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
Even the insurance the double-deck
record-setter requires is unprecedented.
Not to be outdone, Boeing gave its Dreamliner a number this
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
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
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
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
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
The Gulfstream G150 is a new,
smaller aircraft built for Gulfstream by Israeli Aircraft
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
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.
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
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
...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
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
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!