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VLJ Round Up (2004)

For some- the phrase the future is now amounts to little more than an advertising cliché- but within business aviation circles- these four short words speak volumes- thanks to the emergence of new technology advances in a new generation of very light jets. From all appearances- these innovative craft collectively fulfill future-speak forecasts dating back decades – with most of their advances more than a little late arriving.

Dave Higdon   |   1st April 2004
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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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Very Light Jet development activity never heavier

For some- the phrase 'the future is now' amounts to little more than an advertising cliché- but within business aviation circles- these four short words speak volumes- thanks to the emergence of new technology advances in a new generation of very light jets. From all appearances- these innovative craft collectively fulfill future-speak forecasts dating back decades – with most of their advances more than a little late arriving.

Then- of course- there’s this great- old cliché: 'There’s nothing new under the sun.' As comforting as that sentiment might be- it dissolves into nothing but a cliché in the face of the advances coming into reality through these 21st century airplanes for sale.

Whether addressing airframes- aircraft avionics or powerplant technologies- these designs collectively confirm that there is plenty new to keep business aviation abuzz for years to come. To see what we mean- read on as we briefly examine members of the first wave of new very light jets for sale in the new century.

Adam Aircraft A700

Watching this new very light jet arrive at Oshkosh- Wisconsin- late last July- it struck me that the Adam A700 faces the least potential for erroneous identification. Despite its sleek- tapered fuselage carrying Williams International FJ33 engines and a straight wing- the twin tail booms and a connecting horizontal surface all but assure that anyone who sees the Adam A700 and hears its name won’t ever confuse it for anything else.

The other amazing aspect of the Adam A700 jet’s appearance at EAA AirVenture 2003 stemmed from the knowledge that its first flight was only a couple days earlier. Thanks to great advance work and the use of systems off the Adam A500 in-line twin piston airplanes for sale- the A700 quickly accumulated the hours needed for clearance to fly to Wisconsin.

Indeed- the A700 jet represents several areas of advanced technology. For example- the A700 is the first airframe flying on the 1-500-pound-thrust FJ33 powerplants- a new- smaller engine from Williams International who developed the FJ44 powering the Cessna CitationJet- the Beech Premier I and the Sino-Swearingen SJ30-2.

Look for production versions of the A700 to employ an advanced integrated panel from Avidyne- a full-function display/control/nav/comm/instrument package evolved from the groundbreaking Entegra Electronic Primary Flight Display System already in delivery on Cirrus Design Corporation aircraft.

Although Adam Aircraft didn’t pioneer the use of carbon-fiber composite structures- the company started life as a believer. Both the A700 and its sibling- the A500 employ carbon fiber in the airframe- as will a possible A600 turboprop aircraft that the company wants to develop.

Performance of the A700 shows the benefits of the technologies applied- with the little six-seat jet able to cruise at 340 knots true- at altitudes up to FL410- cover 1-100 miles with IFR reserves and operate from 3-000-foot runways – making the majority of public-use airports possible destinations.

Spinning off the A700 from the A500 helped Adam Aircraft go from program launch to first flight in a mere nine months. Flight-test progress was nearing 100 hours at last report- with certification expected late this year.

Avocet Aircraft ProJet

Some might observe that the newest aspect of the Avocet ProJet centers on the partnership bringing it to the business jet aircraft for sale market. Marketing and support partner Avocet Aircraft of Connecticut teamed with manufacturer Israeli Aircraft Industries- or IAI- to create this little jet.

Although the airframe technology may be old school – it will be all-metal – the manufacturing and fabrication technologies employed are not- and Avocet plans plenty of advanced-technology touches elsewhere in the ProJet.

Expected to fly on either Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PW615 or the Williams FJ33 – both new engines with modern FADEC and new materials –Avocet’s ProJet will be quite a performer- the partners promise. This personal jet is promised to be capable of covering 1-200 nautical miles with IFR reserves at speeds up to 365 knots and altitudes as high as FL410. With a full-fuel and pilot-included payload of 1-400 pounds- the ProJet offers the ability to fill both the tanks and the seats – a relative rarity among small aircraft.

