...Comp Air Jet Progressing

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Perhaps the only significant news out of the VLJ market in recent weeks were the initial flights of Aerocomp's CompAir Jet. The eight-passenger, single engine kit jet first flew on July 21 and is, shall we say, a more grass-roots approach to the market. "I'd never flown a jet before," said test pilot Ron Lueck. "I'd never even started a jet before." Aw shucks aside, the company, which builds highly-regarded turboprop STOL aircraft kits, estimates there's a market for 2,500 kit jets over the next 10 years. It's overcome the biggest hurdle to building a jet (either at the factory or in the garage)by finding serviceable engines that cost only $60,000 for a factory rebuild. The AI-25 bypass engine is built by Nanchanko in Russia and is used in the L39 Albatross and Yak 40. It will produce up to 3,400 lbs. of thrust. The engine choice results in some interesting design features. Because it's a fairly large engine (24-inch outlet) the airframe must match proportionately. The result is the only stand-up cabin (70 inches) in this class of jets. There's a kind of workmanlike feel to the jet's sort of blocky shape but spokesman Stephen Young said they don't mind sacrificing a little speed for the safety and docile flight characteristics gained by the thick wing and other conservative design approaches. "We're trying to keep it as simple as possible," he said. Still, building a jet is not for those unwilling to make a commitment. Even with the builder assist program being planned, it will take eight months and 2,500 hours to put the aircraft together. Finished cost, including engine, will be between $600,000 and $800,000. The company is considering certifying the plane in Russia, but Young said it's unlikely to seek U.S. certification unless a reasonably priced certifiable engine becomes available.