NBAA 2000: Gettin' Down (River) to Business

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SPECIAL REPORT. It was the best of times and it was, well ... the best of times. In fact, as the corporate aviation industry gathered this week in New Orleans for the 53rd National Business Aviation Association Annual Meeting and Convention, cold winds and damp ramps couldn't dislodge the smiles. So far, this year's NBAA extravaganza seems headed to break records, with more than 29,000 attendees and some 150 aircraft on static display. Don't miss this first part of AVweb's two-part coverage by Dave Higdon.

Be sure to check out AVweb's image galleries from NBAA 2000!


Big winds blew mists of water over the flood wall separating Lake Ponchatrain from New Orleans Lakefront Airport (NEW) and cold, gray skies had the locals complaining about the early onset of winter as the throngs flooded into the French Quarter for the 53rd convention of the National Business Aviation Association this past weekend. But it wasn't so bad that Bombardier Ski-Doo snowmobiles were needed to move planes around the static display. Work crews loaded and floated airplanes on barges from NEW to the riverfront Moreil Convention Center; the convention center filled with significantly more vendors using nearly every nook, cranny, ballroom and alcove in the mile-long structure. And by opening day Tuesday, a flush of warmer air seeped into the Mississippi River Delta that matched the ambience and news coming from within — the news of new model business planes, advanced new avionics and displays, new services and new players. 

But there were also sobering issues to address, including the pending adoption of the new Subpart K to Part 91 for fractional operators, a looming shortage of pilots and a continuing shortage of maintenance technicians. And vendors and operators alike wonder whether the surge of recent years is past or simply slowing to a sustainable growth level. 

Meanwhile, less than 24 hours after Bombardier celebrated the delivery of the 500th Challenger — a brand-new 604 to E*Trade chairman/CEO Christos Cotsakos — a test-flight 604 crashed onto a street in west Wichita after takeoff from Mid-Continent Airport, killing two of the flight-test crew and leaving the third in critical condition. The accident understandably cast a pall on the closely-knit Bombardier staff at the show, as well as on the family of business aviators attending. 

And that family appeared in mass, with numbers that hold out the potential to make this NBAA convention — already a record-setter in terms of businesses attending and the both spaces they used — yet another record-setter in terms of total attendance. 

Let's get to it.

The Planes, The Planes…

Where else on the globe but at the world's largest purely-civil aviation trade show could you learn of new models targeted at the business user — models ranging from four-place pistons to huge jets based on air-transport hardware? That describes NBAA number 53 — and before the doors even opened Tuesday morning. Here's a quick rundown of the lowdown, as one Crescent City cabbie put it.

Cessna...

To start at the lightest, lowest-price end of the spectrum, Cessna Aircraft finally took the wraps off to display its new 182 turbo, which began test flying from the single-engine plant in Independence, Kan., many months ago. More speed, better range, higher payload and some new avionics options are on tap for the Skylane turbo. The $281,000 Skylane turbo helps Cessna fill a price and performance gap between the Stationair and the normally aspirated Skylane with a model nearer to the speed of the 160-knot plus TurboStationair but closer to the price of the straight Skylane, at $220,000-plus.

...Raytheon...

And Cessna wasn't the only planemaker in town filling a model gap at NBAA 2000. Earlier on Monday, when Cessna made its announcement, cross-Wichita rival Raytheon Aircraft Company announced the launch of its third new jet using the cross-materials philosophy of the Premier I, the "light-midsize" Hawker 450. Slated for service entry in about 2006, the 450 is designed to compete with Bombardier Learjet's successful Learjet 45 — the 100th 45 was on display at NEW — and Cessna's highly popular Excel, according to RAC chief executive Hansel Tookes. Power will come from Honeywell's 731-40 engines and the panel will be another application of the Primus Epic flat-panel equipment. The anticipated tab for this 2,000-nm model? Between $7.8 and $9 million.

While we're here, Tookes also noted that certification of the ground-breaking Premier is "very near" to completion — although, for the second year in a row, Raytheon executives were unsuccessful in bringing the new model to NBAA with its type certificate in hand. Production, however, is ramping up, with composite fuselages and metal wings coming together apace. And the first mate of a Hawker Horizon composite fuselage was completed shortly before NBAA.

...Dassault...

Continuing our move up the size scale, Dassault Falcon Jet announced the launch of its fifth model, the long-range Falcon 2000EX twinjet. Scheduled for service entry on 2003, this $24-million model expects to go head-to-head with Bombardier's Challenger 604. Using Pratt & Whitney PW308C engines and Collins Pro Line 4 avionics, the newest Falcon will cruise a healthy 3,800 nm on full tanks — close to the 4,000-plus miles available from Gulfstream's IV-SP.

