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Mega-Growth in Micro-Jets - but what does it mean?


The annual AirVenture convention of the Experimental Aircraft Association draws a diversity of aviators like no other event. The owner-flown military hardware represents history- not the state-of-the art; likewise for the commercial aircraft on display. Whether a Junkers Ju-52- B-17- DC-3 or DC-10- the working birds of Oshkosh don’t compete- they complement.

No airline executives wander the grounds on tour with manufacturers’ reps at their elbows espousing the profit potential of flying the Ford Tri-Motor or Boeing 307 Stratoliner flown at the show. Likewise- no government officials consider the potential purchase of the P-51 Mustangs or Supermarine Spitfires flying mock-assaults on invisible opponents whose ultimate destruction is simulated by a series of glass-flexing- flame-roaring pyrotechnics. But there’s still loads of contract-signing- aircraft-buying action that happens among the 11-000-plus aircraft for sale on the field.

For the past several years- new business jets for sale represent one of the biggest growth areas for buyers. The advent of the micro-jet class that emerged in 2001 helped make Oshkosh a focal point for the pilots that make up the core market for these little turbine birds.

And in the year since EAA AirVenture 2002- the number of micro-jets available to shop increased by upwards of a whopping 50 percent – from six a year ago to nine at the show that ended early last month.

Will the class grow even larger in the coming years? It seems more than a little probable that more models will arrive- given the efforts of other companies- which have confirmed work on jet airframe and engine designs. And of at least equal likelihood will be attrition within the ranks as some of today’s contenders lose momentum- funding or otherwise find themselves with an unsupportable program.

There also seems potential for lighter micro-jets that expand the group into even lighter- smaller airplanes for four and even two. Already developers have proposed two-seat jets ostensibly for the executive/pilot with a hankering for something distinctly military like in appearance.

What seems totally unlikely is this class ever going away- especially with some studies indicating a long-term market potential exceeding 20-000 such mini-jets over the next two decades.

Seed of growth:
Without Charlie Taylor- the Wright Brothers could never have flown their Flyer at Kill Devil Hills on December 17- 1903; Taylor built the world’s first successful aircraft engine- the Wright Engine Number 1 that powered the first Flyer nearly a century ago. Without Taylor’s engine- the Wrights had only another glider – a machine incapable of launching into flight from level ground and touching down at the same elevation- or higher.

This factor remains a dominant element in aircraft execution to this day. Airframes require matching engines and new engines typically spur new- complementary airframe designs. For example- the lack of the OX-5 would have kept the Curtiss Jenny- and other planes- from their success; minus the Rolls-Royce Merlin- there could have been no Supermarine Spitfire or P-51 or P-38 Lightning or de Havilland Mosquito; without Olympus engines- no Concorde.

In business aviation- comes the relatively recent example of Williams International’s first commercially viable civil-aircraft engine- the FJ44. No FJ44- no Citation Jet for sale- Premier I business jet for sale or SJ30-2. As we said- engines make airplanes – and the right engine often makes the difference between an airplane’s success and mere paper-design status. So it is with the new class of micro-jet aircraft we’re addressing here.

Save for a new wave of downward powerplant evolution- these birds could not be realistically proposed- let alone designed- built and- in a couple of instances- flown. But these new engines amount to only a portion of the new aspects to these new jets.

New large-screen flat-panel avionics permeate the group; composites are a significant factor. One embraces a wholly new manufacturing approach for an aluminum airplane – one long used in spacecraft production.

Together these elements are combining to seed a true departure business-turbine aircraft evolution- a move into relative size and cost levels that compete with some popular piston twins in both weight and price – albeit with performance competitive with many jets twice their size and four times their costs.

Now that you’ve sampled some of what makes the grouping truly new- let’s examine what makes each one distinct.

Adam Aircraft A700:
Adam only announced development of the A700 in mid-October 2002- unveiling a mock-up of the new jet days later at the annual AOPA Expo held last year in Palm Springs- California. With the company’s original A500 flown only a few weeks earlier on July 11- the announcement of a second model generated considerable buzz for the company founded by entrepreneur Ric Adam.

Barely a year after flying its first prototype- Adam achieved another milestone with the A700 by flying the first prototype in July 2003 – then taking the prototype to EAA’s AirVenture event days later.

