P1 FINDS OUT WHY THIS AIRCRAFT is still a byword for power and luxury
THE Learjet 60 has been one of the iconic US company’s best-selling aircraft over the years, with almost 350 built and sold since the first delivery in January 1993.
Although it’s essentially an older design, the 60 still looks modern and stunning. For me, there’s something about the look of the Learjet that you either love or hate!
When the 60XR debuted in 2007, it had the latest airframe improvements, brand spanking new state-of-the-art avionics and integrated cockpit, and an interior upgrade, well-placed to keep it as Learjet’s biggest aircraft until the 85 comes into service.
It seems operators agreed. Orders flowed in strongly, most notably by Portuguese fractional operator Jet Republic for a whopping 110 60XRs – though Jet Republic went out of business before any deliveries were made – and it was easy to see why.
The 60XR looks right for European use, with up to nine seats and a max range of 2405 nautical miles with four passengers. Max cruise speed is a quick Mach 0.81 (or up to 465kt) and the aircraft is certified to a ceiling of 51,000ft.
According to Bombardier, the Canadian aerospace giant that has owned Learjet since 1990, the 60XR will routinely cruise at Flight Level 410 and higher to take advantage of favourable winds and reduced air traffic. In other words, get above that pesky airline traffic!
Walking up to the 60XR, I feel a strong sense of anticipation. The walk-round checks are completed quickly (such areas can be reached easily), but what strikes me instantly are the two strakes at the rear of the aircraft extending longitudinally below the tail area. Canted at an angle of about 45˚ to the vertical, these are designed to provide better handling qualities at the stall and better directional stability at high altitude.
The wing also incorporates myriad design ‘tweaks’ to the aerodynamics to make sure those mid-span mounted ailerons remain effective down to a lower speed; I make a mental note of the relatively large winglets that are fitted.
For passengers, entry to the cabin is designed for safety. The door, on the port of the aircraft just aft of the cockpit, is reached by wide, safe steps. Additionally, you can grip the doorframe if necessary– which is good news for elderly or infirm passengers, helping them to get in and out safely.
In case of an emergency, passengers can use either this main door or the emergency exit on the starboard side at the rear over the wing. Again, it is large enough for those who are not as nimble as they might like to be.
Climbing into the cockpit, it is compact, but not cramped. Comfort and ergonomics have not been overlooked, and the seats can be adjusted for both height and forward movement, while the rudder pedals (with toe brakes) can be moved to suit. The seats are comfortable, and though I only tested the 60XR for a short flight, I see no reason why a six-hour flight would be onerous.
I note that there is no design eye point nominated, and while the control column does block the view to a small portion of the control panel, there are no critical controls or indicators in this area.
However, the cockpit field of view is adequate and during all handling phases, on the ground or in flight, I can always see what I need to, without having to move my head – a definite plus when operating into unfamiliar airports and in crowded VFR airspace.
After push-back, the engine start procedure is very simple – just one switch to engage the starter. The supervising pilot carries out the post-start checks, which are completed within two minutes. A little power is required to start taxiing and then idle power is sufficient. Initially, the nosewheel steering takes a little getting used to as it is very sensitive and geared in such a way that a small rudder pedal movement is translated into a relatively large nosewheel angle. It isn’t a problem of course, and I adjust very quickly.
Taxiing within a foot of the taxi line is easy – however, as the flight controls are reversible it would be interesting to see how easy it is to taxi in high winds. The rudder surface, if moved by the wind, might feed back to the rudder pedals. (Of particular note in this phase is the display of the aircraft taxi chart on an LCD with an aircraft symbol showing actual position – I’m sure this will greatly help pilots at unfamiliar airports or when operating in low visibility.)
