Thursday, September 1, 2005

VLJs Turn Short Final

As the market comes to a boil, three finalists are vying to become the first certified Very Light Jet

vljs turn short flightWe’re about to find out if the Very Light Jets (VLJs) will be the dominant force in general aviation that some people predict. CEOs Jack Pelton of Cessna, Vern Raburn of Eclipse and Rick Adam of Adam Aircraft think it will. Within only about 18 months, we’re liable to see three different models of VLJs certified and delivered to the market.
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The construction of the five- to six-seat Eclipse 500 is relatively conventional, although Raburn has taken some steps to facilitate its production. The airframe and wing are built of tried-and-true aluminum, even though much of the structure is assembled using friction stir welding, a heat-and-bonding process that joins the metals with a stronger, lighter bond than with rivets. Control deflection is via standard cables, pulleys and pushrods, and as a further concession to simplicity, the Eclipse doesn’t use anti-skid brakes. The trailing link gear is all-electric, and the emergency extension is gravity drop.

The fuel system utilizes simple wet wings to the tips with 1,540 pounds (230 gallons) of total capacity. Flaps are electric and Fowler-type, and translate a foot aft as they arc down to a max 37.5 degrees, increasing the wing area and reducing stall.

The 500’s panel is in the now-standard PFD and MFD configuration, using proprietary Avio software with Avidyne displays. Raburn’s computer background has convinced him of the reliability of electronic displays, so there will be no backup airspeed, attitude and altimeter instruments as on other glass-cockpit airplanes. Pitch and roll are controlled with a side stick rather than a yoke, intended to free up legroom in front of both pilots and to facilitate the instrument and switch access.

Raburn and company are shooting for a cruise speed of 375 knots at altitudes as high as 41,000 feet. Initial climb at sea level and at max gross of 5,640 pounds is listed at nearly 3,000 fpm with both engines turning, 888 fpm with one mill caged. Useful load in standard trim will be 2,250 pounds, so even with full fuel in the tanks, the airplane should be capable of lifting four folks. Stall is suggested at 67 knots, meaning you can use Piper Seneca and Beechcraft Baron approach speeds of 100 knots or less without tempting fate.

The current price works out to just under $1.5 million, and even that may be expected to rise before the airplane sees certification in early 2006. Raburn claims some 2,200 orders for his groundbreaking VLJ and plans to assemble the components at the company’s Albuquerque, N.M., facility. In a perfect world, Eclipse hopes to receive certification by April 2006 and intends to deliver 260 airplanes during the first year of production and more than 800 in the second year.

Cessna is certainly the most established manufacturer of jets, with some 4,200 Citations built in only the last dozen years. For that reason, the Mustang may be regarded as the most viable of the VLJs.

Cessna held a ceremonial first flight on June 24th in Wichita, Kan., for invited guests and position holders. In keeping with the tradition on Citations, the Mustang will be single-pilot-certified and is essentially an all-new design. The flight test and development is currently on schedule, so barring FAA roadblocks, Cessna’s promise of first deliveries by the fourth quarter of 2006 looks fairly realistic.

Labels: VLJs