Credit for the rapid move forward with the A700 goes in part to its sibling- the A500. The A700 embodies much of the work done on its centerline-thrust piston single sibling. Same wing; same twin fuselage booms and empennage.

The A700 sports a larger cabin volume – still pressurized – thanks to the use of space vacated by removing the fore- and aft-fuselage piston engines of the A500. Instead- Adam employed the industry-standard of rear-fuselage mounts for two Williams International FJ33 engines Adam Aircraft selected to power the $1.995 million jet.

Adam is the first company to tap this new engine- which is expected to earn certification by the end of this year. We’ll delve more into the status and history of the A700 in a detailed story elsewhere in this issue.

Aerostar Aircraft FJ-100:
Launched last year with an eye toward certification in 2006- the FJ-100 from Aerostar Aircraft came into being as a melding of new-technology fanjet engines with the proven performance of Ted Smith’s AeroStar piston twin – specifically- the 702P model that sported a pressurized fuselage.

In reality- the evolution of Smith’s design into a jet fits his long-term intentions for his creation back when it all began more than two decades ago – and he has former employees to thank. Former Smith engineer Steve Speer and Jim Christy head up the new company attempting to continue Smith’s vision for his AeroStar.

Fortunately- today’s newer- smaller- engines provided the Idaho-based company with options unavailable when Smith was still around. The engine choice for this micro-jet: Again- Williams International’s new FJ33 at 1-300 pounds of thrust.

With two FJ33s at work- the company expects the FJ-100 to make a maximum cruise speed of just over 400 knots- with a 3-150-pound payload that means six can travel 1-000 nautical – with reserves.

By working off an already certificated- known airframe- the company hopes to win certification at a lower cost level than required to scratch-design a new model. Thanks to that existing-aircraft foundation- the company has set a price of $2.095 million (in 2002 dollars). If the company succeeds in securing the funding needed- the FJ-100 could be in deliveries by 2006.

Aviation Technology Group
Javelin:

Designed as a two-place executive/pilot transport- the Javelin from Aviation Technology Group made news at EAA AirVenture when the company announced plans to employ Avidyne’s slick Entegra all-glass cockpit in the $2.2 million jet.

The Javelin more closely resembles a combat aircraft such as the F/A-18 or F-15- thanks to its tandem-seat configuration and twin-engine powerplant design. Indeed- thanks to the Javelin’s use of composites in the structure- two high-efficiency- 1-500-pound-thrust engines- and modular avionics- ATG boasts that the little jet will provide the lowest operating cost of any jet aircraft for sale in its speed- weight or price class. At as little as $0.79 per mile – or about $419 per hour at 530 mph (480 knots) – the direct operating costs come in at a price point even piston singles will envy.

But ATG put more than performance into its approach to designing the Javelin. For example- the use of an all-digital panel like the Entegra system means lower maintenance and production costs. Composites likewise mean less worry about airframe wear and corrosion.

And with a luggage space capable of carrying two bags of golf clubs within its 200-pound weight capacity- that busy executive (and an assistant- customer- etc.) won’t have to scrimp on what to carry on those legs of 350 to 1-000 miles- for which ATG calls the Javelin 'ideal.'

The Denver-based company expects first flight next year- certification and deliveries in 2006.

Avocet Aircraft ProJet:
The newest contender in the micro-jet or mini-jet field hails from Avocet Aircraft- Westport- Connecticut- in partnership with one of business aviation’s most-familiar names- Israel Aircraft Industries – a combination that sets apart the ProJet from most other contenders. Save for Cessna and its entry- virtually all the others come from start-up firms.

Avocet Aircraft still faces most of the hurdles of those fledgling firms- including execution of its plans for a $2 million jet seating six to eight- but IAI- at least- has been involved in similar relationships- the most-recent coming with Galaxy Aircraft. Thus the division of labor is similar.

In this partnership- IAI handles the design- development- engineering- certification and production of the ProJet – with final assembly and completion in the U.S. Avocet handles marketing- sales- delivery- support- and training – all points of direct customer contact.

And what- exactly- should the customers expect? A light jet with performance comparable to most of its direct competitors- providing Avocet makes good on its preliminary specifications. A cruise speed of 365 knots- range of 1-200 nautical miles- a maximum gross take-off weight of 7-160 pounds and a maximum payload of 1-400 pounds can be expected.

