On July 30, 2008, a wave of excitement washed over the crowds at Oshkosh. Fifteen hundred miles away, in Vero Beach, Fla., the PiperJet had made its maiden flight, spending an hour aloft and reaching 10,000 feet. Since then (at this writing), the PiperJet has made 18 additional flights and spent about 34 hours in the air as test pilots Dave Schwartz and Buddy Sessoms focus on exploring stability, control and handling throughout the envelope. Current testing is expanding the performance envelope to full systems use (gear up, flaps up/down, full trim, etc.) and full speed and altitude. For the coming months, the aircraft will typically be flown for one to three weeks, then grounded for one to three weeks for system upgrades, installing additional flight-test equipment, etc. The large single has its (Williams FJ44) engine in the tail, up on a pylon, for safety and aerodynamic reasons. Computerized and automatic thrust-reacting pitch controls are working extremely well. John Becker, Piper’s vice president of engineering, said, “Pitch changes with thrust are more benign than anticipated, and handling qualities have exceeded expectations. The aircraft is very stable in all axes.” The one- or two-pilot, four- or five-passenger PiperJet’s books show 203 confirmed orders. Visit www.newpiper.com/piperjet.
First Lancair Evolution Delivery
The Lancair Evolution, the fastest and largest kit ever offered by the Redmond, Ore., company, made its first flight in March, and the first kit was delivered to Andy Cruce of Colorado, who’s building the machine near the factory. He wanted the Evolution because of the reliability of its (Pratt & Whitney PT6A) engine and the airplane’s speed, comfort, relative economy, equipment level (he’s using a Garmin 900 panel) and payload. Cruce is building the airplane himself, with expert help and supervision. “All these factors made the Evolution a logical choice for me: It provides a high level of performance at a relatively affordable cost,” he says. “The construction process educates the owner/builder in all aspects of the completed airplane. By working with a knowledgeable builder, I’ll be able to produce a quality airplane. I’ll also have an unusually intimate knowledge of the airplane, having participated in all facets of its construction.” The Evolution is the first all-new Lancair under the company’s independent ownership, and this pressurized four-place, 300-plus-knot turboprop is the most advanced airplane ever from the Bend, Ore., shop. With modern design and machining, it should also be among the strongest and easiest to build. Visit www.lancair.com.
Shake-up At the Top
“I’ve never quit anything in my life, and I’m not quitting now.” That’s how Vern Raburn announced to a crowd of journalists at Oshkosh that he had been forced out of the company as a condition of its being awarded a new round of financing. “In the world of high finance, these things happen, and I had no choice but to agree to these terms,” said Eclipse Aviation’s founder. New CEO Roel Pieper ascended the podium and explained that the company’s new focus will be on operations and getting the VLJ ready for prime time and delivery. “The change is made,” he said. “Eclipse goes on.”
Some 250 of the Eclipse 500 twin jets have been delivered, and Pieper’s job is to ensure that production and compliance continue. In September, Eclipse was restructured into separate manufacturing and operations divisions. Since AirVenture, the company has laid off employees and addressed a flight-software problem; it now faces a “special certification review” by the FAA, which is taking another look at how the jet got certified to see if anything needs to be done to ensure compliance and airworthiness. Visit www.eclipseaviation.com.
Kodiak: Jump Certified & Already Competing
The fifth Quest Kodiak ever built has earned FAA certification as a jump ship, featuring numerous modifications, such as the installation of a roll-down rear jump door that’s closeable from the pilot’s seat, a wing-mounted camera, a 14-inch photographer step, jump lights, wind deflector, and internal and external grab rails that run the full length of the door. Unlike virtually every other jump plane with these types of mods, the Kodiak is fully type certified—no 337s, anywhere. The machine’s owner, the Rhine Army Parachute Association (RAPA), worked closely with Quest during the certification process. In June, British Major Paul Moore, Commandant of the Joint Services Jump Center, accepted delivery of a fully approved and certified aircraft to make the initial test jumps. RAPA (a service charity of the British Army that provides military training, sport training for both military personnel and civilians, and parachuting/skydiving exercises and competitions) flew the 10-seat jump plane home (without fuel-capacity modifications) to Bad Lippspringe, Germany, where it was flown in competition as a jump plane less than two weeks after Maj. Moore took delivery at the Sandpoint, Idaho, factory. At gross, the all-aluminum, Pratt & Whitney PT6A–powered Kodiak takes off in 700 feet and climbs at 1,500+ fpm. The 10-seat, 6,750-pound MTOW Kodiak cruises at 185 knots and 12,500 feet, where it delivers (in layman’s terms) some 4.5 mpg. Visit www.questaircraft.com.
