The Little Engine That Couldn’t

The new Eclipse 500 lightjet will no doubt make a lot of customers happy

Cessna’s T-37 was dubbed “Tweety Bird” for its shrill Teledyne CAE J-69s. (USAF)
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Still, the company continues to work on the EJ22’s technology. “We’ve had that configuration up to 1,000 pounds thrust,” says Williams, presumably referring to a somewhat similar engine the company is pursuing for the Department of Defense’s VAATE (Versatile Affordable Advanced Turbine Engine), sort of a military version of the GAP program. With DOD money, efforts to certify the EJ22 could still be revived if the right airplane came along.

Why did the EJ22 fail? Perhaps Williams overreached by abandoning the core design philosophies of simplicity and incremental change that had served the company so well over the years. Tellingly, Williams returned to those core values last year with its smallest FAA-certified engine in company history: the FJ33. It’s nothing fancy, just a simple, robust two-shaft engine of 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of thrust that is essentially a scaled-down version of the FJ44. Already, half a dozen new VLJs are being designed around it.

Despite its ultimate failure as a commercial engine, the EJ22 was a conceptual breakthrough. It inspired the VLJ category, which NASA predicts will grow to a fleet of 13,500 by 2025, in the same way that earlier Williams engines inspired the cruise missile and light bizjet categories. Without the EJ22, there would be no Eclipse 500, no realistic hope of jet travel within reach of thousands of new customers. Even Raburn, despite the enormous angst the EJ22 caused him, concedes, “It was certainly a noble experiment.”


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