Power for the ProJet will come from a pair of 1-300-pound-thrust engines- putting the two most-likely contenders into the same competition they faced for the Citation Mustang we’ll discuss later: Pratt & Whitney Canada- with its new PW615; and Williams International- whose FJ33 is currently flying on the Adam A700 jet discussed above.

Avocet also plans to employ an integrated digital cockpit similar to Avidyne’s Entegra- Garmin’s G1000 and Honeywell’s Apex. Needless to say- the advent of Avocet will be keeping busy the marketing folks at a number of possible suppliers to the ProJet – and for some time to come.

Avocet anticipates the ProJet’s first flight coming in mid- to late 2005- while initial deliveries are planned to start in the fourth quarter of 2006.

Century Aerospace
Century 100:

Dormant but not dead is the current outlook for the CA-100 jet spearheaded by Bill Northrup and his company- Century Aerospace. Launched more than five years ago- the CA-100 has evolved from a single to a twin-jet; from one progressing smartly to a program looking for funding.

Northrup started facing funding difficulties about the time Eclipse announced plans to develop the 500 – and a price point of less than $1 million. Investors turned away from several embryonic programs for which anticipated prices far exceeded $1 million. Progress in the interim has been largely non-existent.

But Cessna’s 2002 launch of the Mustang helped restore interest in the larger mini-jet programs- thanks largely to the huge swell of orders booked at the littlest Citation’s price of $2.295 million. Meanwhile- the company is offering nothing in the way of specifications or timetable targets as work continues to secure funding and resume progress.

Cessna Aircraft
Citation Mustang:

For more than two years rumors swirled about a Cessna response to the wildly successful launch of the Eclipse 500 – and when the response finally came last fall at the NBAA convention in Orlando- it defied expectations.

Instead of a sub-million jet- Cessna unveiled the Citation Mustang- a six-place- single-pilot bird priced at $2.295 million – more than twice the price asked for the Eclipse. In proof that a proven performer can move a market- Cessna accepted hundreds of deposits before NBAA delegates left Orlando last September – and continued to book more interest through the AOPA Expo that followed in late October last year.

Since the launch- Cessna has begun converting refundable deposits into non-refundable orders and selecting vendors for the littlest Citation. Pratt & Whitney Canada’s 1-350-pound-thrust PW615F engine won out over Williams’ FJ33 and Garmin’s G1000 system landed the flat-panel cockpit-display slot for the Mustang’s front office.

Work progresses in Wichita on the Mustang- with the first set of engines to power the prototype due in the fourth quarter of 2004 and first flight expected in 2005. That’s when Cessna can start adding performance meat to the marketing equation - and the Mustang’s performance numbers are obviously competitive.

Carrying three and full fuel- the Mustang will be capable of flying more than 1-100 nautical miles – plus reserves – at speeds up to 340 knots and altitudes as high as FL410. Best of all- the Mustang’s runway numbers open up virtually any paved strip of 2-500 feet or more – adding yet another attraction for the owner pilot.

Diamond Aircraft
Diamond Jet:

From Austria- with ambition is Diamond Aircraft- an increasingly aggressive competitor in the light-plane market. Earlier this year Diamond announced plans to develop the D-Jet- or Diamond Jet- again employing composite-airframe technology already successful on the company’s DA40 Star- DA20 Katana- DA42 TwinStar- and a series of motorgliders.

Back in January 2003- Diamond announced plans to develop a new single-engine jet with a price point of under $1 million- and according to the company progress toward a 2004 first flight is on-schedule.

Company executives promise an aircraft weighing in at 4-700 pounds at MTOW- capable of carrying five at altitudes up to 25-000 feet- a maximum cabin altitude of 8-000 feet and best-cruise speed of 315 knots. With an engine in the 1-400-pound thrust class- the D-Jet is expected to be capable of handling runways as short as 2-000 feet while climbing to altitude in about eight minutes.

In April- at the EAA Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In in Florida- Diamond announced a firm price of $850-000 and started accepting orders for its new jet. That price will include a glass cockpit- a move Diamond has embraced for its existing DA40 with the selection of Avidyne’s Entegra solid-state PFD and MFD gear.