Rolls-Royce Introduces The RR500
Hot on the heels of the company’s announcement that its RR300 turboshaft will be powering a RotorWay International design (in addition to launch-customer Robinson’s R66), Rolls-Royce teamed up with Mooney Aircraft at AirVenture 2008 to cut the rest of the world in on its turboprop RR500. (Though the memorandum was issued jointly, Mooney offered no specific plans for its use of this engine.) This powerhouse will be rated to produce 400 shp in climb and 320 shp in cruise. (Economy cruise yields 270 shp, burning just under 24 gph.) Once installed, it weighs about 250 pounds. An outgrowth of the RR250 family of small turbines (and, specifically, the RR300, introduced at the 2007 Helicopter Association International show), the RR500 TP engine represents the fifth new civil-engine program launched by Rolls-Royce in 24 months; it features multifuel capability, an electronic engine-monitoring system and an “extended TBO,” plus smoothness and cabin quiet unmatched by piston engines. Basically a scaled-up RR300 (and that sounds a lot simpler than it is), the RR500 program will benefit from clearing its certification hurdles with the work done on the RR300 and the RR250 (neé Allison) in a fleet that has accumulated nearly seven million flight hours. Visit www.rolls-royce.com and www.mooney.com.
Swearingen SJ30-2 Effectively Acquired
If owning 80% of a company constitutes ownership, Emirates Investment & Development (Emivest) of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the master developer of the Lyon-Dubai City project, has just purchased Sino Swearingen Aircraft Corporation (SSAC). Approval by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) allowed the deal to move forward, assuring sufficient cash to bring “the world’s fastest, longest-range and highest-flying light jet” to full-scale production.
This first acquisition of an American company by Emivest breathes new life into the program, which has already delivered at least one jet into private hands. With a fast cruise of Mach 0.83, an operating ceiling at FL490 and a range of 2,500 nm, the all-metal SJ30-2—powered by two Williams FJ44-2A fanjets and managed by two pilots behind a Honeywell Epic panel—can deliver more than 5 mpg at around 500 mph (Mach 0.78) in a lav-equipped, 2+4 or 2+5 cabin that maintains 12 psi in flight. (That’s sea-level pressure all the way to 41,000 feet.) For now, SSAC will maintain its company name, and its 300 workers will remain in existing facilities in San Antonio, Texas, and Martinsburg, W.V. Visit www.sj30jet.com and www.emivest.ae.
Blackhawk Expands Engine Upgrade Options
Blackhawk Modifications of Waco, Texas, has earned European (EASA) approval on Pratt & Whitney PT6A-61 and PT6A-52 engines for the King Air 200 and B200 series. (The PT6A-52 is OEM equipment on the Hawker Beechcraft B200GT. The only difference between the engines is an ITT limitation increase of 20 degrees C on the PT6A-52. Blackhawk gained approval of both the PT6A-61 and PT6A-52 to provide operators with more options.) With more than 30 engine upgrades booked in the past year, the popularity of 310-plus-knot performance led Blackhawk to pursue worldwide certification.
Often referred to as the “Blackhawk Super XPR61,” a prerequisite with the EASA approval is the complete Raisbeck EPIC Platinum package. Because Blackhawk has the largest non-OEM contract with Pratt & Whitney, timely engine-delivery positions are ensured along with “generous credit for time remaining to overhaul on core PT6A-41 or PT6A-42 engines.”
Since 2000, Blackhawk has delivered more than 190 conversions, most of which are on the King Air 200 series and C90s; it also has delivered upgraded members of the Conquest I and Cheyenne families. The Super XPR61 and Super XP52 packages can be installed by Blackhawk’s global distribution network, which includes facilities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland. Visit www.blackhawk.aero.