TAKEOFF AND CLIMB
We take off from Dubai’s 4000m runway 12R in virtually no wind. Weight and balance has been calculated using an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) and once the weight is entered into the FMS, with the runway for departure and weather, take-off speeds are automatically calculated and displayed on the PFD speed tape – a very simple, and therefore a safer, procedure. Flap 20 is used with full power. Directional control is very easy as the gearing to the nosewheel steering changes as speed increases and the centreline is maintained.
The 60XR’s acceleration is surprisingly brisk and reminiscent of a military jet trainer (eg Hawk) performance! At the rotate speed, I make a backward movement of the control column and a quite high force is required to rotate the aircraft to the climb attitude. Once climbing, I raise the landing gear with no noticeable pitch trim change.
The aircraft is now showing how powerful it is, and I lift the attitude to 21˚ nose up to control the speed (there’s a restriction of 200kt initially for the SID). Retracting the flaps, again there is little trim change.
The pitch trim control does take a little getting used to as it requires a central button to be pressed to allow the control to work when deflected in the appropriate direction with the left thumb. However, an audio feedback that lets you know when it is operating helps to ‘calibrate’ the thumb, so that by the end of the flight it is intuitive.
The biggest requirement for pitch trim change occurs with thrust changes, which need to be anticipated – the aircraft pitches down with thrust increase and up with thrust reduction.
Setting climb power, we climb to FL400 and after about 10 minutes I engage the autopilot. I now feel quite used to this aircraft, which has light control forces in roll, but is rather too heavy in pitch to be considered well harmonised. Trimming hands-off is easy in pitch and roll. Of course, the role of the aircraft would see it usually operated out of the circuit area with autopilot engaged.
As you would expect flying out of Dubai, we are in strong sunlight, so I am able to properly check the adequacy of the display brightness and legibility – which is, and remains, excellent throughout the flight. However, I can’t properly assess the FMS/EFIS, as such systems require a pilot to be familiar with them before all their features can be used (although by the end of the flight, I am selecting between different displays and changing ranges and selecting some of the simpler functions like ‘direct to’). Watching the Bombardier pilot, I note the ease with which he switches functions, and get the impression that the FMS is easy to use and has great utility for the role.
It only takes 16 minutes to reach FL400 – an excellent performance. Cruising at FL400 at 0.76 IMN (Indicated Mach Number), the fuel flow is 500lb/hour/per engine, which suggests the advertised performance figures are reasonable.
As we descend to the block FL150 to FL170, I check the ability of the autopilot to track speed with or without spoiler use and to follow vertical speed (v/s) commands. It does so accurately. Low-speed manual flight is performed with speed being reduced at idle power by using pitch alone at 1 knot per second towards the stall speed. Cues provided on the speed tape on the PFD alert me that I am approaching minimum speeds.
In a clean configuration, the flight controls remain responsive as speed reduces and I feel a progressive airframe buffet, giving excellent warning of the impending stall. Stall is defined by a stick shaker, which occurs at a point where the aircraft is maintaining wings level and is responsive to the controls, allowing easy recovery by relaxing back pressure on the control column to reduce the angle of attack, and the addition of power to minimise height loss. The nose does try to pitch down further when power is increased and this has to be strongly resisted.
A further approach to the stall is conducted in Flap 20 and this time the airframe buffet is initially masked by flap buffet. However, there is still adequate natural warning in advance of the stick shaker. The low-speed handling characteristics would allow good control if a distracted pilot inadvertently allowed speed to reduce below normal, and the timely warning and simple recovery would ensure a safe return to the normal flight envelope.
In flight, the map display showing coastlines and waypoints/beacons/airfields, helps maintain situational awareness.
APPROACH AND LANDING
A STAR to RWY30R is programmed into the FMS and, with the autopilot in VNAV, we return to Dubai International. Vectors are provided after passing abeam the airfield for an ILS approach. With the arrival selected in the FMS, the required navaids autotune to the correct frequencies. The approach is hand-flown.