Assembly will be in the U.S.- the partners say- from components made in Israel and the U.S. – such as the glass cockpit the partners plan for the ProJet.

First flight of this advanced small business jet airplanes for sale is expected just over a year from now- with first deliveries targeted for the fourth quarter of 2006.

Cessna Citation Mustang

First unveiled at the 2002 National Business Aviation Association convention- the Citation Mustang represents Cessna’s application of cutting-edge technology at a level of the market untapped previously.

Sporting Garmin’s advanced-technology- and highly innovative G1000 integrated avionics suite- the new Pratt & Whitney Canada PW615F- advanced aerodynamics and an all-new wing- the Mustang stands to be a dream for the owner/pilot set. The Mustang should also appeal to many business jet-savvy companies with a lot of short-haul needs – short-haul being anything up to 500 nautical miles- one way – and the smarts to embrace the efficiencies of such a small jet.

So popular was the concept that Cessna received initial deposits from nearly 350 customers within the first few weeks of its unveiling.

With first flight coming next year and certification expected in mid-2006- Cessna is well along in converting those initial- refundable deposits into firm jet orders – and succeeding very well.

And with a top cruise speed of 340 knots- a 41-000-foot service ceiling- an IFR range of about 1-200 nautical miles- a 600-pound payload (with full fuel and pilot)- and Cessna’s world class support- Citation Mustang airplanes for sale will likely sell beyond its projected $2.29 million price.

Diamond Aircraft D-Jet

European-based Diamond Aircraft has more experience with composite structures than any company in general aviation today- thanks to its long history of manufacturing the DA20 and DA40 aircraft- respectively a two-place and a four-place piston airplane- as well as an entire line of motor gliders. The single-engine D-Jet takes Diamond into an arena at once new and unfamiliar.

The five-place D-Jet retains all the usual characteristics of a light aircraft- including single-pilot IFR operations- the ability to use runways as short as 2-000 feet and a fuel-consumption rate of about 34gph.

However- the D-Jet also delivers jet performance on just one Williams International FJ33-4 engine making 1-400 pounds of thrust. The D-Jet also offers a cabin pressurized to 8-000 feet while cruising as high as 25-000 msl- a maximum cruise speed of 315 knots true and a maximum range of 1-320 nautical miles- with IFR reserves.

Payload with the D-Jet’s full 189 gallons of fuel is a respectable 538 pounds in a jet that tops out at 4-407 pounds. Credit for this blend of light jet and light piston performance traits goes partly to the new-technology FJ33 powerplant- Diamond’s expertise in composites- and the lightweight of an advanced integrated avionics suite – either from Garmin or Avidyne Corporation.

Credit for the expected popularity of the D-Jet on the airplane market belongs to all of the above and a class-beating low price of about $850-000. Already Diamond holds $20-000 deposits for more than 100 D-Jets - and first flight isn’t expected until October- with first delivery about 16 months later in February 2006.

Eclipse Aviation: Eclipse 500

The setbacks of 2002- during which Eclipse Aviation abandoned plans to use the Williams EJ22 powerplant- seem history now- thanks to the continued progress made by one of the pioneers in advanced-technology light jets.

In the year since the company opted to instead use the 900-pound-thrust Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F- Eclipse’s flight-test team has completed initial flight tests with the first prototype and moved ahead with preparations to incorporate the new engine into the program when it becomes available late this year.

The upgraded Eclipse 500 boasts a cruise speed of 375 knots- 20 knots higher than expected with the originally planned engines. Fuel-system changes leave the range as originally posted- 1-280 nautical- with reserves.

Panel equipment will come from Avidyne and General Dynamics and others to supply additional components. Engineers are about finished revising the next prototype’s detail design employing data from the original- now retired test bed.

One change not planned- though- is in how Eclipse manufactures the 500. The company last month opened a new 50-000 square-foot facility dedicated to the advanced-technology metal-joining process called Friction Stir Welding.

