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Business Aviation Industry Focus: Jet Commander

by Jeremy Cox 1. October 2008 00:00
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On November 4th, 1964 parent company North American Rockwell (NAR) , received FAA Type Certificate approval for another twin-engine business jet that was completely unlike their popular Sabreliner design. This new executive jet aircraft design, the model AC-1121, was the work of another of its subsidiaries: The Aero Design and Engineering Company of Oklahoma, which Rockwell had purchased in 1960 and after changing its name to Aero Commander, had categorized this division as its General Aviation Division.

As you may recall in an earlier chapter of this historical Business Aviation Focus, Rockwell's General Aviation Division had been busy in building and selling their Aero Commander (AC) series of aircraft. With the merger/purchases of both North American Aviation (designer and manufacturer of the Sabreliner) and Aero Commander, NAR was fast becoming the world's leading business aviation manufacturer, as their product line now included a piston twin-engined executive transport (AC 500 series), and now two turbojet, twin-engine executive transport aircraft: the Sabre 40 and now the Jet Commander. Later the threat of a suit that was to be filed by U.S. Justice Department against NAR under U.S. Anti-Trust Law would change this situation, but for now, NAR appeared unstoppable.

The true father of the Jet Commander is Ted Smith. He had begun his career with the Douglas Aircraft Company and having contributed greatly to Douglas' war effort by overseeing the design and production of the A-20 Havoc attack-bomber, left them to found the Aero Design and Engineering Company in Norman, Oklahoma where he created the Aero Commander product line. With hundreds of his piston Commander in service and the prototype of his Jet Commander completed and flying, Ted chose to leave the company having sold out to Rockwell three years earlier, before his latest design had received it's Type Certificate. After taking time off from the industry and also after moving to Southern California, he returned by founding the Ted Smith Aircraft Company at the Van Nuys Airport, and went straight to work by designing and building the incredibly fast, twin engine piston-powered Aerostar.

The model AC-1121 Jet Commander which had been redesignated by NAR as the CJ-1121 Commodore Jet was manufactured in a new facility at the Wiley Post Airport, in Bethany, Oklahoma. It utilized a similar cabin cross-section to that of its piston family aircraft; however it was more oval and was much longer with seating accommodations for eight passengers versus the five passengers carried in its much smaller sister. Power was provided by two General Electric CJ610-1 turbojet engines that each produced 2,850 lbs of take-off thrust. It was initially certified to 40,000 feet, but this was later increased after modification, to 41,000 feet with passengers, and 45,000 feet with crew alone. The cruising speed was 527 mph (458 KTAS), which delivered a range of 1,800 miles (1,565 NM.) Although the initial models were pure-turbojets and therefore only stage-1 noise compliant, the cabin was surprisingly quiet. This was made possible by the fact that the passenger cabin was located ahead of the upper-mid fuselage mounted wing, while the engines were mounted much further back on the fuselage behind the wings. The cabin noise was further reduced on later models built in the 1980's, because not only were stage-3 noise compliant AiResearch/Garrett TFE731 engines were installed, there was also an optional long-range fuel tank installed in the fuselage thus separating the boiler room (so to speak) and the passenger cabin.

Approximately 150 AC/CJ model 1121 aircraft were built, but production ceased at serial number 124. This is because right before the Anti-Trust battle against NAR was going to turn bloody in 1967, NAR agreed to sell it off the Jet Commander/Commodore Jet program to Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) for $25,000,000 1976 U.S.D. Owned by the Israeli government, IAI had first come into being in 1953. Its first jet aircraft was the Fouga-Magister 'V-Tailed' twin-engine jet trainer built under licence from Moraine Saulnier in France. Soon it was designing and building its own aircraft. The opportunity to purchase the Commodore Jet program from NAC was perfect for the Israelis because they could leap-frog from military aircraft into the profitable field of business aviation, by building and selling a well established product. The sale was closed in 1968, and production of the Commodore moved from Oklahoma to Israel and restarted with serial number 125.

By the 1970's IAI was keen to keep its Commodore program as competitive as possible especially against the Dassault Falcon Jet and the Hawker 125; the model 1121 was modified with a longer fuselage (seated ten passengers); increased engine thrust (3,100 lbs per engine versus the original 2,850 lbs); a high-lift wing with double slotted flaps and drooped leading edge; an increased span and travel horizontal stabilizer; increased take-off, landing and zero-fuel weights (an MGTOW of 20,700 lbs versus 17,500 lbs); a slightly increased range thanks to additional fuel capacity through the installation of wing-tip-tanks; and finally the addition of a Saphir III gas turbine auxiliary power unit which provided starting and back-up electrical power, it also provided ground air-conditioning. This new model was designated the model 1123 and the FAA issued its Type Certificate in 1971. Sales of the 1123 were somewhat sluggish for IAI, mainly due to the fuel crisis of the early 1970's. Only thirty four 1123 aircraft were built. At about the same time that other manufacturers were embracing the fuel efficiency of the AiResearch/Garrett TFE-731 engine by replacing their old turbo-jets with them, hoping that it would breathe new life into their lackluster sales; IAI followed suit by designing and building the model 1124 and renaming it the 'Westwind.'