At this stage in the sortie, the lack of an autothrottle makes itself felt and the workload is noticeably higher. I need to do a little experimentation to ascertain the correct power setting for the approach, which is made with a Vref of 135kt. As power changes, there is a corresponding pitch change, which has to be trimmed out.
However, once established on the localiser and glideslope, the correct flightpath is simple to maintain and, with the speed holding Vref +10, the power setting is relatively constant and the approach nicely stabilised. There is an audio rad alt callout and the flare is shallow from about 30ft and thrust levers are reduced to idle by about 10ft, which allows a gentle touchdown.
I make a ’touch and go’. After take-off, gear and flap are retracted and I fly a right-hand visual circuit at 2500ft. In the circuit, the TCAS display is a great help, showing other light aircraft and helicopter traffic below us.
A steep descent on base has to be made initially, but the rate of descent is easy to reduce once intercepting a 3˚ flight path and we make a visual approach and landing.
After landing, I maintain the centreline as speed is reduced with brakes and thrust reverser before using a high-speed turn-off. The steel brakes are progressive and, in contrast to the nosewheel steering, are insensitive, requiring high forces to slow
While the maximum nosewheel angle is normally 30˚, up to 45˚ is available by pushing extra hard on the rudder pedal at the extremity of its travel – demonstrated when parking in the air show park.
Shutdown at the end of the flight is quick and easy – passengers can expect to be out of the aircraft and on their way within a few seconds of parking. Overall, ground handling is adequate for the role.
Various cabin layouts are possible with the mid-size Learjet 60XR, but luxury is part of all of them! The leather is first class and the wood finishing superb.
Even the gold-plate bling in the self-contained rear bathroom is in good taste. There’s a proper door to the bathroom, and the lavatory is actually certified as a seat, with belts, for take-off and landing if need be. A luggage area behind the bathroom can be accessed in flight.
The floorplans include a galley in the front of the cabin, which provides useful separation from the crew. Various compartments can take everything from a fridge to a microwave, and there’s plenty of room for the all-important drinks cabinet.
LED lighting in cabin is more reliable, and looks classy. The Cabin Entertainments System (CES) has a three-inch touchscreen control allowing passengers to alter cabin lighting, cabin temperature and operate the audio-visual infotainment system, which includes flight maps and routing info.
Seats can be folded down for a snooze, or swivelled around for a conference, and each has an under-seat drawer.
Perhaps the most impressive upgrade is the apparent extra space. Cabin height is 68in, width 71in at widest point, with a 15in wide aisle.
The Learjet is a pleasant aircraft to operate. For business operators to approach the same levels of safety seen in airline operations, it is necessary to provide similar levels of mission-critical equipment to bizjet crews – and great steps have been made with this aircraft to improve the Learjet family. Enhancing features are the provision of EFIS and FMS systems with situational awareness-enhancing displays, for example, the airfield chart with aircraft actual position displayed, automated weight and balance and performance calculations, EGPWS and Windshear detection, and TCASII.
However, I believe the aircraft would benefit from an autothrust system, which would ease workload and increase safety, and will need in the near future to be equipped for Future Air Navigation System (FANS) operations.
Takeoff and climb performance are excellent. The aircraft’s handling is certainly adequate for the role, although the control forces in pitch are a little heavier than ideal.
Overall, though, this is an excellent little aircraft – one, I believe, that should have a bright future.
Cruise 453ktas @ 41,000ft
Max range 2405nm
Climb 18.5min to 41,000ft
Fuel burn 500Ib/hr each engine @ cruise
DOC $1273/hrTakeoff dist 5450ft
Landing dist 3420ft
Payload full fuel 660lb
Fuel capacity 7910lb
Wing area 264.51sq ft
Cabin length 23.20ft
Cabin height 5.71ft
Cabin width 5.95ft
Pax seats 8+1
Engines 2 x Pratt & Whitney PW305A turbofans; 4600lb total thrust
Avionics Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21
Power 2 x 4600lb thrust