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Monday, January 23, 2012

Panetta Lifts F-35B Probation

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ushered the F-35B out of the penalty box, after the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (Stovl) version of the stealthy fighter was sidelined for poor performance for more than a year by prior Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Standing in a hangar in front of BF-4, one of two F-35Bs to conduct testing on the USS Wasp amphibious ship last fall, Panetta spoke to a small audience of government and industry workers on the Joint Strike Fighter test team.
“We now believe that because of your work the Stovl variant is demonstrating the kind of performance and maturity that is in line with the other two variants of JSF,” Panetta said here Jan. 20. “The Stovl variant has made — I believe and all of us believe — sufficient progress so that as of today I am lifting the Stovl probation.”
Gates said last year that if the F-35B development project, which at the time was suffering from major testing problems, did not turn around in two years, he would recommend its termination. But he left office last summer, leaving the issue to be addressed by Panetta.
Gates’s announcement was followed quickly by a multibillion-dollar restructuring designed to reduce the concurrency between the development and production phases of the JSF program. The project also includes the F-35A, designed for conventional takeoff and landing, and the F-35C, designed for use on an aircraft carrier. The restructuring announced early last year also decoupled testing for the F-35B, which at the time was suffering, from the A and C models.
George Little, Panetta’s spokesman, said the secretary’s decision to lift the probation was underpinned by improvements in five key areas: structural shortcomings in the Stovl bulkhead, flutter in the auxiliary inlet door, problems in the lift-fan clutch, unexpected wear and tear on the drive shaft, and heating on the roll-post actuator.
The utility of Stovl aircraft — namely the AV-8B Harrier — in recent operations in Libya and Afghanistan has “made an impression on him,” one defense official said, speaking about Panetta.
Though the B variant has emerged from probation thus far unscathed in development, defense officials are expecting a reduction in the production numbers of F-35s in the fiscal 2013 budget being sent to Congress on Feb. 6. This will extend the production plan and likely drive the per-unit price higher, at least temporarily, until orders go up. Lockheed Martin officials originally said their goal was to produce one fighter a day to reap the benefits of savings with high order numbers.
When the B was put on probation last year, Gates trimmed production of the Stovl version.
The U.S. Marine Corps, which will operate the F-35B, is slated to be the first customer to declare operational use for the aircraft as early as 2016, depending on the pace of testing and training at Eglin AFB, Fla. After the U.K. opted to walk away from the B, Italy is now the only international customer officially planning to buy the aircraft. Nonetheless, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos said he remains “bullish” on the future of the F-35B.
With a much more productive year of testing in 2011 (following the abysmal performance of the Stovl variant in 2010), the test force is looking ahead to weapons separation trials this year, says Lt. Col. Matt Kelly, F-35 flight operations lead at the Patuxent River testing facility. The team has already conducted flights of the F-35B carrying weapons at subsonic and supersonic speeds. Initial flutter testing with the weapon bay doors open in flight have shown no significant problems, Kelly says. The major step, he says, is to drop weapons for the first time, a milestone expected in the second half of the year. Likely candidates will be the 500-lb. Joint Direct Attack Munition and the AIM-120 and AIM-9X missiles.
Thus far, the F-35B has been flown to Mach 1.4.
Kelly says he also expects to begin testing a redesigned tailhook for the F-35C in the second half of the year. The current design encountered problems last year when officials attempted rolling tests and the tailhook skipped over the wire owing to its weight and a problem with the dampening system. CF-3 will be the first test aircraft to have the new tailhook installed.
After the initial ship trials with the F-35B last fall, the B model is not expected to go to sea until 2013, with the C model following in 2015, Kelly says.
Aircraft BF-4 is now operating the Block 1A software and BF-5 is using the 1B package. Kelly says the Block 2 software, which will be used by the Marine Corps to declare operational capability, is not expected at Patuxent River until late this year.
In addition to having multi-level security, the 1B software will have new voice recognition technology that will allow the pilot to conduct some hands-free operations, such as switching the radio channels and squawking identification codes to air traffic control. Eventually, Kelly says, pilots hope to use the voice recognition technology for such operations as changing multi-function displays or shifting modes in the aircraft.
Meanwhile, officials at Edwards AFB, Calif., where the F-35A test force is located, conducted their first night flight with the conventional aircraft this week.
Flights at Eglin have not yet started, however. And, the aircraft there are now being used only for ground maintenance training.

