For every new aircraft that negotiates the long road to market there are multiple projects that fail to get off the ground. With the HondaJet finally being delivered to customers, and Embraer’s Phenom 100 and Cessna’s Citations dominating the market sector, P1 looks at some of the light jets that came and went and wonders what might have been if some of these fabulous flying machines had taken to the skies.
When you look at the list of light business jets announced and then canned since the turn of the millennium, you have renewed respect for Honda Aircraft Company for sticking with their own 30-year labour of love. HondaJet finally gained certification at the end of 2015, and deliveries have since begun to patient customers. The production line at Greensboro is full, pilot training is in full swing and the customer service department is all geared up. But it could have been so different, if this brand new design didn’t have the backing of an ambitious, successful and deep-pocketed parent company.
In the time it took to get the Japanese jet from sketch to showroom, at least four other potential competitors have come and gone, while Embraer’s Phenom and Cessna’s Citation family has dominated that market sector (very light jet) in the last decade.
Indeed, in the fourth quarter of 2015, Embraer delivered a staggering 45 business jets – 20 of them being light jets. Over the course of the year, the Brazilian manufacturer delivered no less than 82 light business jets out of a total of 120. Cessna, on the other hand, has delivered more than 100 of its Citation M2 aircraft within two years of gaining FAA certification.
Clearly, there is high demand for VLJ and LJ aircraft in the current climate. This is of course good news for the HondaJet, and no doubt frustrating for all of those manufacturers who were looking to enter the market at the lighter end but had their hopes dashed.
Sadly, for consumers, some of those failed projects were also superior, at least on paper. A quick glance at some of the key stats shows that there were aircraft in development that claimed to fly faster and further than our Big 3 – HondaJet, Phenom 100 and Citation M2 – and at a fraction of the purchase cost.
The Stratos, for example, had a superior range to the Big 3 and compared well on speed. It was also priced at less than half the going rate for one of those jets, which all retail at around US$4.5 million.
Meanwhile, the PiperJet (on paper at least) could carry seven passengers 1300nm for US$2.6 million – admittedly slower than HondaJet, Phenom and M2, but again at a highly appealing and competitive price point.
Let’s remember that cost isn’t everything, and certainly not simply dictated by speed, range and passenger capacity. But in an industry that champions aircraft being the fastest and furthest (see the Gulfstream G650), it makes you wonder why jets that offer more sometimes fall short.
Case in point is the ATG Javelin, which promised a top speed of 500kts, range of 1,000nm and price tag of US$3m. Announced in 2004, the Javelin had its first flight in 2005, was cancelled in 2007 and ATG declared bankrupt in 2008. Well, we did say it was fast.
The ATG Javelin was developed from a military trainer and that top speed would have been very attractive, especially to owner pilots. So where did it all go wrong? To find out, P1 went back to the start (2001) and tracked down former US Air Force pilot and engineer George Bye and his team, who unveiled the unique transonic two-seat advanced jet for both military and civil utility.
The Aviation Technology Group (ATG) Javelin featured an eye-catching sleek design that resembled a fighter aircraft and it promised to be the high performance sports car of the civil aviation world.
Bye went on to establish Bye Aerospace where he and many of the Javelin team continue to explore and develop new and advanced aerospace technology. With the jet still influencing his work, Bye spoke to P1 and reflected on the development of the innovative Javelin.
“The Javelin project began in 1998 when I first started drafting the original concept papers, some pencil drawings and initial CAD drawings,” recalls Bye. “Then in 2000 we got organised as a business and around 2001 very early magazine articles began to appear about the concept of the Javelin and around the two Williams International FJ33 engines. The Javelin enjoyed great interest, despite the economy just at that time and there was a great deal of interest from customers. The business grew fairly rapidly. We had the mock-up roll out event, which was great fun. We then began to attend various aerospace conventions and shows including Oshkosh.
“Between 2003 and 2004 we transitioned and began another level of growth as we started working on the aircraft itself. We hired Charlie Johnson, the former Cessna President at that point, his leadership and a number of other aerospace leaders who joined our board. Some tremendous engineers came on board as we built the flying prototype.”
