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VLJ Comparison

by GlobalAir.com 1. March 2008 00:00
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I have wanted to do an 'on-paper' comparison of the current production Very Light Jet Aircraft for quite some time now, and for this month's article I have achieved this ambition.

There are fifteen separate and independent VLJ manufacturing companies in existence. Some are close to certification and first delivery, while others struggle to keep their doors. The stakes are so high in the aircraft manufacturing industry that anyone making the attempt must get used to pitching for large gobs of cash from investors, just to be able to continue in their heady quest of designing, building and certifying a new jet aircraft. Two out of the fifteen want-to-be manufacturers have now received their Type and Production Certificates from the FAA. Now the cash is rolling back in a positive direction for these two companies while they enjoy the process of successfully delivering their certified production aircraft to their eager clients. These two companies are Eclipse Aviation and Cessna.

Let us take a closer look at these 'first of the breed' VLJ aircraft and make a direct comparison between the two. I will start with the Eclipse 500: Eclipse Aviation was established in 1998 by a maverick senior executive from Microsoft Corporation, Vern Raeburn. Success has been achieved by Raeburn's Eclipse because he took an entirely different approach in the way that he marketed his aircraft. Even long before any metal had been cut, it was through Raeburn's efforts that the terms or 'mini-jet' or 'VLJ' were coined and both have now become to a certain extent, household terms. Never before has the concept of a new aircraft been so far reaching into the imagination of the general public. The prototype Eclipse took to the skies of Albuquerque in August of 2002. The Raeburn design and engineering team further refined the technology of friction stir welding by incorporating this technique into their manufacturing process, effectively, according to Raeburn, making the labour cost a lot lower than what the conventional riveting method requires. Customer deliveries of the Eclipse 500 started in mid 2007.

Cessna is probably the single most successful general aviation and business jet manufacturer in the world. Specializing in the design, manufacture and marketing of an entire family of aircraft that range from ab-initio basic training aircraft, all the way up to the worlds fastest general aviation aircraft, the Citation X. In response to the success that Raeburn and his team were meeting our in Albuquerque at their start-up operation at Eclipse Aviation, it was a simple procedure for Cessna to stretch the design and construction rationale that they had developed with their CJ line. In the autumn of 2002, Cessna entered the newly developing VLJ race with their announcement at that years NBAA convention, that they were committing resources to the design and building of the Cessna Mustang; the smallest in their line of business jet aircraft. The prototype Mustang quickly took to the skies of Wichita in April of 2005. Customer deliveries of the Mustang started in late 2007. The sales race between these two competing VLJ aircraft has advanced into maturity.

So how do these two compare on paper, against the first VLJ from the 1960s, the Learjet 23?

Model Eclipse 500 Mustang Lear 23
New Price/Year $1,310,000 in 2006 $2,345,000 in 2006 $595,000 in 1965
Engine PW 610F-A PW 615F-A GE CJ-610-1
T/O Thrust 950 lbs 1460 lbs 2850 lbs
Wingspan 37.4 feet 43.16 feet 35.6 feet
Length 33.1 feet 40.58 feet 47.6 feet
Tail Height 11 feet 13.42 feet 12.3 feet
Cubic Feet 160 cubic feet 140 cubic feet 192 cubic feet
Baggage 16 cubic feet 63 cubic feet 40 cubic feet
Number of Seats 6 Souls 6 Souls 8 Souls
Max Altitude 41000 feet 41000 feet 41000 feet
Cruise 360 KTAS 340 KTAS 440 KTAS
Stall 69 Kts 70 Kts 83 Kts
Range 1100 Nm 1150 Nm 1000 Nm
Fuel Capacity 224 USG 383 USG 815 USG
Fuel Consumption 66 USG 90 USG 316 USG
DOC $595 $945 $2,057
MGTOW 5760 lbs 8645 lbs 12500 lbs
ZFW 4860 lbs 6750 lbs 9000 lbs
Payload (Full Fuel) 702 lbs 600 lbs 342 lbs

I think that when all of the numbers are placed into a matrix, as they are above, one see's some interesting correlations emerging: The new VLJ's are both smaller and slower than their grandfather VLJ, the Learjet 23. However the operating cost has been slashed by 60 to 70% off what the older aircraft demands from its owner. It will be very interesting to see what the other VLJ's will do in this direct comparison, as they slowly meet certification and start delivering. We shall revisit this topic next year.

Okay, I will see you next month and please remember that any input that you care to make will be of great interest to all of the readers here at Globalair.com. So please don't be bashful and 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



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