Friction Stir Welding (FSW) uses the heat generated by friction from a spinning tool to create a metal puddle between pieces being assembled. Robotically controlled machines move the parts beneath the mandrel to fuse the sections into one piece with relatively few seams – an aid in pressurizing the cabin.

The new building will also assemble the pressure vessel that makes up most of the airplane’s fuselage. With relatively few rivets and less overlap in many joints- the Eclipse 500 comes in a weight unrivalled among metal aircraft of its size and structure.

With capital in hand sufficient to carry the program through to certification and production- all now seems back on track for certification of both the Eclipse and its new engine in late 2006. First flight of the revised prototype with the new engine is expected in early 2005.

Of course- all these changes come at some cost- and early customers have been treated well under agreements that posted the price at under $1 million. New customers- though- are looking at a bit above $1 million for airplanes that won’t be available to them until 2008 to 2009- thanks to the hefty backlog the program already holds.

Honda: HondaJet

So far- the only firm news to follow Honda’s December news confirming the first flight of its first jet powered by its own engines is an announced partnership between the Japanese engine giant and aircraft-engine giant General Electric. GE will lend its manufacturing and marketing expertise to the prospects of Honda’s home-rolled HF 118 fanjet that powers the HondaJet prototype.

Oh- yes- one other update: The HondaJet employs a developmental version of Garmin International’s cutting-edge G1000 integrated panel suite. Otherwise- still no commitment that Honda will develop and offer its jet for sale.

Should Honda decide to proceed- its little jet boasts traits that would make it highly competitive: A cruise speed of 420 knots – the best in this class – a service ceiling of 44-000 msl (also the top in the group) and a competitive range of 1-100 nautical- with IFR reserves- of course.

Honda applied new technology to the airframe- employing a composite fuselage and a metal wing sporting a unique over-wing engine-pylon mount that frees up cabin space while keeping the two thrust lines close to the centerline of the jet.

Although no price has been leaked- expect any go-ahead decision to come with a competitive price.

Safire Aircraft: Safire Jet

Some may think that Safire took a step back last year when the company reorganized and set its sights on an aluminum airframe in place of the composite structures of the original S-26 first planned. However- proven technologies planned for the production and assembly of the structures- along with the highly efficient engines and state-of-the-art avionics planned still keep the newly minded Safire Jet a high-technology platform.

For example- the company dropped plans to employ an all-new engine called the Agilis in favor of the FJ33-4 fanjet from proven provider Williams International. The company also decided to employ the upcoming fully integrated panel system Avidyne is developing from the Entegra PFD already flying on several aircraft. These changes come at a higher price than originally planned though- at $1.395 million versus under $1 million for the S-26- and after first flight later this year the asking price will be $1.495 million.

Yet- the Safire Jet does boast a higher cruise speed of 380 knots- a maximum range – with reserves – of 1-300 nautical miles- and a service ceiling of 41-000 msl. Runway requirements put the Safire Jet in the maximum-available class at 2-500 feet- landing or departing.

With seating for up to six- an aft lavatory- modern engines and avionics and enviable performance numbers- the Safire Jet stands to be a contender in the very light jet market. Construction of the first prototype will begin soon at the company’s facilities in Opa Locka- Florida- and first flight is planned later this year.

Technology flows both ways

For decades it’s seemed that new technology trickled into commercial jets- then seeped down to high-end business turboprop aircraft for sale and- maybe later- all the way down to the smallest and lightest airplanes in business aviation. Now we’re seeing new technology showing up at both ends at once- with the benefits of the high-end stuff spurring development and advances at a level that allows the lower-end aircraft to benefit.

No longer is the light jet the sole entry point and no more is new technology solely a trickle-down affair. Though this article inadvertently focused on many of the newer lightest-in-class jets- that is a product of the times and the developments.

So to end this on a final cliché- 'The times- they are a-changin’.' With more changes still to come… remember - nothing stands still.

Read more about: Citation Mustang | Very Light Jet | Adam Aircraft A700 | Diamond Aircraft D-Jet | Eclipse 500 | HondaJet | Safire Jet

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