...And Last, But Not Least, Gulfstream

And speaking of Gulfstream, the General Dynamics company surprised the industry by announcing development of the GV-SP, a 6,750-nm cruiser based on the company's own globe-trotting GV. Among the changes planned for the GV-SP are Gulfstream's PlaneView cockpit based on second-generation Honeywell Primus avionics — at a weight savings of more than 100 pounds of gear, a higher full-fuel payload, and numerous aerodynamic improvements to aid in the model's long-range cruise capabilities and short-field performance. First flight is scheduled for late 2001, with certification by the fourth quarter of 2002. But already, fractional-ownership giant Executive Jet has committed $800 million to buy 20 of the GV-SPs.

Eclipse Edges Closer To Production Using New Welding Technique

Unless you're a real fan of space rockets and NASA programs, you probably never heard of the new fastening technique Eclipse Aviation plans to use building its breakthrough very light jet, the Eclipse 500. But you'll be hearing a lot more about "friction-stir welding," we're sure, as this fledgling planemaker proceeds toward certification in the coming years. And if the company succeeds, you can look forward to seeing more airplanes welded together without the extra pounds and labor of traditional methods.

Friction-stir welding, or FSW to add to our endless wealth of acronyms, involves pressing a thin, spinning tool-steel pin down on the aluminum surfaces to be joined; as pressure on the pin increases, the aluminum becomes hot and softens until the two different pieces of aluminum merge — without ever getting hot enough to become liquid. The process uses no inert gases, no chemical flux coatings or additions of aluminum wire, all traits common to other forms of electrical and gas welding.

According to Eclipse, the resulting joint is stronger than a similar joint fastened with traditional rivets; the process is also several times faster than even automated riveting machines. And FSW lends itself to the precision of multi-axis computer-controlled machines that will allow Eclipse to weld parts as long as 36 feet, over and around compound curves or along straight line, according to Eclipse executives.

The application of FSW will not, however, totally eliminate the need for and use of conventional rivets in the Eclipse 500. Some parts — brackets and mounts — for example will continue to need riveting. But FSW, which could reduce the use of rivets by as much as 90 percent, does hold out the promise of a rivet-free fuselage skin and wing surfaces and an associated reduction in empty weight due to reduction in fasteners used and the elimination of large lapping surfaces needed to give rivets a surface to hold. Welded surfaces will make sealing the pressurized fuselage a simpler matter, as well. And automated FSW also holds out the potential for significant reductions in fabrication and assembly hours compared with conventional riveting — down to between 1/8th and 1/10th of typical — while preserving the ability of maintenance technicians to make field repairs using more-traditional riveting promises

Curiously, this "new" assembly technology is not new at all. Invented more than a decade ago by The Welding Institute in the U.K., FSW has been used for years to fasten main-structure components for Boeing's Delta family of rockets, has been approved for use in building the external fuel tank for NASA's shuttle fleet, and has found uses in the shipbuilding and maritime industries.

Elsewhere in the Eclipse 500 program, the company announced Monday that its type-certificate application has gone to the FAA for approval — and what a different approach Eclipse chairman Vern Raburn's folks have taken. Since Williams International is handling both engine and airframe development chores under contract to Eclipse and integrating the two facets to an unheard-of degree, Eclipse filed a joint application to certificate the airframe and Williams EJ22 engine together under both FAR 23 and FAR 33.

Improving The View: Honeywell Unveils New Apex EFIS

Move over business jets — there's a new generation of flat-panel displays coming to general aviation designed for costs and utility in line with even the most-modest high-performance piston singles. And it's coming with the Bendix King label from Honeywell. Dubbed Apex, this new trio of EFIS-style cockpit displays will handle everything from navigation-map indication to attitude, engine and air data; control the avionics, flight-control equipment and safety systems on two or three displays, depending on the model and features desired. Pilots and planemakers will be able to choose from the Apex 1000, Apex 2000 or Apex 9000 system, depending on the aircraft type and features desired.

The Apex 1000 is designed for use in light piston singles and helicopters; the 2000 is aimed at high-performance singles, piston twins, and higher-end helicopters; and the 9000 is designed for use in turboprops and light jets. But all will share the same display symbology and functionality at their basic levels. As with companies such as Meggitt and Sierra Flight Systems, much of the development is being driven along the line of NASA's Highway-In-The-Sky (HITS) concept for the airplanes of tomorrow — with some exceptions. For example, Honeywell will eschew the square tunnels-in-space shown in HITS concept demonstrators and prototypes — but not the functionality, according to Honeywell Vice President John Murphy. The idea, Murphy told AVweb, is to give pilots an out-the-window view of the world for navigation — unlike the top-down perspective of today's most-popular multifunction displays and GPS navigators.