NPP Commissioning Resumes After VIRS Anomaly

Controllers have restarted on-orbit checkout of the Npoess Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite, which was suspended last year after the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor begin losing sensitivity in four of its channels.
The spacecraft originally was scheduled to become fully operational in December, but its commissioning was put on hold while the VIIRS problem was analyzed.
Engineers found the Raytheon-built instrument’s mirror was contaminated with tungsten oxides, possibly as a result of nonstandard processing when the mirror was coated. The irreversible contamination appears limited to the VIIRS mirror, and managers expect mirror darkening to stop at a level that will permit it to operate within design requirements.
It will take about six weeks to complete commissioning, which resumed on Jan. 18. The Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder, which was the first instrument activated in November, is already generating scientific data for snow and rain studies.
Ultimately VIIRS will collect radiometric imagery of the land, atmosphere and oceans in 22 visible and infrared wavelengths. In addition to the remaining VIIRS channels, NASA says three other instruments remain to be commissioned: the Cross-track Infrared Sounder, the Ozone Mapper Profiler Suite and the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System.
Problems with VIIRS contributed to massive projected overruns on the ill-fated Npoess (National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System) civil/military weather satellite program, for which NPP was designed as a pathfinder. Npoess eventually was canceled.

SIA Starts A380 Crack Inspection

Singapore Airlines Friday started inspecting an Airbus A380 in response to a European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) airworthiness directive that operators examine their A380s for potential cracks in a wing component.
The airline’s spokesman says SIA anticipates that the new inspection regime will in no way disrupt day-to-day operations.
He says SIA has 15 A380s in service, which is one or two more than it needs to maintain its current A380 flight schedule, so taking one out of service for inspections will not cause disruptions.
The airworthiness directive (AD) covers mainly high-cycle A380s. SIA is the lead operator for the aircraft type. As a precaution the airline decided to commence the inspections immediately, before the AD was issued, says the SIA spokesman, adding that the first inspection has begun. The AD was issued later Friday.
The AD comes after Airbus alerted EASA it found a new set of cracks affecting L-shaped brackets inside the wing of relatively high-cycle A380s. The cracks are more significant than the hairline cracks earlier discovered.
Inspecting the brackets involves draining the fuel-tanks inside the wing and opening an access panel so one can look inside the wing and do a visual inspection. SIA’s spokesman declines to say how much time it takes to do the inspection, but reiterates that the new inspection regime will have no impact on SIA’s A380 operation.
The spokesman also says the latest type of cracking identified by EASA in no way poses a threat to safety. Each wing has around 2,000 of the L-shaped brackets per wing, so the failure of one is not seen as a safety issue.

