002! And to think- as in aviation from the start 99 years ago- it has taken big advances in engines to turn the market where it’s never before gone: Toward the smallest end.

Small fans make big fans
The business aviation community just went through something like this less than 15 years ago- back in the late 1980s- when Cessna Aircraft and Swearingen Aircraft first conceived and launched their revolutionary new entry-level jets – respectively the CitationJet and the SJ30.

The credit – or blame- if you will – went exclusively to Williams International and then Williams-Rolls- the inventor and the supplier team for the engine that made the two new entry-level jets possible.

Smaller- lighter and simpler than anything before deployed- the original 1-900-pound-thrust FJ44 found great favor with planemakers targeting the light end of the business jet segment. Employed initially on the CitationJet- the original FJ44 evolved into larger versions for other applications- including three different CitationJet models made today- the Sino-Swearingen SJ30-2- the Raytheon Premier I and others.

As Williams and Rolls supplied this ever-growing line of engines- Williams won a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration under the General Aviation Propulsion development program- and the tiny FJX-II came into existence.

Measuring only a few inches across- about three feet long and weighing less than 100 pounds- the FJX-II flew hundreds of hours of tests in a Burt Rutan-designed one-off aircraft to help Williams define and refine its new powerplant.

That engine today powers the leader of this new pack of personal jets bearing the Williams label- EJ22. With 770 pounds of thrust and an installed weight under 100 pounds- this new engine is not alone in inspiring the revolution in personal aviation- but it is the engine on which early hopes rest for the success of this new class of super-light jets. In addition- others- such as Florida-based Agilis- hope to make their own way with a new- sub-100-pound jet engine.

As with every aviation advance since the first Wright Flyer of 1903- the existence of the aircraft rested solely on the existence of a suitable engine to power the plane. For all that’s changed in 100 years of aviation history- this is one aspect that remains a fact of life as power flight enters its 100th year this month.

Of course- little else is unchanged; Least of all- an airspace system already struggling with needed change. Let’s see if my memory is sound here: Airlines serve approximately 550 public airports; general aviation accesses more than 10 times as many public-use airports; and more than twice that number – how about 12-000 or so – private airports exist for the benefit of individuals- private firms and publicly traded companies.

If you look at a map of only public-access airports- you’ll see that for much of North America- an aircraft is seldom more than a few minutes from an available runway – and these numbers are half of what they were a decade ago. Now- imagine 3-000 or so of these public airports suddenly handling a handful of regular jet flights – jet flights at altitudes in which individual traffic today is a fraction of the total action.

Combine the impact of this expected surge in traffic by new jet users with growth forecast from the rest- business aircraft users’ jets and the onward march of airline traffic and you can begin to assemble a picture that already worries airspace-system planners and operators.

The advent of satellite-based advances in traffic management – Free Flight- ADS-B- WAAS and LAAS – holds promise for expanding system capacity and more. Among the other promises are precision instrument-landing capabilities expanded to airports without the added expense and complexity of on-site hardware such as ILS systems.

With so many of these new jets boasting runway capabilities far lower than in the past- the potential increases for light jets to use some of the nation’s smallest runways – in some cases- as short as 2-500 feet. So as more jets come into the systems- many more thousands of airports should be able to accept more high-performance traffic in weather that today would preclude use by even the slowest aircraft.

Players in the revolution
Now we come to the meat-and-potatoes of this revolution: The planes that are shaking up the known universe of jet aviation. All of these programs are developmental; some may never reach the market. So- we present these prospects in alphabetical order- with no judgment on the relative prospects of each program.

You can judge for yourself the prospects- using the information presented herein and your own insights into the industry. But have no doubt; a few of these programs will reach fruition- thanks to experience- great financing or the shear will-power of the backers.

How well they make their marks- how well they perform and- ultimately- their market acceptance- will depend on a number of factors: Timing; performance; meeting promised development goals; and market conditions at the time of their certification.

All of the birds presented below are targeted to weigh between 6-000 and 7-000 pounds at maximum gross weight. They all seat six or less- and they all represent a sea change in value.
For frame of reference- the original CitationJet when introduced in 1989 set the low bar for business jet ownership- with a price of about $2.7 million; today- as Cessna chairman Russ Meyer noted recently- the CJ1 tops $3.8 million.

By comparison- the most expensive in this new class- another new Cessna Citation model comes in at $2.29 million fully equipped. Otherwise- each model is distinct in its choice of engines- airframe materials and the history of the company doing the developing. Here goes.

Adam Aircraft A700
The same company working on the A500 centerline-thrust piston twin is already looking ahead to a growth model – and the A700 twinjet is that program.

Launched at AOPA Expo 2002 in October- the A700 uses the same airframe as the piston twin- but with some changes- naturally. For example- the engines on this twin-boom aircraft will be mounted on either side of the main fuselage- as is common for the vast majority of business jets flying today.