Compared to some aircraft, this development phase seems positively supersonic, and it wasn’t long before the Javelin was enjoying its first flight. Bye remembers the day fondly.
“In December of 2005 the Javelin flew and what a day,” he says. “What a day that was, it was extraordinary. In just a few years it went from concept to transonic prototype first flight. That was a great achievement and great fun for all of us. Customers responded well, the aerospace and defence world responded well and the orders and the interest grew.”
Bye says he saw an opportunity to create an airplane that was high performance and had some of the features that a pilot’s pilot would really enjoy – like a sports car, and yet use business jet type engines and have business jet type performance and range. The idea was that the Javelin would cross over from military appeal to high-end sports car business jet appeal – and that is exactly what happened with the Javelin.
“It was an extraordinary airplane designed under US FAA part 23 rules for certification and where there wasn’t specific guidance from part 23 we used military specification,” explains Bye. “That in the end allowed us to have an aircraft that would meet both military utility as well as the high-end business jet, civil utility.
“It was very, very sleek. It looked like a fighter and, of course, it performed like one. It was a very high performance aircraft and it has that military airplane appeal so someone that is well trained would be able to enjoy performance that just doesn’t exist otherwise in a typical business jet. But it still had the economy to have reasonable utility, range, costs and so forth, comparable or even less than a business jet that you might use for going from say Dallas to Denver.”
A sports car-style jet that looks like a military fighter, aimed at the adrenalin-loving owner pilot? What’s not to love! So, the million-dollar question remains – where did it all go wrong?
“It was the same thing that affected everyone else in aviation and in aerospace, late 2007 the economy absolutely collapsed and our banking support and financial support collapsed at the same time, like it did for some many others,” remembers Bye.
“We were swept away by global events that were beyond our control. The business was certainly successful otherwise, as was the airplane, but it was not a survivable economy so we had to shut down the programme.
“We were around two years away from certification, transitioning to production engineering, the tools, fixtures, manufacturing planning and things like that, and for a fairly sophisticated airplane like the Javelin, that is not a trivial process.”
It’s clear, a decade on from those heady days of the first flight, that George Bye is very proud of the Javelin – and rightly so.
“Oh yes, it was a gigantic achievement,” says Bye. “Think of it – this wasn’t BAE, it wasn’t Northrup, and it wasn’t Boeing doing this. Typically a jet like this would come from a major aerospace and defence OEM and they would spend hundreds of millions of dollars. We are both humbled and very proud of the tremendous accomplishment of a great team of people here in Denver, Colorado to achieve this level of success with this project.”
Naturally, Bye can be forgiven for wondering what might have been had the ATG Javelin secured the funding it required and made it into full production. Certainly, the VLJ and LJ end of the market might look very different. So how does he think the Javelin would fare against its competitors today?
“Wonderfully, and perhaps I would say the market is better now – or maybe it will be in the next year or two – than it was when we first launched the programme.
“We believe that we had great success with the Javelin. It was a pathfinder aircraft and a breakthrough in so many ways and most certainly it would have been successful on the market and a next generation Javelin even more so.”
While many are left to reflect on what might have been, Bye has moved on with his new company Bye Aerospace – a company that is doing groundbreaking work on solar and electric solution that he says will revolutionise “everything”.
However, we imagine that not everyone who had their fingers burnt by the global economic crisis, or other external factors, will be quite so upbeat. As market forecasts show, the demand for smaller, lighter jets looks set to be significant in the next decade for business aircraft.
Embraer’s Executive Jet Market Outlook report suggests that business jet deliveries over the next 10 years (2016-2025) will be 11% higher than in the last decade.
Of the 9,100 deliveries expected, 3,000 are in the entry, light and midlight sectors.
In a separate market forecast from Bombardier, covering 2015 to 2024, the Canadian manufacturer predicts sales of 9,000 with the largest category being light jets – accounting for 3,400 deliveries, or 38% of the market. The Bombardier report also shows North America being by far the largest market (with 3,900 of the 9,000 predicted deliveries) and 53% of deliveries being in the light category. This contrasts with China, where only 10% of the 875 predicted deliveries will be in the light category. In Latin America, too, light jets lead the way, with 41% of 850 units.