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Wed, Jan 04, 2006

2005 -- Year-In-Review: The Year's New Aircraft

From Detail Tweaks To New Jets, There Were A Bunch

It's been such a busy year for aircraft, the mind boggles at the task of covering them all. I mean, we did, but covering them all in one story is the thing... so this isn't a laundry list of everything that flew -- it's a review of some of the most important things that flew, or got into production, last year. We biased the story pretty heavily towards the first half of the year, for those of you who forget how far we've come.

Transport Category Aircraft

Probably the grandest of all, the Airbus A380, was in the news for most of 2005 after its January unveiling...

...its April taxi and ground tests... and then the dramatic first flight in front of tens of thousands of cheering spectators, back to a safe landing -- with time out for an interview in midair.

Even the insurance the double-deck record-setter requires is unprecedented.

Not to be outdone, Boeing gave its Dreamliner a number this year.

The 787 is a hit; its bragging point is efficiency. It didn't hurt Boeing that "8" is a lucky number in China, one of the hottest markets for Boeing and for arch-competitor Airbus.

The old question, "Who's winning?" seems a bit premature. Boeing is getting more orders for 2005, something they predicted in the spring, but then the 787 is almost a no-brainer decision for Boeing operators as it offers lower operating costs. The A380 is very economical if you can fill it, and also, if you can FIT it; requires larger gates and taxiways than were previously required, and may be such a wake-turbulence generator that it actually drives airport capacity down.

This American/European (can we say American/French?) dispute wouldn't be complete without charges and countercharges flying over the issue of government subsidies. Many of these charges relate to the A380's still-on-the-drawing-screen sibling, the new A350.

While Boeing and Airbus are still the Varsity, other nations like Russia, China and Brazil are seeking their own piece of the market for newer, more efficient aircraft. The Antonov AN-148 is a regional jet from an unexpected region.

And the Tupolev Tu-204-300, the latest in a long line of commercial jets from the design bureau that was once based in the Gulag, when Andrei Tupolev was on the outs with Stalin, made its first flight this year.

China, likewise, is building an RJ, both to cut off Western running dog capitalist manufacturers at the knees, and to better deal with the high-hot conditions on China's vast inland plateau, which leaves Embraers and Bombardiers sucking wind.

Bizjets

The Swearingen SJ30-2 finally won full FAA certification, delighting company principals, and anybody that wants to travel faster than gossip and have a sea-level cabin atmosphere at FL410. The SJ30-2 gang held a festive conference on the floor of NBAA this year to show off their sleek jet, which is finally going to customers with FAA blessing.

NBAA also brought out some projects that were expected -- and some that floored us. In the first category was the formal introduction of the previously announced Embraer LJ and VLJ, curiously named the Phenom 100 and Phenom 300, but we were caught flatfooted on the plane's name.

And in the latter category is the Spectrum 33 bizjet. Looking like a straightwing Lear, and developed in profound secrecy since 1998, the advanced carbon-fiber Spectrum was sprung on us by CEO Linden Blue without a hint of warning.

The Gulfstream G150 is a new, smaller aircraft built for Gulfstream by Israeli Aircraft Industries.

Bombardier revved the Global Express with the Global Express XRS, which made its first flight this year.

The Eclipse 500 achieved many milestones in 2005, bringing it within hailing distance of certification, but no milestone was more significant that the first flight of N503EA, the first certification prototype.

(Editor's Note: Click here to read the last of ANN E-I-C Jim Campbell's series on flying the Eclipse 500, appropriately entitled "Jets For Dummies" because honestly, almost ANYONE will be able to fly this airplane. Part VII is more or less a summary; for the full effect, links to the first six parts of the series are provided with the article.)

Cessna's Citation Mustang also had a big year. Early on, it was traveling the country -- as a mock-up...

  and then it was in the air.

Cessna also introduced a number of upgraded jets, like the CJ2+.

Adam Aircraft slogged on through the long certification process on both the A500 piston and A700 jet. This was rewarded in May with a limited TC for the A500. The company's still working to expand the envelope by documenting all systems to the FAA. The decision to simultaneously certify the aircraft and all the manufacturing processes has really expanded the paperwork for these guys... they hope that it will pay off when their fully-certified machine ships.