The TFE-731 engine delivered 600 additional pounds of thrust, while specific fuel consumption was almost halved; it dropped from 409 USG per hour for the old CJ610's, down to 248 USG per hour. The range of the Commodore Jet also near doubled, in this latest manifestation, the 1976 Westwind Jet. Later variants (Westwind I and II) came after the model 1124, with little difference between them. The Westwind III, or as designated, the model 1125 was a complete redesign, and was named the Astra.

In all, about 320 Jet Commander type-design aircraft were built in Israel until the program was ended in 1987, one year into production of the then new Astra. This number (320) supplemented by the 125 aircraft built in Bethany, Oklahoma proves that Ted Smith's design was a winner from the start. Approximately 270 various marquees' of this venerable design, remain in service today, albeit rather like orphaned children. This is because IAI sold off the rights to their Jet Commander/Westwind/Astra program, to Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation (GAC) from Savannah, Georgia. The Astra program lives on as the Gulfstream G150, but GAC probably wishes that the existing fleet of the legacy aircraft (Jet Commander/Westwind) passes the point of usefulness and retires to obsolescence, as soon as possible. This has all-but happened for the GE powered versions, but I believe that the fan-powered versions shall be jetting across the skies for many more years-yet.

Okay so next month we shall focus on the Mystere Falcon as we further continue this look-back at the history of the various aircraft that have shaped modern business aviation. If you have a suggestion for me as to a specific business aircraft that one of these future Business Aviation focus articles should be dedicated to, please let me know your thoughts. Also remember that any input that you care to make will be of great interest to all of the readers here at Globalair.com. So don't be bashful. Go ahead and write your comments and suggestions here. Please don't forget that whatever you write here, can be seen publicly by everyone that visits this page, so please be funny, be inspired, but most importantly of all, please be nice.

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Jeremy Cox

Dealing with FAA Denial of an Airman Medical Application

by Greg Reigel 1. October 2008 00:00
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Some airmen dread the regular pilgrimage to their local aviation medical examiner ("AME"), especially if they have experienced health problems since obtaining their last medical certificate. After all, if for some reason the AME is unable to issue an airman a medical certificate, that airman will be grounded for some period of time and, possibly, permanently. However, if an airman finds him or herself in this situation, the airman does have some limited recourse.

The Application Process

When an airman arrives at his or her AME's office, the airman completes an Application for Medical Certificate in which the airman must disclose prior/current medical condition and history. If the airman discloses a medical condition that is disqualifying under FAR Part 67, or if the AME's examination of the airman reveals a disqualifying medical condition, the AME will likely defer the application to the FAA Aeromedical Certification Division for a decision on whether to issue the airman a medical certificate.

Depending upon the condition, an actual diagnosis of a disqualifying medical condition may not be required for the FAA to deny a medical application. Simply presenting with the disqualifying symptoms or condition, or having experienced the symptoms or condition in the past, regardless of whether the airman currently has the symptoms or condition, may be sufficient justification for the FAA to deny the medical certificate.

If the airman presents with a disqualifying condition that precludes issuance of an unrestricted medical certificate, the FAA will typically also consider whether the airman qualifies for a special issuance under FAR 67.401. Grant of a special issuance is subject to the FAA's discretion. To obtain a special issuance, an airman must show that "the duties authorized by the class of medical certificate applied for can be performed without endangering public safety during the period in which the Authorization would be in force." If the FAA determines that a special issuance is not appropriate, it will issue the airman a letter indicating that it is denying the airman's application for medical certificate and the basis for the denial.

Responding To A Denial

In addition to denying the airman's application, the FAA's denial letter will also state that the airman has 30 days within which to request reconsideration of the FAA's denial pursuant to FAR 67.409. If reconsideration is not requested within that time, the airman "is considered to have withdrawn the application for medical certificate." When requesting reconsideration, usually via letter to the FAA, the airman may also submit additional information for the FAA to review and consider including doctor and expert opinions, medical reports, test results etc.

Once reconsideration is requested, the FAA does not have a deadline by which it must make a decision on the airman's request for reconsideration. Unfortunately, this can often result in a considerable delay during which time the airman's application is in limbo. If the FAA ultimately reaffirms its initial denial, that denial is then final and can be appealed to the National Transportation Safety Board ("NTSB").

