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News from NBAA 2010

By Mac McClellan, EAA Editor-at-Large

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Sikorsky Plans to Invest in Eclipse

At the National Business Aviation Convention in Atlanta this week Sikorsky Aircraft, the giant helicopter maker, announced it plans to make an investment in Eclipse Aerospace, the successor company to the Eclipse that developed the very light jet. Details are really sparse, no amounts of money were mentioned, and when the deal may close has not been revealed.

There are 260 Eclipse jets and the new company is working hard to upgrade them to full capability in terms of avionics, icing, and other issues. It sounds like Sikorsky is interested in helping Eclipse accomplish the upgrades and to aid in supporting the airplanes into the future. "This agreement in principle affords us an opportunity to invest in a great product and to further leverage our strong aftermarket and product support capabilities for fixed-wing application,” said Mark Cherry, vice president of Strategy and Synergy for Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.

Hard to know exactly what that means, other than Sikorsky intends to give Eclipse Aerospace a nice shot of working dough.

"We are elated about this potential new venture with Sikorsky Aircraft and the phenomenal reach we can extend to Eclipse Jet owners by access to the global service, support and supply chain network of Sikorsky,” stated Mason Holland, chairman and CEO of Eclipse Aerospace, Inc.

It's great to hear that Eclipse owners, and those who may buy one of the 260 jets in the future, may have backing from an aerospace giant such as Sikorsky. But the big question is will more Eclipse jets be built, and that has gone unanswered so far. "In addition, Eclipse Aerospace has continued to rebrand its global supply chain and cultivate the existing and growing customer base to determine future market demand," the Sikorsky press release said. Sounds as though Sikorsky may pony up some more money if Eclipse Aerospace can convince the company that there is a market for the jets.

Whatever happens, this is the most hopeful news to come along for Eclipse owners, or those considering buying one, in a long time.

Very Fast Jets Flying Very far

Bombardier announced new models of its Global Express line of business aircraft. The Global 7000 and 8000 hope to challenge the range, speed, and comfort of the Gulfstream G650.

October 20, 2010 — The Gulfstream G650 with its promised 7,000 nm range while cruising at Mach .85 made its first appearance at the NBAA annual Convention in Atlanta, but that was just the beginning for lots of talk of very fast jets flying very far.

Four G650 jets are in flight testing and Gulfstream says they are meeting the remarkable performance goals set when the program was announced. The first G650 prototype recently flew 5,000 nm at a steady Mach .90 cruise speed, a record flight that transcends anything even close. The only other civilian airplane that can cruise at Mach .90 is the Citation X and its maximum range is around 3,400 nm, and that comes at a slower speed of around Mach .85.

Not to sit quietly on the sidelines as the speed and range ante is raised, Bombardier announced new models of its Global Express, the Global 7000 and 8000. These two new ultra-large cabin jets will be derivatives of the Global 5000 and XRS and Bombardier promises they will top the G650 in range. The 8000 is projected to have an IFR range of 7,900 nm while cruising at Mach .85, while the longer cabin 7000 model can go for 7,300 nm at the same cruise speed.

But Bombardier claims its new Globals will beat the Gulfstream when flying at Mach .90 with a range of 5,650 nm for the 8000 model at that speed, and 5,100 nm for the 7000 model.

Cessna, of course, has the only airplane in service that can cruise at Mach .90 or a little more with the Citation X. The company announced a new version of that airplane, renaming it the Ten. Cessna boss Jack Pelton declared that the Ten will be the fastest, though not nearly the longest range, jet far into the future. That means Cessna will have to bump the Ten's maximum speed from Mach .920 to more than the Mach .925 at which the G650 is expected to certify.

This type of performance simply wasn't possible even a few years ago, but the new airplanes demonstrate how far understanding of high speed cruise aerodynamics has come. When flying at Mach .85 or more, air flowing over the wing will be supersonic and the wing shape must control and minimize the unavoidable supersonic shock wave with its tremendous drag. To cover these vast distances at those cruise speeds is simply amazing.

The Gulfstream G650 is closest to reaching its goals with expected certification next year, with the first jets entering service in early 2012. The Bombardier Global 7000 and 8000 are further into the future, with the 7000 expected to enter service in 2016 and the 8000 a year later. The new Citation Ten is on a similar schedule.

What's driving this quest for such long range at unheard of speeds—other than everyone's desire to be the best—is the booming economies of China, India, and other fast-growing but remote parts of the globe. To do business in those places you need to get there, and these new jets will do the job.

Cessna Solves the Mystery of the X

Citation Ten
The Cessna Citation 10

October 18, 2010 — Cessna is tossing the Roman numeral X for the fastest production jet and is creating the Ten. Cessna boss Jack Pelton vows that the new Ten will still be the fastest business jet years from now.

The use of the Roman numeral X to name the Citation 10 conformed to the system Cessna was using when the airplane was introduced, but the X caused no end of confusion. Many simply called it the "X." And of course people inside of aviation are accustomed to the letter X being used to designate an experimental airplane, which the Citation certainly is not.

With a maximum Mach operating limit of .92, the Citation X is the fastest certified jet; however, Gulfstream G650 will be certified to Mach .925 and has already completed the high speed testing to reach that goal. Nevertheless, .005 Mach is only about three to four knots of true airspeed at business jet cruise altitudes, so it is possible, after the G650 certifies, that Citation could bump up the Ten's limit to .928 to retain the speed title. Pelton was coy on the topic, but left no wiggle room in the promise to retain the fastest jet title.

In addition to changing the name to Ten, Cessna will stretch the fuselage 15 inches, and all of the added space will go into the passenger cabin. Winglets will give the airplane faster climb rates to help it achieve longer range at higher altitudes, and Rolls-Royce is creating a more efficient version of the engines to fly farther on less fuel.

But the biggest change in the new Citation Ten is in the cockpit, which will be equipped with Garmin's new G5000 integrated avionics system, the company's first integrated cockpit for a transport category jet intended for crew operation.

The G5000 has huge flat glass displays, of course, with ever better synthetic vision detail. Perhaps the most unusual feature are touch control panels Garmin has called vehicle controls. The touch panels actually interrupt an array of infrared beams so that "touch" is not necessary as in an ordinary consumer electronic device. The infrared system should prevent unintended hits in turbulence.

The vehicle control units will be used to set frequencies and manage the avionics, but can also operate other airplane systems. And because they are software controlled, they can be customized when new capabilities are added.

The G5000 system in the Ten will have autothrottles so the airplane can automatically fly 4-D procedures that are becoming common. Cessna's Pelton said the new Garmin system "is a bold new system that is as innovative as the airplane and breaks the dynamics of the business avionics business."

The Ten cabin will also be modernized with a new communication and entertainment system that is operated by fiber optic cable instead of traditional wires. Fiber optics save weight, and provide plenty of bandwidth to add many more functions.

Delivery of the first Citation Ten is still a couple years out and Cessna has set the price at $21.5 million.

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