Pilot Journal
Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Day Of The Personal Jet

No one can guess if the personal jet market will be as robust as many entrepreneurs think, but here’s a look at the current and projected crop of contenders

personal jetsIt’s a new world. VLJs and personal jets are on their way. Despite naysayer predictions, Eclipse Aviation is actively marketing its model 500 twin jet, with more than 100 aircraft completed and 50 delivered (as of mid-February), and there are at least another 10 models of small jets set to debut in the next three years.
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At this writing, there are five airplanes that fall into our artificial class of personal jets: the yet-to-fly PiperJet, Cirrus’ “the-jet,” the Diamond D-JET, possibly the Eclipse Concept Jet and the upstart Epic Victory (it’s still at the proof-of-concept stage).

What follows is a thumbnail sketch of each model. (Obviously, all pricing, delivery dates and performance information is preliminary and subject to change.)

personal jetsEclipse Concept Jet
The ECJ is still something of an X-factor, despite having flown into last year’s AirVenture as a “proof of concept” (POC) airplane. Eclipse’s Vern Raburn is still heavily involved in developing the Eclipse 500 twin jet, the airplane that almost single-handedly created the light jet movement. It might seem unlikely for Eclipse to be pursuing another new design so soon, but Raburn is nothing if not an enthusiastic optimist, and the ECJ is proof of that.

A 22% model of the airplane was flight-tested in the wind tunnel at Texas A&M, and the full-sized POC was developed under contract by Swift Engineering in San Clemente, Calif., as the Swift 400, a ploy to keep Internet surfers from discovering its true lineage. In total, the ECJ went from concept to first flight in less than 200 days.

personal jetsIt’s only logical that the single-engine ECJ borrows heavily from the Eclipse 500, with nearly 70% parts commonality, including the nose, complete wing assembly and the Avio integrated avionics system. The POC airplane is flying with a P&W PW615 engine, rated for only 990 pounds of thrust, a little underpowered for a 4,500-pound airplane. Thrust will probably be upgraded to 1,300 to 1,400 pounds if Eclipse elects to proceed with the project. The P&W exhausts between the large V-tail, with ruddervators angled up 35 degrees from horizontal.

As Raburn commented at the introduction in Oshkosh, “This is a dedicated four- to five-place airplane, an aeronautical equivalent of an Infiniti G35 or a BMW 3 Series automobile. We feel this is a sweet spot in the marketplace that hasn’t yet been turbinized.” For that reason, the fuselage is two feet shorter than the company’s 500 model. Wingspan is also two feet narrower than in the twin.

personal jetsGross weight has been tentatively pegged at 4,480 pounds and empty weight at 2,480, so useful load should be around 2,000 pounds. With 1,260 pounds of fuel aboard, this should leave about 740 pounds for payload.

Cruise is estimated at 345 knots, max altitude is 41,000 feet and stall will be 61 knots. If Eclipse elects to pursue certification of the ECJ, Raburn hopes to market it “near the $1 million mark,” probably in 2006 dollars.


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