Hundreds of Piper workers and others crowded the ramp at Vero Beach Airport Wednesday to watch the long-awaited first flight of the PiperJet. Randy Brennan, a Vero Beach resident who got a heads-up on the flight from friends that work at the plant, said the proof-of-concept aircraft used only about 2,000 feet of runway as it lifted off on a 60-minute maiden flight about 11 a.m. "It was really cool," he said. "It's a beautiful aircraft. It's really quiet." Test pilots Dave Schwartz and Buddy Sessoms took the aircraft to 10,000 feet and a speed of 160 knots to check basic handling and the pitch trim characteristics that can be a concern with a tail-mounted engine. The pitch issues were "easy to overcome" according to Schwartz and the aircraft generally behaved as expected.
Piper President Jim Bass said there's a lot riding on the PiperJet. "With this major milestone in the PiperJet's development, we are witnessing our future one that is built on a strong and lasting heritage and reputation for innovation and excellence," he said. Brennan said people at the airport have gotten used to the aircraft doing high speed taxi tests but word spread quickly that today might be the day for the first flight. He said that the plane did a couple of high speed runs on the runway before lifting off. There has been no official announcement of the flight from Piper but we expect to hear from them soon.
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