The fuselage is being stretched about 30 inches to add enough cabin space to accommodate a small lavatory- and the A700 gets expanded luggage capacity thanks to the availability of airframe space where the piston engines mount on the A500.

Powered by two Williams FJ33 engines – the first production engine was shown at Expo – the A700 promises a cruise speed of about 340 knots and an IFR range of about 1-100 nautical- putting it squarely in the same territory as most of these new jets.

The price- however- is a bit more competitive than some- a bit less than others- at $1.995 million. The company expects the first flight of this carbon-fiber jet in mid-2003- with certification expected in late 2004.

Century Aerospace

In more-or-less hiatus is Bill Northrup’s attempt to develop a highly affordable business jet- the CA-100. Originally conceived as a single-engine airframe when first unveiled in 1994- the Century product evolved over time into a twin to be powered by the Williams International FJ33.

The six-place fuselage was to be composite- while the wings and empennage were to be metal. For now- however- the program is in limbo until Northrup secures funding. Past attempts to secure development support have fallen short- and overtures to other companies have not resulted in the program’s resurrection.

Nevertheless- Northrup is continuing to work toward his goal of providing the world with an affordable business jet. With funding secured- the program could be back in the swing rather quickly- with a prototype flying within two years or less.

Cessna Citation Mustang
The announcement of this new jet at NBAA earlier this year makes the third time in 30 years that Cessna Aircraft Co. has rewritten the rules for entry-level business jets. And just as did Cessna’s previous groundbreakers- the Citation Mustang broke all records for sales of a new plane during the week of its announcement.

More than 250 people put down a $10-000 deposit to secure a delivery position on a new Mustang; by the end of AOPA Expo six weeks after NBAA- the number was around 300 – and growing.

Despite what some folks in the industry expected- the Cessna design wasn't geared to compete head on with any other design. As before- Cessna decided to define its own category- and what a job the company did in writing that definition. This bird comes in at $2.29 million (for now) and offers as much utility as any of Cessna’s other ground-breaking business jet advances: the original Citation Model 500 of 1972 and the CitationJet Model 525 that the company started delivering in 1992.

Look for cruise speeds in the 340-knot to 350-knot range; an IFR cruise range of around 1-100 miles; space for six; and an all-glass cockpit panel that is as functional as it is spare and simple.

Many of the vendor details remain in flux. For example- Cessna is weighing whether to use Williams’ FJ33 or a new PW603 powerplant from Pratt & Whitney Canada. Ditto on the flight displays- with Honeywell’s Apex system in contention with Goodrich’s SmartDeck.

However- Cessna’s not on as fast a track as some of the other programs. First flight is not anticipated until late 2004- with certification and first deliveries penned in for 2006. Needless to say- the line won’t be getting any shorter than it is now.

Eclipse Aviation
Eclipse 500

If you want to mark who started this ball rolling- look to Albuquerque- New Mexico- and the folks of Eclipse Aviation. The Eclipse 500 represents a departure on so many levels that it can stand as a revolution unto itself.

First- there’s the price: $837-500- in year 2000 dollars. At that price- the Eclipse 500 puts price pressure on a number of single- and multi-engine piston airplanes- including Beechcraft’s two top-of-the-line models- the A36 Bonanza (now well over $600-000) and the B-58 Baron twin (now slightly more than $1 million).

There are more examples of the revolution Eclipse represents in the plane itself- namely that Eclipse plans to use the tiny Williams EJ22 engines- the first application for the production engine developed out of the NASA GAP research effort. At less than 100 pounds with a whopping 770 pounds of thrust each- full dual-FADEC control architecture and the smallest parts count of any fanjet engine ever made- nothing comparable has ever come to jet aviation – let alone so small a jet.

Furthermore- Eclipse has opted for conventional aluminum construction- albeit with a totally unconventional assembly method known as 'Friction Stir Welding.' The welding process uses no electric arc- no external heat source- no flux and no inert gas. Instead- a spinning tool brought to bear on the joint to be welded generates enough heat to puddle the aluminum and allow the two surfaces to merge- forming a seam stronger than the surrounding metal. The process eliminates the need for about 70 percent of the fasteners normally needed to join the parts for a similar-sized aluminum airframe.

Finally- Eclipse promises that the 500 will be a totally digital aircraft- from the micro motors that control flap deployment to the sensors used to control the engine- sense altitude- attitude and magnetic heading- to the displays and flight-control hardware.

With its first flight in late August- the Eclipse 500 answered some critics’ challenge that the plane would never fly. Powerplant problems have limited test flights since- but development continues with a full suite of the electronics hardware running in a lab- with short crow hops off the runway- taxi tests and other needed work.

That first prototype was built using production tooling and approved processes; a second prototype should be near the end of the assembly line by the time you read this.

