TPs versus light jets—choice comes down to travel legs and airport use

New turboprops have high performance. But there's a magic factor with a jet that claims the future and charms the buyer.

By Mike Venables
Principal, TriLink Technologies Grp

Embraer Phenom 300 in flight. A little larger than other light jets, the Phenom 300 is a fine example of what is available in the category.

When I was learning to fly, a popular movie of the day was Hellfighters, a story based loosely on the life of "Red" Adair, the oil-well fire specialist.

It starred John Wayne as the lead, with Jim Hutton as his second-in-command and Katherine Ross as his daughter. In one scene, Jim Hutton takes the company plane (a Lockheed JetStar-8) to pick up Katherine Ross, who had been skiing at Jackson Hole WY.

As a keen student pilot, skier and red-blooded teenager, I didn't know which way to look. And the JetStar had impressive Dagmars!

For several generations, the pinnacle of a pilot's career was the transition to jets. One friend in particular progressed through Senecas, Navajos, a Merlin, then to an HS125 and then finally to DC9s with a major carrier. (I was left behind with Coke-bottle bottoms for glasses.) He recently retired after flying Airbus A330s.

But is it necessary today to transition to jets to achieve ultimate flying fulfillment? Do jets provide the ultimate in flying comfort?

To answer these questions we need to select a cross-section of aircraft. Let's look at the Piaggio P180 Avanti II, the Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350i and Premier IA, the Embraer Phenom 100 and 300, and the Cessna Citation CJ2+. With the exception of the Phenoms, these aircraft are priced at $7 million (give or take a few bucks).

The Phenom 100 is approximately $4.0 million and the 300 is $8.5 million, so if I had to guess, I'd say that Embraer has left room in its lineup for a model between the 100 and the 300. We'll have to imagine what its performance would be, based on the numbers for the 100 and the 300.

Cessna's light jet

Cessna Citation CJ2+ in flight. With up-to-date systems and avionics, the CJ2+ represents the latest generation of the CJ series.

I first spoke with Steve Workman, Cessna's flight ops manager for worldwide demonstration flights. He started flying with a college aviation program where he also instructed.

He then progressed through Conquests, King Airs and Citations prior to joining Cessna, so he has a broad range of experience in both turboprops and jets.

Workman prefers jets because they fly higher—the CJ2+ has a ceiling of 45,000 ft—and the higher altitudes lower the workload and provide options for circumventing weather. Certainly, getting above the commercial airlines that populate the 30s allows for more direct routing and provides a less crowded environment.

There is also less weather in the 40s. This, coupled with less traffic, does indeed provide more options for getting around what weather does crop up.

Hawker Beechcraft—1 of each

Hawker Beechcraft Premier IA—with its composite fuselage, the fastest member of our group.

Mike Haenggi is the product marketing director for Hawker Beechcraft—a company in the unique position of having both turboprop and jet aircraft to offer customers in the group that we are examining.

Haenggi says that this allows the company to be completely analytical when helping a customer select an aircraft.

They look at the usual factors such as runway lengths, trip lengths and cabin loads. Assuming a typical load of 4 passengers, the King Air is better on trips of 600 nm or less, with the Premier IA taking the advantage on longer trips because of its speed up to its maximum range of 1105 nm.

Beyond this the King Air predominates again, as it can carry as many as 7 passengers nearly 1500 nm without stopping.

Another factor to consider is unimproved runways, as the King Air (and most turboprops) can handle unpaved runways with ease, whereas jets typically cannot.
The King Air is among the most enduring of aircraft.

It first flew in the mid-1960s, and since then more than 6600 have been delivered to operators in 94 countries—numbers on par with the venerable Boeing 737. King Airs are also in military service in some 48 countries. Further, there is a version to fit almost any mission and budget.

Embraer's phenomenal siblings

Alex Theodoro is the chief pilot North America for Embraer Executive Jets. He started flying at a local flying club where he worked as a dispatcher/scheduler. He then became an instructor and, after 500 hrs instructing, jumped straight into a CRJ200 with a feeder airline—completely skipping turboprops! His last assignment prior to joining Embraer was flying A320s with a regional airline.

As for the Phenom 100 and 300, Theodoro says that both types are about 15% owner-flown. In addition to the reduced workload issues of a jet flown in the 40s compared with a turboprop flown in the 30s described by Workman, Theodoro refers to the increased level of automation designed into the Garmin Prodigy avionics suite.

He says that Embraer expended a lot of effort on human factors and systems optimization to reduce the number of switches by 50% compared with the initial design. New technologies like vertical scan radar and synthetic vision systems (SVS) reduce the workload further while improving situational awareness.

The Italian stallion

The Piaggio Avanti is unconventional in almost every respect. With its canard surface and aft-facing engines with pusher props, it is eye-catching to say the least. Its performance is decidedly jetlike, too. Its cruise speed and flight levels rival or even exceed those of many jets, while its cabin is significantly larger than all in our $7-million club (albeit at the expense of baggage volume and weight).

One reason for its exceptional skin smoothness is that it is built inside-out. Rather than attaching the skin to ribs that are fixed in a jig, the skin is held in a mold and the ribs are then attached to the skin. If you run your hand up the nose blindfolded, you can't really tell where the windshield begins.


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