New Malaysia Widebody Charter Airline Planned

A new privately owned airline, Eaglexpress Air Charter, is planning to start Boeing 747-400 operations in Malaysia as early as next month, assuming its air operator certificate (AOC) is approved.
[The AOC] "hasn’t been approved yet, but they have been issued with a service permit for provisional approval,” says Mohd Yunus Charlie Charrington, director of air transport within Malaysia’s department of civil aviation. “They have to pass a technical audit before they are issued with an AOC and certificate of airworthiness.”
Airline CEO Azlan Zainal Abidin says the carrier hopes to receive its AOC on Feb. 13, the same day it completes its proving flight. He says the airline on Monday signed a contract with Malaysia Airlines’ (MAS) parent, Penerbangan Malaysia Berhad (PMB), for the purchase of a former MAS Boeing 747-400, and it plans to buy two more 747-400s from PMB for delivery in March and April. MAS Engineering & Maintenance will help Eaglexpress with maintenance support, says Azlan.
In addition, Eaglexpress plans to acquire one 747-400F that will be used to launch wet-leased freighter services in April from Kuala Lumpur to Los Angeles and Anchorage via Seoul Incheon International Airport. Azlan says the carrier has already secured one customer for its freighter.
The passenger business, meanwhile, will be operating charter flights on behalf of travel agents, beginning with services from Malaysia to Australia, South Korea and China, says Azlan. The airline also wants to cater to Muslim pilgrimage traffic from Asia to Saudi Arabia. Azlan says there always seems to be a shortage of air services for Haj and Umrah, and this explains why the airline decided on the long-range 747-400s.
Once it has established its widebody passenger aircraft business, Eaglexpress hopes to expand into narrowbody passenger charters by flying Boeing 737-800s to destinations within Asia, Azlan says. Longer-term, it hopes to be in a position to acquire 747-8s and Boeing 787s, he adds.
Having a new airline in Malaysia—particularly a passenger airline operating aircraft as large as a 747—is significant because the Malaysian market is now largely dominated by AirAsia and MAS. It is difficult to get an AOC in Malaysia for scheduled services because this is a cabinet-level decision. But Eaglexpress needs approval only from the department of civil aviation because it will operate only charters. Azlan declines to rule out the possibility that it may operate scheduled services, but says this is up to the government to decide.
Azlan, who is a former MAS pilot, says he owns 20% of the airline, while South Korean pilot Shin Man Soo owns 40%. The other shareholders, each with 20%, are Wan Ismail Abdul Rahman, former CEO of Maybank Finance, and Aseh Che Mat, former secretary general of Malaysia’s Ministry of Home Affairs. Aseh is now chairman of MWE Holdings, a Malaysian company that makes clothing and electronic goods. He also sits on the boards of some other companies, including Pos Malaysia, the national postal service.

France Pares Defense Spending

France’s 2012 defense budget has had to cut €267 million ($352.4 million) from its original request of €31.72 billion. Had the axe not fallen, this budget would have remained stable, since the original 1.8% rise on the 2011 figure was just above the 1.7% inflation rate. The increase now is 0.75%.
Funding includes income of €900 million from selling military radio frequencies; €160 million the defense ministry earned from selling real estate; €30 million from the sale of used equipment; and €100 million from the finance ministry for higher fuel prices.
The extra costs incurred by France’s participation in NATO’s Libya operation officially amount to between €300 million and €350 million, but has no effect on the budget, as extraordinary costs of overseas missions are met by an inter-ministerial reserve fund.
On Nov. 7, Prime Minister Francois Fillon announced a tough austerity plan that includes eliminating another €100 million from the defense budget in addition to the €167 million reduction announced a few weeks earlier. This will bring the defense budget down to €31.4 billion. Jean-Claude Viollet, an opposition socialist party member who belongs to the National Assembly Defense and Armed Forces Commission, remarked after the cuts were announced that “we were close to the bone but now we’re beyond it.”
Each of the four defense sectors will pay their due. As DTI went to press, defense ministry officials did not yet know where the new €100 million cut would hit. But the first cut of €167 million was approved by parliament on Nov. 9. The bulk—€88.3 million—affects the DGA procurement agency’s budget, which drops to €11.76 billion from €11.85 billion. The logistics and IT budget of €3.3 billion loses €44.5 million, while a further €25 million will be taken from armed forces and equipment maintenance funds, bringing the initial €22.34 billion down to €22.31 billion. Finally, €9.2 million will be shaved from the R&D, intelligence and secret services budget of €1.85 billion.
There is nothing as spectacular on the 2012 order book as the Barracuda nuclear submarine, which was in the 2011 version. One interesting item is a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to fill the gap between now and 2020-23, when the European MALE UAV is to enter service. France is developing this with the U.K. in the framework of the defense cooperation treaty both countries signed in 2010. Defense Minister Gerard Longuet announced last July that he had decided on Israel Aerospace Industries’ Heron TP platform, which Dassault would “Frenchify.”
Quite a few items on the procurement list involve renovation: five Cougar helicopters; Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft; and C-135 tankers. Others are a continuation of existing programs, such as launching a production tranche of the M51.2 ballistic missile and ongoing development of two Multinational Space-based Imaging System optical and infrared reconnaissance satellites, which will start replacing Helios 2 military observation satellites by 2016. The satellites, developed by Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space, were ordered by the defense ministry in November 2010.
Other items include two Dassault Falcon 2000LX aircraft for government use and 34 NH90 helicopters.
Equipment to be delivered in 2012 includes a renovated Transall C-160 Gabriel aircraft to gather electromagnetic intelligence and satellite transmission stations; the Fremm-class Aquitaine multimission frigate; three Caracal helicopters; 11 Rafales; six Tiger helicopters; 100 VBCI armored vehicles; 38 VHM high-mobility vehicles; and 4,036 Felin future soldier systems. Armament includes 228 air-to-ground modular AASM missiles and 16 Exocet MM40 Block 3 missiles.
In addition, two ground-to-air FASF SAMP/T missile systems, 61 Aster missiles, 10 MICA missiles and 15 renovated Mistral missiles will be delivered. These will be nowhere near a replacement for the 950 bombs and 240 air-to-ground missiles that French forces used in Operation Harmattan over Libya, the 431 HOT missiles fired by helicopters and the 3,000 100-mm and 78-mm shells fired by ships.
Projection, mobility and support equipment to be delivered in 2012 includes 200 PVP small protected vehicles; five Casa-235 transport aircraft; four modernized Cougar helicopters; 1,500 combat parachutes; eight NH90 helicopters; three Sprats (rapidly deployable floating bridges); and Dixmude, the third Mistral-class multimission vessel. Longuet says of the ship: “We were able to appreciate the extreme usefulness of this [type of vessel] during operation Harmattan, where the [ship] was deployed as a helicopter carrier.”