Already- Eclipse has worked to solve the challenges of training thus assuring the customers currently holding deposits for more than 2-000 500s. If the engine problems are solved soon- expect certification by this time next year and first deliveries in the first quarter of 2004.

Aviation Technology Group

ATG is developing several products around a common airframe and one of those variations is geared to the owner/pilot who always lusted to fly combat aircraft – introducing the Javelin.

ATG debuted the Javelin at EAA AirVenture 2002 in Oshkosh earlier this year. But despite the venue chosen for the public unveiling- this bird is not geared to the homebuilders and it’s not a kit aircraft. Instead- it’s a sophisticated- pressurized- twin-engine jet with a metal airframe and two of the latest powerplants from Williams International- the FJ33.

Subsequent showings of the mock-up at NBAA and AOPA Expo have served to cement the little fighter clone into the minds of the pilot public. For the business-owner/aviator who needs little more than two seats- this $2.2 million offering promises satisfaction on several levels.
First- the Javelin’s 0.92 Mach cruise speed puts it in league with only one other business jet- Cessna’s hot Citation X.

Next- there’s the utility of a business jet with a 1-250 miles IFR range that makes continent crossing a one-stop proposition. Finally- the Javelin promises a 200-pound luggage capacity that allows two travelers the flexibility of packing what they need versus what the plane can accommodate.

The two 1-500-pound-thrust FJ33 powerplants also provide some other benefits – such as an eardrum-popping 10-000 feet-per-minute climb rate – aside from the blistering 528-knot cruise speed. There are times and places where ATC might allow such hot climb rates – but not as a general rule.

Conversely- however- the extreme maneuverability promised by the Javelin’s svelte form should make almost any flight time a treat for the business pilot who enjoys flying for flying’s sake.
Standard equipment expected includes dual controls- full IFR capability- large dual-screen EFIS displays- three-axis autopilot- GPS and FMS- TAWS and E-TCAS. ATG expects first flight of the Javelin next year. In the meantime- the company is accepting deposits of $25-000.

Safire Aircraft

Out of West Palm Beach- Florida- Safire Aircraft continues to quietly advance its debut program- the S-26 twin-jet. Initially- the Safire and Eclipse programs emerged together- but in the interim the Eclipse program has moved ahead by virtue of only one program delay to date and more slippage on the part of Safire.

But the company still hopes to fly its initial prototype in the second half of 2003 which- if successful- will add further depth to the emerging market for jets under $1 million. Safire is currently pricing its plane at about $920-000- low enough to attract a claimed 900 deposits.

Wind tunnel tests should be well along- if not complete- by now. Engine choice- while still centered on the developmental Agilis 1-000-pound-thrust light fanjet- could shift depending on Agilis’ ability to attract a manufacturer for its all-new powerplant.

Safire plans to use a metal frame covered by composite skins for the fuselage and empennage- while the wing itself will be all-metal. Expected performance is in line with other jets in this category: Cruise speed of 330 knots- range of about 1-100 nautical- and a payload capable of taking a full cabin for shorter legs.

If the program secures needed funding to proceed and the first flight comes on schedule- Safire expects to certificate and deliver airplanes in late 2004.


Arguably the company that started the community looking downscale where jets are concerned- the Visionaire Vantage has been around longer than all the others – and is also arguably the most-unique as the only single-engine jet conceived or developed. First launched at the Las Vegas NBAA convention in 1994- a proof-of-concept Vantage made its first flight in the fall of 1996 on a unique forward-swept wing designed to enhance low-speed handling while satisfying the competing demands of high 350-knot cruise speed and a 70-knot landing speed.

Company chairman James O. Rice managed to secure buyers- risk-sharing partners- development funding and support from the community of Aimes- Iowa- for a factory – completed back in 1997. Somewhere along the way though- the program took some hard knocks. The proof-of-concept plane- designed and manufactured by Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites in Mojave- California showed up some problems in the wing- the landing gear- engine inlets and interior systems.

The JD15D engine- a proven performer- shined- along the way – the very reason the company opted for an older- established powerplant. Indeed- the target numbers were enviable: 350-knot cruise; 1-000-nautical-mile range with a 1-250-pound payload; and the ability to use runways as short as 2-500 feet. All for about $1.75 million – back at the beginning.

Nevertheless- the program has been largely dormant for the past three years- with most employees long ago laid off. That doesn’t mean that the program is dead- Rice told us at NBAA.

In a brief conversation- Rice reiterated that funding remains the biggest problem – and that he is closing in on the funding needed to resume work. The company still operates out of its offices at Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield- Missouri. The company’s website now quotes a price of $2.195 million.

And if it could move back into active status- there are still a large number of pilots who would relish a jet like the Vantage.

Read more about: Cessna Citation Mustang

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