Appealing A Denial

An airman appeals the FAA's denial of a medical certificate by filing a petition with the NTSB requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). An airman may only appeal the denial of an unrestricted medical certificate. Since the decision to grant a special issuance is at the discretion of the FAA, the NTSB will not entertain an appeal of the denial of a special issuance.

A hearing is then held at which both the airman and the FAA present evidence through documents and testimony from doctors, medical experts, the FAA and the airman. Oftentimes the airman's treating physician(s), who usually don't have aviation medicine training or experience, will testify that the symptoms and/or condition do not pose a threat to aviation safety and that the airman should be able to fly safely. However, when this type of opinion is presented at the hearing in contradiction to the FAA's expert witnesses, the Board will usually give greater weight to the FAA's expert witnesses based upon their "superior" qualifications in aviation medical standards.

In order for the ALJ to reverse the FAA's denial, the airman must prove by substantial, reliable and probative evidence that the airman is qualified for the medical certificate for which he or she applied, without limitations. In light of the NTSB's deference to the FAA's medical experts, this can be a very difficult burden to meet. Additionally, an appeal is expensive: Expert medical testimony and attorney fees required for the appeal process can be quite costly.


What can you do if you have had any health issues or medical conditions before you apply for your medical certificate? Do your research before you go to your AME. Is the condition disqualifying? Are you taking medication that is disqualifying? If so, or if you are in doubt, you may want to delay applying for your medical certificate. You may also want to consult with an aviation attorney or aviation medical expert who can advise and assist you.

Depending upon the medical condition, you may only need to wait until the condition has resolved, the condition is under control such that you would qualify for a special issuance or you have stopped taking the disqualifying medication. Alternatively, your situation may be more serious and require a different strategy. In the interim, assuming you otherwise meet the applicable requirements, you may be able to operate as a sport pilot without a medical certificate.

In the end, we all want the pilots with whom we share the sky to be healthy and safe. If an airman has a health condition that poses a hazard to safe flight, most, if not all, of us would be concerned about that airman being allowed to fly in the same airspace in which we fly. However, in some cases the FAA's determination of whether an airman's health condition, in fact, threatens safe flight may be too conservative, bordering on or becoming arbitrary and capricious. In those instances, an appeal of a denial is not only appropriate, but may even be successful.

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Greg Reigel

Survive Tough Times

by David Wyndham 1. October 2008 00:00
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Given the recent financial turmoil and bloodletting on Wall Street, I think there are three options to survive these tough times:

  1. Ignore the bad news and hope it goes away.
  2. Be proactive and have a plan (and revise it as needed).
  3. Convert all your assets to gold and head to a cabin in the woods with lots of canned food and candles.

Option 1 won't help and we are not even close to Option 3. You want to be proactive for your company. Here are three ways to try and survive tough financial times with your aviation department.

Stay Competitive.

Remind folks of the time saved. Remind them that time saved is allowing a person to do more in the same amount of time.

Remind your executives how much more productive they are while on their aircraft. Privacy and the ability to get uninterrupted work done on the aircraft is also valuable.

Try to expand the access to the company aircraft by one-tier lower executives. Think of the aircraft as a workforce multiplier: do more with fewer people, productively, and in teams. Finding new opportunities just got tougher and the aircraft allows you to act quickly.

Measure and Understand Your Costs A quick review:

A variable cost will vary in proportion to the level of activity. As activity increases, the total cost will increase but the cost per unit will remain constant. An example of this is fuel. Increasing utilization increases fuel used.

A fixed cost remains essentially constant for a given period or level of activity. Hangar and insurance are fixed costs. Whether I fly today or not, I need to pay my hangar and insurance costs. Keeping the aircraft flying keeps the average cost per hour down as it spreads the fixed cost over more hours.

If I decrease my aviation budget 10%, my fixed costs don't change, so my variable costs must decrease more than 10%. Similarly, if I fly one more hour, my cost increase is only the cost of the next hour: fuel and maintenance.

You need to know your costs, how they behave, and what/where cutting costs can have the desired effect on your overall budget.

Have A Plan

A strategic plan is a long term, forward looking plan for the aviation department. It should cover most likely scenarios, and also worst case scenarios.

What is your most important mission? Least important? What if utilization drops off, what happens to your costs? If you know where the flight department's priorities are, you can be better prepared if cuts are inevitable. Know your costs, your missions, and your people.

One question that can come up is "Are we operating the best aircraft for the job?" A strategic plan addresses this question with the reasoning and justification as to why you fly the aircraft you do. It also should tie directly into the company's mission statement.

No plan covers all contingencies, but a good plan has enough information so that you can react with knowledge and wisdom versus fear and panic. It also allows you the time to adjust to the times with a measured response.

Are many of you facing significant reductions in your flying requirements? Click reply and let me know.

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David Wyndham


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