PROGRAM UPDATE

Bombardier Learjet 85: $20 mil, Mach .82, 3000 nm, FL490, 8–10 seats

Learjet’s largest and longest-range model will be world’s first all-composite Part 25 certified bizjet.

By Clay Lacy ATP/CFII/Helo/Sea. Gulfstream II/III/IV,
Learjet and Citation series, HS125 and assorted other type ratings


Bombardier Learjet 85 offers 20% more range, and largest Learjet cabin ever, while retaining traditional Learjet performance, Mach .82 cruise and high/hot performance.

Bombardier announced the Learjet 85 during NBAA last October, released performance data and major suppliers during EBACE in May and has begun converting more than 120 letters of interest (LOIs) into firm orders. With 3000-nm range at Mach 0.78, high-speed cruise of Mach 0.82, stand up double club cabin and 42% greater MTOW than the 60XR, the all-new Learjet 85 is big news.

A larger cabin and more range, while retaining legendary Learjet performance, is a win-win for both Bombardier and the market and gives existing Learjet owners a reason to stay within the iconic Learjet product line.

But there’s more, of course. The Learjet 85 will be the first all-composite Part 25 certified business jet. Composite technology represents the future, in my opinion, as it gives you the ability to reduce weight and parts count, fabricate more complex aerodynamically fine-tuned shapes and extend maintenance intervals while simplifying the manufacturing process.

Joint definition phase was completed Apr 08 with major supplier announcements in May 08. All-composite fuselage will be built at Bombardier’s Querétano, Mexico facility.

I’ve been flying Learjets from the beginning and I still operate a 1964 Learjet 24 for personal use. Just recently (Pro Pilot Apr 2008, pp 84–88) I had the opportunity to flightcheck the Learjet 60XR and I’m also very familiar with the Learjet 45XR and the 40XR—all wonderful aircraft. Learjets have always had excellent power to weight ratios and they remain the best performing business aircraft in the industry.

I have to admit that, prior to announcement of the 85 I’d thought Learjet had gone as far as it could in its product line with the model 60. Bombardier, however, identified a worthwhile product gap between the 60XR and the Challenger 300 and found a way to take advantage of it with the Learjet 85. At MTOW of 33,500 lbs the $20 million model 85 sits nicely between the $13.652 million (2008 dollars) 23,500 lb MTOW Learjet 60XR and the $20.971 million (2008 dollars) 38,850 lb MTOW Challenger 300.

Bombardier’s strategy on the Learjet 85 has been to minimize risk says Mgr Product Planning and Strategy Brad Nolen. The Learjet 85 uses next generation Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307Bs, recently certified on the Dassault Falcon 7X, Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion similar to the new Global Vision flightdeck on the Global Express and a composite manufacturing process that has been perfected by Grob Aerospace over the past 30 years.

The Learjet 85 wing, at 400 sq ft and 25° sweep with new larger and more blended winglets, really pushed aerodynamic efficiency to achieve a range of 3000 nm at Mach 0.78. The key here is range. 3000 nm with 4 passengers and IFR reserves, is a significant step up from the 60XR’s 2351 nm and close to the Challenger 300’s 3100 nm.

Bombardier has successfully filled the gap between the Learjet 60XR and the Challenger 300. Operators now have the choice of staying in the Learjet family with a product approaching the range and cabin comfort of the Challenger 300.

FAR Part 25 FAA certification is anticipated 2011 with entry into service planned for fiscal year 2012/ 2013. I believe, however, that Bombardier may end up competing somewhat against itself with the large-midsize Learjet 85 and the supermidsize Challenger 300. The price difference is not considerable and some operators will opt to move up to the larger, longer range Challenger 300.

While Bombardier says that it will continue to produce the 60XR I can see the sun setting on this program. Modern Learjets, like the 40XR, 45XR and 85, are much less labor intensive to construct than the hand-built 60XR and have simpler 3 spar wings compared to the 60XR’s Learjet 23-like 6 spar airfoil. I suspect that once Learjet 85 production begins the 60XR may go away or be replaced with a new all-composite alternative.

However, as Nolen points out, the 2-mould hand layup low temperature process on the Learjet 85 may not be scalable upwards beyond midsize business jets. Large composite aircraft, like the Boeing 787, use composite sections attached to aluminum stringers and frames rather than this very straightforward, simple, 2 mould process.

Program milestones

Prior to announcing the model 85, Bombardier program objectives included a double-club cabin, large cabin cross section with stand up (5 ft 11in) headroom, speed and agility of a Learjet, transcontinental and west coast to Hawaii range. Three customer steering teams were created to support the Learjet 85 development program—an interior focus group (Jan 2008), maintainability focus group (Feb 2008) and a flightdeck focus group (Mar 2008). In January Grob was selected to develop the all-composite structure and, in February, high and low-speed wind tunnel testing was completed.

Supplier agreements were finalized, and the joint definition phase initiated, in April. Design has been frozen and a full-scale digital mockup has been completed. This summer a build strategy will be announced prior to unveiling of a full-scale mockup at NBAA in October.

Bombardier Learjet 85 product team. (L–R) During EBACE Bombardier Learjet VP Sales Mike Fahey, ExecuJet Aviation Group/Grob CEO Niall Olver, Bombardier Business Aircraft Senior VP Sales Bob Horner and ExecuJet Aviation Group Sales Dir Andrew Hoy celebrate a deal in which Grob will assist in Learjet 85 development.

The Learjet 85 program is progressing on schedule and on track for first customer deliveries in about 4 years. I had a chance to walk through a partial mockup of the Learjet 85 last NBAA and was impressed. Cabin length, at 24 ft 9 in (flightdeck divider to rear pressure bulkhead) provides a larger, more comfortable cabin, than current midsize jets.

Cabin width, at 73 inches is 2 inches wider than the 60XR and just 13 inches narrower than the Challenger 300. Use of composites maximizes cabin volume with thinner structural sidewalls. Total baggage volume is 130 cu ft, much more than the model 60s and close to the 150 cu ft of the Challenger 300. Exterior dimensions are longer and higher than the model 60XR with wingspan of 61 ft 5.75 in—a full 17 ft 8.15 in wider than the Learjet 60XR and just 2 ft less than the Challenger 300.

Wider span may be an issue for some owners and their hangars, and it may cost a little more to hangar your Learjet 85, but these are relatively minor considerations. Learjet 85 partners Grob Aerospace—with over 37 years composite technology experience and a track record of more than 3500 composite aircraft including the industry’s first all composite Grob SPn business jet—is a strategic partner on the Learjet 85 and will play a significant role in development of the world’s largest Learjet.

While Learjet will be responsible for certification, design and control Grob will provide expertise in the composite arena and manufacture at least the first 2 prototypes. Following certification, Bombardier’s Queretano Mexico facility will manufacture composite structures for the Learjet 85 together with the electrical harness and subassembly system installation.

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