Doing yeoman's work-midsize bizjet operations

Mission-specific and multirole, medium muscle moves managers around markets.

By Doug Wilson
Contributing Writer

Its lineage clearly recognizable at this angle, a Cessna Citation Excel demonstrates its stellar midsize-class runway performance on departure from HND (Henderson, Las Vegas NV).

Before the advent of today's labyrinthine business jet classifications, there were 3 simple categories of turbojet business aircraft-small, medium and large. These simple classifications described 3 specific traits quite well-the aircraft's external dimensions, its cabin size and its range.

In short, it was a reflection of limited OEM offerings. Today, other now familiar terms have been added to describe the array of aircraft available to operators-including very light jet, supermidsize and even ultralarge jets.

Despite the confusion brought about by the multitudes of nearly similar aircraft offered by OEMs, it is the needs of business that drive manufacturers to provide niche-filling, mission-specific aircraft. All aircraft are by design flying compromises.

It may be an over-generalization, but an operator is able to choose between speed, range, runway performance and cabin size. It is such a compromise that gave rise to midsize (and later supermidsize) business jets.

That same compromise is reflected in these aircraft's unique operations. While no clearcut classification system exists, the term "midsize" simply refers to the aircraft's cabin size, as opposed to external dimensions.

Although the length of that cabin may vary by a few feet, there is little variance in height or width-less than 3 inches in most cases-and none in the group are true standup cabins like those of their larger brethren.

By those terms, then, the Citation 650 (III/VI/VII), Hawker 700 and Learjet 55 are good examples of more "legacy series" midsize aircraft. Most of these airframes were introduced 30 years ago or more and they remain hugely popular.

In many cases, they have led to an entirely new generation of aircraft-current production manifestations are the Cessna Citation XLS+, Hawker 750/850XP/900XP and Learjet 60XR.

As an aside, modern supermidsize aircraft are, by contrast, largely clean-sheet designs, such as the Bombardier Challenger 300, Cessna Citation X and Sovereign and the Hawker Beechcraft Hawker 4000.

Further, supermidsize aircraft blur the line between midsize and large aircraft with their often capacious cabins. As the performance and operations of supermidsize aircraft vary widely from those of midsize aircraft, they truly form their own class, and are intentionally excluded from comparisons that follow.

Built like a tank

The popularity of midsize and supermidsize bizjets is evident in the delivery figures. Last year alone, midsize and supermidsize jets accounted for almost 1/3 of all business jet deliveries, at 421 units.

Predictably, most popular among this group last year was the Hawker series. Clearly, the engineers at de Havilland who originated the Hawker series got the airframe right the first time, by building an adaptable midsize airplane the industry still loves today.

Wearing company colors, this Hawker Beechcraft Hawker 850 in its latest iteration sports winglets, furthering its range.

And, considering the aircraft-then known as the DH125 Jet Dragon-first flew in 1962 (at the former company airfield at Hatfield, England), it is remarkable that deliveries of this aircraft have actually increased in each of the past 7 years.

In 2008 alone, some 46 years after its introduction, Hawker Beechcraft delivered 88 Hawker 750/800XP/900XP series, comfortably outnumbering every midsize (and supermidsize) aircraft.

Of its market desirability and extraordinary production history, Jeff Stillwell, a contract pilot with Cascade Air Group says, "The Hawker is just a solid airplane. Sure, you won't get there fast, it may not have the ramp appeal of a Lear, but it's a known commodity."

Jeff Stillwell, seen here in front of a 700-series, calls the rugged Hawker "a solid airplane-a known commodity."

Stillwell continues, "And the reliability of the aircraft is phenomenal. A Hawker can sit for 30-45 days, and you can fire up the APU, start it up and you're ready. Some aircraft break just sitting in the hangar. Not a Hawker."

Although Hawker Beechcraft may be loath to use the marketing cliché "built like a tank," most pilots will agree the Hawker airframe truly epitomizes sturdiness. Notably-and infamously-one was struck over Africa by a shoulder-fired missile and landed successfully after having one engine blown clean off the airframe.

That aircraft was rebuilt and returned to service. Another survived midair collision with a glider at 16,000 ft, which resulted in an engine failure, a missing radome and much of the leading edge of the right wing being destroyed.

The pilots were successful in landing the aircraft, demonstrating not only world-class piloting ability, but the remarkable toughness of the airframe.

Top runway performance

Another stalwart in the midsize category is the popular Citation XLS/XLS+ series, of which OEM Cessna delivered some 80 units last year. Tracing its origins to the Citation III, the XLS+ combines the midsize cabin of the Citation III/VI/VII series with the empennage and forgiving straight wing of the 500 series.

The result is an aircraft with stellar runway performance in the midsize category. First flown in 1996 as the Citation Excel, it has been a steady seller since its deliveries peaked in 2001, at 85 units.

One west-coast-based XLS pilot explains, "We started out in a Citation Ultra and then upgraded to an Encore, so the XLS was a pretty logical step up. The boss loves it. From a pilot standpoint it's great-you have essentially a midsize cabin on a light jet.

It's not a whole lot different from the 500 series in handling-it's a dream to fly, it makes you look good and it's easy to land." Operationally, the Excel/XLS/XLS+ has found its niche in small corporate flight departments and large fleet operators alike-no surprise given its ability to access airports other aircraft cannot.

With a takeoff distance of 3560 ft, the XLS+ bests its midsize competitors off the runway by some 1500 ft. As one operator mentions, "We make a lot of short trips. We put about twice as many cycles as we do hours and an average flight is about 30 min.

With its slow landing speeds-typically Vref is less than 110 kts-we're not beating up the airplane by making all these landings on it." Another key factor for operators using the XLS is its load-carrying ability, especially over short segments.

While passengers in midsize aircraft cabins often end up sharing room with baggage, the XLS offers an 80 cu ft externally-accessed baggage compartment. "The loading envelope is large and the baggage compartment is incredible," comments one XLS pilot. "It's a versatile airplane.

You can put 10 people in the airplane, bags for a week, and still have room left over." Midsize speedster In terms of production figures, third in line in terms of current production midsize jets is the well-known and speedy Bombardier Learjet 60XR.


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