ATR Plans 2012 Production Boost

Bolstered by record orders, turboprop-maker ATR plans to step up production quickly to keep pace with demand. ATR this year expects revenue to jump to $1.6-1.65 billion, and rise to $1.75 billion in 2013 and $2 billion “in the near future.”
In 2011, revenue topped $1.3 billion, and the company expects an earnings margin for 2011 of 8-8.5%, with cash flow of $150-160 million. The goal is to keep margins at similar levels, although a planned increase in output will put that under pressure.
With 157 aircraft, ATR almost doubled its firm order intake last year from 2010 levels, which were twice as high as those recorded during the crisis years of 2008 and 2009. The sales activity last year far outpaced the level of activity the company was projecting. The aircraft maker also booked options for 79 more turboprops. With demand strong, list prices are increasing to $23.4 million for the ATR 72-600 and $19.5 million for the ATR 42-600.
Deliveries in 2011 increased slightly to 54 aircraft from 51 the previous year, but now are expected to grow markedly. At the end of 2011, ATR had a backlog of 224 aircraft valued at roughly $5 billion, including the 38 aircraft Kingfisher canceled during the year.
Bagnato held off on ramping up production in 2011 to avoid a conflict between an output increase and completion of the certification process for the -600 family, which was certified in May. Now, the focus will shift to output, with 72 aircraft expected to be delivered in 2012, at least 80 in 2013, and at least 85 in 2014.
Ramping up output is not easy, but the process has been under way since June and, Bagnato notes, the industrial challenges are far less than what Airbus, for instance, is doing in boosting narrowbody output.
Bagnato sees last year as an important one for turboprops, which secured 85% of the orders in the 50- to 90-seat segment over regional jets. ATR won 80% of the market of orders at 90 seats and below. Moreover, Bagnato notes that the backlog of turboprops is growing, compared with regional jets. “There is a migration away from the jet,” he argues. Turboprops hold 77% of the backlog in the segment, with ATR representing 70% of the total. Firm orders for ATR in 2011 were dominated by ATR 72-600s, with 128 firm orders, followed by 16 72-500s, 10 42-600s and three 42-500s. The last -500 will be delivered this year.
ATR deliveries last year were dominated by 72-500s, with 38 units, followed by 10 72-600s and six 42-500s. First deliveries of ATR 42-600s are due in August; the aircraft is to receive European Aviation Safety Agency certification in mid-spring.
The aircraft maker also plans to open its new training center in Johannesburg at the end of the month, helping to support the 39 operators and 105 aircraft in Africa and the Middle East. In Brazil, the company is working with airline partners but is considering its own training center.

