But Hope Springs Eternal

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Safire Announces Major Changes In Jet Program...

Safire Aircraft, one of the handful of GA manufacturers venturing into the light-jet market, announced on Friday that is has made substantial changes in the design and specifications for its personal jet program. The original S-26 light jet, with a composite airframe, will not be produced, the company said. The new design, called simply the Safire Jet, will have all-aluminum construction and be larger, heavier and faster. The change comes along with Safire's recent selection of the Williams FJ33-4 engine as its powerplant. CEO Camilo Salomon said in a news release that the choice of engine drove the need for other changes in the overall design. "The aircraft's structural weight had to be increased to accommodate the added weight of the engines," he said. "With approximately 33 percent more thrust, other changes were also required. ... In virtually every area of performance and size, these changes have resulted in a faster, larger, more comfortable, longer-range aircraft, with comparable direct operating costs." The new design will have 50 knots more speed, a longer IFR range, and a larger cabin. Salomon also announced a contract with Avidyne to supply integrated flight-deck avionics for the jets. "This will make every pilot's dream of a state-of-the-art-glass cockpit come true," Salomon said. He added that Williams is expected to provide an FAA-certified engine by the end of 2003, and the jet will fly in the first quarter of 2004 and start deliveries in early 2006. "We are confident we will be first to market," Salomon said. Safire presently has in excess of 720 deposits.

...While New Ideas Are Floated...

Undaunted by today's gloomy economy, dreamers and tinkerers continue to pursue their vision. Which designs will survive into the next century of flight, time will tell, but among those ideas that we've heard of lately, the AeroCat "hybrid aircraft vehicle" appears to be full of ... helium. The AeroCat dream "combines the principles of a hovercraft, blimp, airplane and catamaran," a news release from the newly formed California company said last week. The AeroCat, 310 feet long by 80 feet high, would travel 500 miles at 70 knots while carrying 30 tons of cargo. The vehicles would consist of an aerodynamic catamaran-shaped hull made of laminated fabric, filled with helium and pushed along by four 850-hp turboprop engines. The hull would generate lift. The AeroCat would operate anywhere, from land or water, snow or desert, without ground support or airports, the company says. It could be configured for air cargo, passengers, military uses, or special uses such as for the U.S. Postal Service, mobile hospitals or international relief and evacuation. No prototype is yet flying, but the company hopes to complete a scale model by August.

...And Tomorrow's Airplane Could Fly Gas-free

Meanwhile, in Worcester, Mass., a small group of entrepreneurs and engineering students is working to create an all-electric fuel-cell airplane. The ultimate goal: to fly with a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell system by 2004 -- quiet, efficient, emissions-free air travel. "If this were easy, somebody would have already done it," jokes Jim Dunn, executive director of the Foundation for Advancing Science and Technology Education (FASTec), the nonprofit group working in stages to develop the project, with help from NASA. The team is currently testing an electric motor mounted on a modified French DynAero Lafayette III two-seat kitplane, and recently began taxi tests. The next step will be to fly it with lithium ion batteries, perhaps as soon as this summer. The project will be on exhibit at Dayton's Inventing Flight celebration and at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this summer.