$15K Incentive From Raisbeck
The Raisbeck performance packages have become so popular with buyers of the Beechcraft B200GT that, as of September, more than 45% of new GT owners and operators have requested Raisbeck Performance Systems to be installed on their aircraft prior to delivery. That’s almost a problem for Raisbeck: The packages involve a significant prop upgrade (among other mods), and Raisbeck noticed that “customers aren’t ready to upgrade their factory-new, four-bladed propellers prior to overhaul, although they don’t have the performance of the Raisbeck/Hartzell Quiet Turbofan four-bladed propellers.” Raisbeck has figured out how to deal with that and is now offering a Platinum Conversion Certificate, worth $15,000, toward the upgrade from its Epic Gold package to the Epic Platinum. “Basically, we’re more than happy to equip B200GTs with our Epic Gold package,” said a Raisbeck representative. “The performance benefits are great, and the operator doesn’t need to replace the factory-new propellers. Once an Epic Gold is purchased, we’ll provide purchasers with our Platinum Conversion Certificate, which they may conveniently redeem at their next propeller overhaul toward our Epic Platinum.” The (basic) Epic Gold purchase must be completed by December 31, 2008. Visit www.raisbeck.com.
Fly History: Solo in “Your” Warbirds
Fly History LLC is a new-concept membership program that “makes it possible for everyday pilots to train, qualify in and have solo access to a variety of historic military trainer aircraft in a club-like setting.” Qualified membership includes “unlimited access to utilize the aircraft…without the cost, risk and maintenance hassles associated with direct ownership.” The “club” owns the aircraft (in different areas of the country), and members receive training and qualification—and can then book the airplanes for their own practice and cross-country work. Offering the AT-6 Texan, T-34 Mentor or PT-17 Stearman, Fly History counts on its members to fly these historic machines to Sun ’n Fun, AirVenture and other venues, as well as on personal flights. Thus, the company asserts, a pilot can experience all the fun and excitement of warbird ownership without the hassles, and at a fraction of the expense. Maintenance, insurance and routine operating expenses (including annuals) are all rolled into the fixed fees; there are no surprises, and the machines are maintained to high, professional standards. Flight time is charged by the hour; there’s a fixed membership fee. Charter areas include Boston, Mass.; Westchester, N.Y.; Dallas, Texas; Los Angeles, Calif.; Orlando, Fla., and Atlanta, Ga. Visit www.flyhistory.com.
AAI Acquisition’s Certification Plans
When Adam Aircraft petitioned for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on February 15, speculation reigned about who would take over its operations, and just what operations would continue. In April, AAI Acquisition Inc., a Russian-led private equity firm, placed the only qualified bid; since then, AAI has been getting a smaller, reorganized Adam Aircraft back on its feet. Under new CEO Jack Braly (of Martin Marietta, Beech and Sino Swearingen), the roughly 150 employees are still working at Centennial Airport in Denver, Colo., where they plan to finish certification of the Williams-powered A700 twin jet. Rather than requiring a restart, the FAA has allowed continuation of the certification program; AAI figures that means it’s halfway there: good news for A700 customers and not such good news for the five or so customers who took delivery of Adam’s A500, the in-line piston twin. The new company has no plans to resume production of the A500, due to economics. Visit www.a700jet.com.
Rocket Engineering’s 500th Conversion
Rocket Engineering’s cofounder, Darwin Conrad, has been in business since 1989, and his company is now working on its 500th conversion and its 14th Duke. Conrad, also Rocket’s president, likes Beech designs: “My favorite is the B36 TC Bonanza. It books.” Rocket has delivered 14 of these Pratt & Whitney PT6A-21–powered bullets. “They’ll go 255 knots, climb 2,500 fpm. I go from here [Spokane, Wash.] to Las Vegas nonstop.”
The Duke, he says, “is a pretty hot number right now; we’re working on the 16th conversion. The P-Baron will be flying right after Labor Day. The numbers say it will climb 5,000 fpm, max at 300+ knots and still be fairly economical; about 6.5 nm per gallon in cruise.”
Though it’s no surprise, really, Conrad says his “biggest surprise is always how much effort it takes to get it through the FAA, even considering they’re working with you. Every time we do an STC, it gets a little harder, a little harder.” That, even after doing more than 230 Mooney conversions.
The (Piper Malibu/Mirage–based, PT6A-35) JetProp is Rocket’s most-prolific job. “We’ve done 240 (including 60 in Europe, also some in South Africa, Indonesia, and Australia), and we’ll probably do 500 of them.” Visit www.rocketengineering.com.