As of last month- company executives confirmed progress on the program with first flight still expected in 2004- and certification and initial deliveries coming in 2006.

Eclipse Aircraft
Eclipse 500:

Two steps forward- one step back - that could be the tail of Eclipse Aviation in the last year. After celebrating the roll-out of the first prototype – on-time and on-budget – in July 2002- the company made the 500’s maiden flight in August of that year.

But after that first flight progress came to a halt because of problems with the Williams International EJ22 engines- company chairman Vern Raburn later confirmed. Within a few months- Williams was out and after a reconsideration of the engines available- P&WC was in with its 900-pound-thrust PW610F- the second in the family of new smaller-sized powerplants the Canadian engine maker launched last year.

In the meantime- flight tests resumed in May with some non-spec engines so that engineers can make progress on gathering airframe and aerodynamic data until the new engines become available late next year. The engine change also precipitated other changes that impact on the airframe- landing gear and fuel capacity.

As of the completion of Phase One flight tests last spring- the company appeared on track to confirm the 500’s revised operating specs: 375 knots true- up 20 knots from numbers for the original engine; range- 1-280 nautical- down 20 nautical miles from original specs; a new stall speed of 67 knots – still well within the parameters of FAR 23. Operating costs with the new engines is quoted at $0.69 per mile- or under $260 per hour.

The company seems to have the airframe-making side well along- based on a partially completed fuselage displayed at the company’s stand at EAA AirVenture 2003.

Credit to the company’s rapid progress in manufacturing belongs partly to the selection of Friction Stir Welding as the predominant process for joining airframe parts- partly to the depth in CNC manufacturing and computer programming within the company.

Fortunately for Eclipse- the big engine shake-up experience ended without a wholesale abandonment of customers – although a few changed their minds. The near crisis also failed to dissuade investors- with Eclipse completing its fifth and final round of funding last month – another $87 million that puts total resources at nearly $350 million.

Yet the engine debacle has forced a new timetable on Eclipse- which now expects initial deliveries in early 2006 – presuming the move to tests with the new engines start as currently scheduled.

All in all- though- the Eclipse 500 still falls into the same price- range and payload region it opened up as the first of the mini-jets out of the starting gate back in 1999. The price will be $1.175 million – and while more than the original $875-000 of four years ago- it’s still in all other ways a standard setter.

Safire Aircraft S-26:
Safire’s program is the one in the pack with longevity equal to Eclipse’s- thanks to the company’s launch back in the same year that the label 'mini-jet' first started to appear in the business aviation lexicon. Indeed- similar to the Eclipse 500- the Safire S-26 development program has experienced some modifications that appear to make the little six-seat jet a program with stronger potential.

From a small composite airframe powered by an all-new engine- the S-26 has evolved into a conventional metal airframe using an already popular engine – popular- that is- from the selection standpoint- since none yet fly in a certificated aircraft. But Safire’s selection of the 1-100-pound-thrust Williams International FJ33-4 powerplant over the all-new Agelis means that there will be larger numbers of customers on which development costs and production will be shared.

Safire’s airframe has undergone both the materials and a size redesign in the past year – again to better position the airplane to compete with the flock of airplanes for sale in its class.
The company has already moved into new- larger facilities at Miami’s Opa Locka Airport- from digs at West Palm Beach- and work is underway on the four prototypes the company plans to employ in certification. First flight is expected in the first quarter of 2004 with certification and initial deliveries following in by the end of the following year.

That new jet should boast a 380-knot maximum cruise speed – about 50 knots faster than the original design. Maximum range goes to 1-300 nautical with minimum payload. However- with 800 pounds in the cabin- the S-26 will be capable of covering more than 1-100 nautical miles- with 45 minutes of reserves. Single-pilot and known-icing certification are also part of the equation.

The S-26 will be capable of operating from runways as short as 2-500 feet- providing operators with the option of using the vast majority of airports in the U.S. The price for this prowess: $1.395 million for new orders.

Read more about: Adam Aircraft A700 | Eclipse 500 | VLJ | Cessna Citation Mustang | Aerostar Aircraft FJ-100 | Javelin | Micro Jets | Avocet Aircraft ProJet | Century 100 | Diamond Jet | Safire Aircraft S-26

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