Honeywell's new Visual Cueing and Control — or VC squared — will display the horizon ahead and scroll ground details down the screen to they appear to pass beneath an aircraft as it actually crosses overhead. Traditional markings for compass displays and attitude indication will remain, according to Murphy. And for attitude sensing and control, Honeywell is adapting to the AHARS box its own Micro-Electromechanical Sensors (MEMS) to replace spinning-mass gyroscopes and accelerometers. These sensors will not require periodic updating from a GPS or other source to maintain their accuracy, according to the company. Engine monitoring will be based on the same Digital Engine Operating System hardware developed for the company's high-end Primus Epic panel architecture — equipment that already meets the FAA's stringent Level A certification requirements for use in flight-critical systems.

And the costs of all this futuristic hardware? According to company executives, the Apex 1000 will be competitive with the costs of today's panels and the gauges, sensors, plumbing and pumps needed to provide all the data, and multifunction displays like the KMD 550 and 850. Which means the biggest problem for pilots now is the wait. Service entry, according to Honeywell, will be in the 2003-2004 timeframe.

Honeywell also noted its launch of the first FAA-certified in-flight email system for business jets — Inflightmail — with the completion of STC work on a Citation III. Company executives noted that unlike other aerial email platforms, theirs allows use of a passenger's own notebook computer, email software and Internet service provider, thanks to the use of an on-board server and router hardware.

Cessna Opts For MFD Options In Singles

Before we depart the entry-level arena for costlier climes, you should know that Honeywell will be supplying its Bendix/King-brand avionics to Cessna for the single-engine line yet again in 2001 — with some advances. For example, the mid-range KMD 550 multifunction display will be available in the Skyhawks, Skylanes and Stationairs coming out of Independence, Kan. The KMD 550 is designed to work with Honeywell's — and others' — data-link services for weather and traffic depiction, EGPWS, weather avoidance and integrated hazard-awareness equipment.

Honeywell has also been tapped to supply its new, recently TSO'd color moving map KLN94 GPS navigator to Independence, as well as an all-new audio panel, the KMA 28 — a unit built complete with an integrated marker-beacon receiver, six-place intercom and new fail-safe circuitry that connects the pilot directly to Com 1 should the audio panel fail. Back again on the 2001 Cessnas will be the KX 155A nav/com, KT 76C transponder and KAP 140 autopilot.

Sandel Unveils Budget-Oriented TAWS

Thousands of light-plane pilots have embraced Sandel's innovative SN3308 EHSI/MFD in the four years since its debut, thanks to its flexibility and, in particular, its competitive costs compared to traditional horizontal situation indicators. Now the company is bringing the same cost pressures to bear on the regulation-driven move to install terrain awareness and warning systems in jet and propjet aircraft of all uses with the launch of the Sandel ST3400 TAWS system.

By applying the SN3308's own proprietary display technology integrated into the same box as the TAWS computer, Sandel has made a breakthrough in both price and installation time for such equipment. The single box mounts in a standard three-inch instrument hole and simplified wiring cuts installation time typical for traditional TAWS equipment to 35 to 50 hours, compared to upwards of 200 hours for past designs. The unit also integrates a two-pointer RMI and adds flight-management systems as an additional source of bearing information. And the cost — $34,500 — is a fraction of the six-figure prices of those other systems, according to Sandel president Gerry Block. First shipments are expected in July 2001.

BFG Enhances Traffic Awareness With Skywatch HP

More range and compatibility with ADS-B are the two biggest enhancements BFGoodrich announced Monday to its Skywatch traffic-advisory system, which enable the Skywatch HP to "see" other aircraft as far away as 20 miles, compared to the six mile range of the original unit. When certified, the unit will be compatible with the traffic-awareness being tested through the FAA's Capstone program.

But in making these enhancements, BFG did nothing to take away from the compact size and flexibility of the original Skywatch. For example, the display still fits into a standard three-inch ATI panel hole, and the display can still share functions with BFG's own WX-1000 Stormscope sensor. Conversely, the HP's output can be displayed on a number of compatible EFIS displays or radar graphics computers. And even with the enhancements, according to the company, the HP version's $24,630 price comes in at less than half the price of a TCAS I system.

And There's More To Come…

That can't be all, you're probably saying to yourself right now, and you're right. Time and space mean we've got to get up from our keyboards and back on the convention floor, out to the static display and back in the thick of things so we can deliver to you all the rest of the news from the 53rd annual NBAA convention when we return Monday. There will be more news on the fractional front, news of a new time-share operation using Jetstream 32s, of new e-commerce-oriented developments by manufacturers and suppliers, and more on the planes and hardware, issues and action of NBAA.

Fly safe and we'll see you back here Monday for AVweb's wrap-up report on NBAA 2000.

Be sure to check out AVweb's image galleries of NBAA 2000!