The Next Little Thing
Why 2006 is the year of the very light jet.
- By Mark Huber
- Air & Space magazine, November 2006
American Honda Motor Co.
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The Eclipse-Williams relationship soured in 2002 after the 700-pound-thrust EJ-22 engine, a descendant of the V-JET’s FJX-1, suffered repeated flight test failures (see “The Little Engine That Couldn’t,” Feb./Mar. 2005). However, by then Williams already had developed an 80-percent-scale version of its FJ-44 corporate jet engine. The new FJ-33 weighs just 300 pounds and delivers 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of thrust. It incorporates advances pioneered on the FJ-44, including scalloped exhaust pipes that reduce engine noise and widely swept and rounded fan blades, which contribute to lower noise and better fuel economy.
To date, the FJ-33 has been selected to power four VLJ designs seeking FAA certification: Adam A700, ATG Javelin, Diamond D-JET, and Spectrum 33.
Eclipse began looking for a replacement engine in late 2002, and by then, Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC) was already far along on the development of its PW600 series of 900- to 1,700-pound thrust engines. In 2003, PWC announced its first order, from Cessna, for the 1,350-pound-thrust PW615F, weighing 300 pounds.
The new engines incorporate a host of proprietary technologies including unique fan blade shapes and a high-efficiency compressor, which produces a pressure ratio in two stages that other engines need three or more stages to achieve. PWC also invented a modular construction technique that enables the engine to be assembled faster and serviced easier. For both private pilots and jet taxi businesses, less expensive and faster engine servicing will be an important sales advantage. Modular construction and a new assembly facility in Longueuil, Quebec, helped the company slash the average engine’s production, test, and shipping time from eight days to a mere eight hours. The plant is gearing up to produce as many as 2,000 engines per year.
To date, PWC has contracts to supply engines for Cessna, Embraer, and Eclipse.
And then there’s Honda. GE Honda Aero Engines, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, was formed two years ago to improve Honda’s HF118. With 1,700 pounds of thrust, the little turbofan is competitive with the PWC and Williams engines, but so far the HF118 will power only the HondaJet.
The infusion of oddball ideas or unconventional practices may not produce immediate business success, but it can stir other businesses in an industry to innovate. In the case of VLJs and the aviation industry, the new ideas have come mainly from the computer business.
Several leaders of the very light jet revolution come from the computer or software industries and have brought with them some principles of software development that challenge the aviation industry’s evolutionary tradition. “In the high-tech business, the non-existence of a market and a product for it is viewed as an opportunity,” says Vern Raburn. “It’s like, ‘Cool, no competition.’ In aviation, the non-existence of a market or product is used to say it can’t exist or it shouldn’t exist. Remember the old Bob Dylan lyric, ‘One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor’? Well, that is how I could characterize aviation.”