The U.S. Air Force may be looking for a fleet of new very-light jets to replace its current fleet of basic training aircraft, and Eclipse Aerospace said this week it wants to build them. The jets would be used by about 700 students per year in the USAF Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Multi-place Training Track. “Our solution would save the Air Force over a billion dollars over the next 10 years, in fuel, maintenance and training costs,” Eclipse CEO Mason Holland told AVweb on Monday. Holland said he has met with senior Air Force leaders and the company’s proposal is “fully responsive to the Air Force’s request.”
The USAF said its request for information is for “research purposes only … No decision to pursue an acquisition … has been made.” Holland says if the Air Force moves quickly from the RFI to a request for proposals, a contract decision could be made within about 12 to 18 months. Eclipse could produce about 100 jets that would replace the 178 older Beechjets now used for training, he said, because the new jets would require less maintenance downtime. The RFI says the Air Force is only interested in “FAA Part 25 certified commercial off-the-shelf” aircraft, which must be able to fly at least 300 knots at 500 feet above the ground and cruise at FL410. Holland said if the Air Force does choose to switch to Eclipse jets, the company’s existing facilities could be quickly ramped up to meet the demand.