Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The VLJ Market—13 Years Late

It’s true that hindsight is nearly always 20/20, but was there ever a VLJ market to begin with?

Raburn couldn't possibly have predicted the economic downturn of 2007-2009 and, in combination with other cost factors, the Eclipse had virtually no chance of success. The company went bankrupt in November 2008, chapter 11 at first, and finally full liquidation chapter 7 in early 2009.

Rick Adam of Adam Aircraft had Burt Rutan design the Adam A500, a centerline-thrust piston twin, and the A700, a twin-tail, twin-jet VLJ. A few A500s were produced, but the A700 never made it to production. The Maverick SmartJet was introduced, but again, never made it to certification. The Viper Jet and Bede BD-10 were two-seat homebuilt sporty variations on the VLJ theme, but neither was successful.

Piper had great hopes for the single-engine Piper Jet, a design that owed little to any other Piper product. The airplane was later reconfigured and renamed the Altaire, but the Florida company pulled the plug on that airplane when development costs began to skyrocket.

Finally, as everyone learned back in March of this year, Diamond Aircraft of Canada has suspended flight test/certification efforts on the D-Jet, the company's single-engine five-seat mini-jet. That's especially sad since the aircraft was about 80% complete on flight testing and paperwork for certification.

This leaves only the aforementioned Eclipse, revived by Mason Holland's investment group and purchased out of bankruptcy for roughly $.04 on the dollar. Holland and company have finished what Raburn started, completing many of the initial 261 Eclipse 500s (under the name Total Eclipse) and launching into active production on the improved Eclipse 550. The later model is aerodynamically the same machine as the original, but the Avio avionics system is now complete, auto throttles are now installed and the new 550 is what the original should've been five years ago.

The single-engine seven-seat Cirrus Vision still under development, an airplane that shows great promise for introduction into the heretofore single-entry VLJ market, if at a lower altitude and with less performance. The Vision is targeted for flight no higher than FL280, below RVSM airspace. Projected cruise is a modest 300 knots with a single, 1,800-pound-thrust Williams FJ-33 engine installed.

In keeping with Cirrus policy, the Vision also will be fitted with a Cirrus Airframe Parachute. Stall speed is pegged in the mid-60 knot range, and the Vision is planned to be an exceptional short-field airplane for a jet. Takeoff runway requirement has been pegged at just over 1,600 feet. This will make the Vision competitive with the 400 series Cessnas of the 1980s.

Of course, the Cessna Citation Mustang 510 sailed right through certification and was introduced without nearly as much fanfare five years ago. It's still selling well, but it's a scaled-down Citation, hardly a VLJ in the accepted sense. Speed is 340 knots with six folks aboard, but the 2013 model is priced at $3.2 million, far above any reasonable VLJ parameter.


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