Likewise, the smallest personal jet so far, the ATG Javelin, also started 2005 with a prototype only under construction...

...and ended with it in the air.

General Aviation

In the light GA world, things have been hopping as well. It was a great year for piston aircraft sales, with GAMA figures showing over 1,600 new planes found new owners in the first three quarters of 2005. Q4 numbers aren't released yet, but manufacturers that are assembling the numbers now are not complaining.

With the products of GAMA's members selling well, A lot of the changes were relatively small, as makers continued to add glass panels (mostly Garmin's G1000 system or Avidyne's Entegra) to certified aircraft. Avidyne's range showed with a three-panel display in the high-flying turboprop Piper Meridian...

...and a simple two-panel system in the Symphony 160 (back in production after some hiccups and reorganization)

Several manufacturers including New Piper and Columbia added non-known-ice-certified anti-icing technology to their IFR cruisers, stressing that this didn't make you able to blast through ice like jets, but gave you a fighting chance to escape from it while your plane was still controllable. This is an important safety upgrade as long as pilots heed that warning and use the systems as recommended.

Other incremental safety improvements included seat-belt airbags from AmSafe in several lines of new aircraft, including Cessna, and a BRS option in Symphony (which the Canadian company has been working on for a couple of years).

[Oddly enough, after a record 14 saves in 2005, BRS's save count was way down in 2005, to only three saves (Cirrus pilot Ilan Reich, and trike instructor Dave Scharafinski and student Bob Cliff in a Seawing trike that had structural failure inflight).

Quest's Kodiak continued its development cycle. The company has an unusual approach, where for every X number of commercial sales they make, they'll provide one plane at a steep discount to a non-profit, charitable operator. Everyone likes the Cessna Caravan... they'd like it more with greater useful load, ruggedness, and field repairability, which is what the Kodiak is.

Proving that this is a hard business to do business in, the very year the type got a million dollars' worth of free publicity by being selected for the AOPA giveaway, Commander Aircraft went tango-uniform and then emerged, in the hands of a consortium of owners, as Commander Premier Aircraft Company.

On the other hand, the stalwart Cessna 172 went in a whole new direction with certification of the Nav III suite with Garmin G1000 glass panels.

The TT62 Twin taxied near Peenemunde in January...



...and later flew. The machine has a unique configuration, with engines buried in the fuselage, and propellers on stalks.

Another plastic twin from the German-speaking world, the Diamond DA42, started deliveries to customers in 2005. The initial version was powered by two economical Thielert Centurion engines.

Symphony Aircraft won type and production certificates from Transport Canada and began slowly producing aircraft at Three Rivers, Quebec. The Symphony 160 is an attractive plane that outperforms trainers powered by the same 160-hp engine.

Columbia Aircraft was also riding high, despite small armies of aviators still calling them "Lancair." (They were, in fact, once the certified arm of the Lancair empire, but while Columbia's machines have a lot of Lancair DNA, the companies have been entirely separate for some time). Their introduction of the latest Garmin technology, adding a sophisticated data-entry keypad to the G1000, caught a lot of attention, especially as Columbia is the only vendor that gives customers a choice of the two market-leading glass suites, Garmin and Avidyne.

But a story that many may have overlooked is the factory's expansion; surging demand led Columbia President Bing Lantis to add more production capacity, a "custom shop" completion and maintenance facility, and hundreds of workers -- giving preference to returning combat vets. Glass with class, says we.

Not to be left out, Cessna hired workers in 2005 also, sheet metal workers for its Citation jet manufacturing operation. First places in line went to Cessna workers who were idled in earlier layoffs, as a result of the post-9/11 aviation downturn.

So there you have it... 2005, from the latest gargantuan "heavy" that's going to be lashing us with its tip vortices, to the latest new hire being taught how to run a set of tin snips at Cessna. And we could have given you three times as much... if you think we left something big out, well, you missed your chance when WE asked YOU for your feedback in 2005. So remember that, when 2006 ends... oh, what adventures we'll have together!

FMI: www.aero-news.net

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