AVweb Biz - Volume 12, Number 10

September 17, 2013

Cessna Unveils Military Jet

Cessna unveiled a twin-engine military interceptor/utility jet that CEO Scott Ernest told his local Rotary Club will diversify the company's product line and provide a relatively inexpensive alternative to traditional fighter aircraft in some roles. The Scorpion was built in secret over the last 18 months by Cessna engineers at a facility in Wichita. It has a composite airframe and the engines were run for the first time last weekend. “It’s basically built ... and we are hopefully going to fly it here in the next two to three weeks," Ernest is quoted by the Wichita Journal as telling the Rotarians. "It’ll be good. It’s just another opportunity for us to invest in the future.” 

Ernest told the gathering the aircraft will cost about $3,000 an hour to fly, about 10 percent of the cost of an F-35, and it will carry a big payload of military hardware. He did not specify what armament it might carry and instead stressed its potential role carrying sensors for data collection. Besides the Air Force, Ernest said the aircraft might appeal to the National Guard. "It can be very effective within their stable of planes if they allow it to be, and very reliable. ... It’s a cheap alternative to flying some of the other product, so we’ll see,” Ernest was quoted as saying. A purchase price wasn't mentioned.

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First Flight For Bombardier CSeries Jet

Bombardier launched its CSeries flight-test vehicle on its first flight Monday morning in Montreal. The all-new narrow-body jet is designed to carry up to 149 passengers. The airplane already has proved disruptive in the airline industry, according to analyst Michael Boyd. "That's what caused Boeing and Airbus to redesign their airplanes," Boyd told Reuters. "The CSeries, on paper, was so superior in terms of economics that you have two global companies that had to jump from what Bombardier did." The flight had been delayed several times, but on Monday morning the weather cleared to provide a clear blue sky for the ceremonial event.

Bombardier has said it hopes to log 300 orders for the jet, but so far has only 177, according to Reuters. The company has said it is hopeful Monday's flight will inspire more buyers to commit. The first flight was expected by the end of last year, but Bombardier cited supplier problems and software issues for the delays.

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Swift Fuels Expands Production Capability

On Friday, Swift Fuels hosted an unveiling in West Lafayette, Ind., for two new fuel facilities -- a pilot plant and a fuel-blending site -- to help produce a new aviation fuel as an alternative to 100LL. The company said it is investing $2.5 million in the two projects. "Swift Fuels' 100SF was developed to replace leaded aviation gasoline," CEO Chris D'Acosta said at the event. "We are transitioning from several years of research and development to the start-up of this fuel-blending and pilot-scale production facility, which will strengthen our commercialization efforts in various fuels markets." The blending facility will store at least 50,000 gallons of unleaded, high-octane aviation components for sales and shipment. The pilot plant will produce more than 10,000 gallons of 100SF per month when it reaches full capacity, the company said.

The pilot plant is being built in Nebraska, and will be delivered to Lafayette within four weeks, according to the company's news release. D'Acosta said one of the key features of the pilot plant is its versatility. "The pilot plant will be a continuous operation," he said. "It can produce the unleaded high-octane gasoline from petroleum or bio-sourced material. This provides Swift Fuels many options on how to serve various markets." D'Acosta said the company is working to develop the aviation fuel to conform with ASTM and FAA standards in an effort to meet "an ultimate fleet-wide certification."

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Video: Bendix/King KSN770 Flight Trial

Bendix/King designed the hardware and Aspen Avionics completed the user interface for the KSN770 FMS. The end result is a powerful retrofit GPS navigator that has a sharp screen, liberal interface potential and a $13,995 price tag. Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano flew with the system to have a look.

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Video: Calle Hedberg -- The Flying Hobo

Many round-the-world pilots are in a hurry to get the trip done, but Calle Hedberg of Capetown, South Africa is taking a different route.  He has eight months to do the trip in his kit-built Ravin 500, and he plans to savor every moment.  AVweb's Russ Niles flew with him after he got a float endorsement in Kelowna, British Columbia.

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Cessna Builds a Fighter

The moment I saw the conceptual art on Cessna’s new proposed twin-engine jet tactical aircraft—the Scorpion--three questions came immediately to mind. Is that thing stealthy? Can it be pilot optional? And last, huh? The answer to the first two questions might be mooted by the answer to the third: Since the Pentagon biting on this idea is a long shot, foreign sales may be what Cessna has in mind, along with its partner developmental company, AirLand Enterprises.

This is the sort of project you don’t see much anymore, given the cost escalation and vast profit margins in modern weapons systems and the R&D dollars it takes to create them. The Pentagon has not asked for such an airplane, so if Cessna wants U.S. sales, it will be cold calling. Sales in the emerging world may be a different matter, however. The defense export business has proven profitable for many U.S. manufacturers. Still, things are a little different now. The countries with money—Brazil, Russia, India and China—have their own emerging domestic aircraft industries and if light, cheap and unsophisticated is the selling point, couldn’t those countries roll their own and export the results? Cessna may be aiming to find out.

What the Scorpion is supposed to be is a cheap-to-operate, built-from-the-parts-bin reconnaissance and surveillance platform with some strike capability. But doesn’t that describe the $4-million-a-pop Predator UAV, not to mention the next generation of drones we don’t even know about? Is there really a need for a five-hour endurance jet to fly missions that UAVs are already doing? 

With budget cuts looming, perhaps Cessna and AirLand are counting on the Pentagon getting religion on less expensive—that’s not the same as cheap—weapons systems. Then again, when has it ever, at least recently? I suspect Cessna will need lots of friends in Congress to overcome the legions of supporters that Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have cultivated over the years. Although it’s sometimes forgotten, Cessna is no stranger to military aircraft. But its experience with the venerable A-37 Dragonfly, a Vietnam workhorse, is decades old. Textron (partnered with Boeing) does have military contracts in the V-22 Osprey and various subsystems. But Cessna was never in the league of a Lockheed, Grumman or McDonnell Douglas in the military realm. Perhaps that's a market advantage. Plying the competitive civil market for so many years, Cessna has had to be efficient and fast moving, bringing products to market on time and on budget, something not normally associated with military contractors. The F-35 comes to mind. In stepping out of the civil jet realm, Cessna is stretching. I hope it doesn’t distract it further from interest in the lowly piston airplane, something that’s fallen to a record low ebb.

But there’s one good reason to cheer for the success of this project. If it puts more of Wichita back to work, that’s a good thing.

Join the conversation.  Read others' comments and add your own.

Video: Redbird's Redhawk Diesel -- A Detailed Look

At AirVenture, the really cool airplane wasn't from an airplane manufacturer but from Redbird, the guys who build motion simulators.  They showed off a nicely refurb'd Cessna 172 with a diesel engine from Continental, and they invited us to come fly it at their San Marcos, Texas Skyport.  So we did.  In this video, we offer a detailed analysis of the Redhawk, along with a closer look at the airplane's performance and cost figures.

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Video: Electronics International Unveils New Multi-Purpose Instrument

While old airframes may keep soldiering on, the instruments and radios in the panels usually don't.  At AirVenture this year, Electronics International rolled out a new instrument designed to replace older instruments, including tachometers, engines instruments, and other indicators.  In this video, EI's Tyler Speed gives us a quick product tour of the new CGR-30P.

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