Who Says a Jet Can’t Be Cheap?

Gerry Merrill says he can build you one for $150,000

Thanks to the wonders of computer animation, Gerry Merrill's theoretical Cloudster airplane takes an imaginary spin over Bryce Canyon. (Gerry Merrill)
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Another problem for Merrill, Aboulafia says, is that "he's a small startup company. The history of this business is that the big guy wins. An investor would be very leery of putting money into a small company with a new engine technology like this, only to watch Pratt & Whitney come along and take over the market."

Even the newer, more visionary aviation companies seem wary. "It's ingrained in our core, our company culture, that the engine has to be there, certified and proven," says Mike Van Staagen, vice president of advanced development for Cirrus Design. Cirrus recently unveiled a mockup of a single-engine personal jet, but it will use a standard high-and-fast Williams FJ33 engine. "We closed the door on Merrill because it was just too big a leap. To hinge the entire company on an unproven engine is just something we're not willing to do."

With their V-tails and top-mounted single nacelles, both the Cirrus mockup and Eclipse Aviation's new single-engine, four-seat Concept Jet, introduced with much fanfare at last year's Oshkosh show, look to be straight out of the Merrill playbook. Underneath the skin, though, the new Eclipse is still a 400-mph, 41,000-foot, million-dollar machine powered by a high-and-fast turbofan. Merrill's low-and-slow market niche remains wide open, waiting to be filled by somebody with enough money and vision.


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