Airbus Eyes A330 Production Increase Before A320

Airbus expects to decide soon on a plan to boost widebody output to a rate of 11 aircraft a month even as it delays ramping up narrowbody production.
Airbus had been considering a single-aisle production rate increase to 44 aircraft a month, but has decided to hold off for the moment because of bottlenecks among Tier 2 suppliers. The situation is different for the A330, making a production boost there possible, says John Leahy, Airbus chief operating officer for customers. The company expects to reach a production rate of 10 widebodies per month this year.
Airbus COO Fabrice Bregier hints that a decision on the single-aisle side could wait until a rate of 42 aircraft per month is reached, which is expected next year. “It would be premature to do it now,” he notes.
One of the reasons Airbus is keen to boost production is because of its bulging backlog. The company booked 1,419 net orders last year and made 535 deliveries. And 2012 should see order intake move ahead of deliveries, with new orders forecast to reach 600-650, while deliveries of 570 aircraft are expected. The order intake should include about 30 A380s, matching the 2012 delivery target.
Output is only one of the deliberations for Airbus this year. The other is whether to launch an A330 winglet program. Leahy says studies have begun for both forward-fit and retrofit options. A decision is likely this year.
If the devices could yield a 2% fuel burn benefit, Leahy says such a program would likely move forward.
Not on the near-term agenda is the A380-900 program, a stretched version of the aircraft now on the market. Despite occasional customer interest, such a project would not likely emerge until the second half of the decade, says Airbus CEO Tom Enders. The focus now is on ramping up production. Profit-delivering aircraft will go to customers starting in 2015.

Funds Shift For Electronic Warfare In Europe

The age-old electronic warfare adage “friend in war, enemy in peace” is about to be tested again.
With the drawdown of military forces in Afghanistan clearly on the horizon, the era of relatively healthy levels of spending on improvised explosive device jammers and helicopter self-protection equipment may be drawing to a close. The potential turning point comes as many technologies are just starting to come into their own, such as two-color missile-warning equipment and detectors programmed to act as hostile fire indicators (HFI) that can alert pilots when they are being fired at by rocket-propelled grenades or small arms.
In Europe, where spending levels and, commensurately, the pace of technical development lags that of the U.S., some of these technologies are on the cusp of entering the market, which could mean that a sharp funding decline would cut those developments off at their knees. Research for HFI detection “will mature in the next few years,” says Steve Roberts, Selex Galileo vice president and chief technology officer for electronic warfare. “We are getting that sorted.”
So what is the outlook for electronic warfare in Europe? The bleak prospect is that—with defense spending increasingly under pressure and troops being removed from “hot” zones—EW will be a convenient area to cut.
But industry representatives see a more positive landscape, where requirements may shift but the underlying need for EW capabilities remains.
Rather than money disappearing, buying behaviors may change. “With the reduction of military budgets, especially in Europe and the U.S., it is likely that nations will be more hesitant and selective as to which aircraft to protect,” says Bjarke Legind Larsen, director of strategic business development at Terma Airborne Systems. “It is therefore to be expected that customers will demand shorter delivery times, and tend to favor systems that are mounted externally in pods or pylons to allow for fewer systems that can be rotated within the fleet.”
Another factor to be considered is the Libya experience, which has highlighted the need for radar protection, says Andreas Hulle, head of EW strategy at EADS’s Cassidian defense unit. Some of the existing equipment, such as on Tornados, is aging.
The Royal Air Force experienced some of these issues during the Libya operation. Wing Cdr. Dicky Patounas, commanding officer of the 3(F) Sqdn., says that because of its greater capabilities, the Eurofighter Typhoon’s Praetorian electronic warfare suite was also used to provide situational awareness for Tornado GR4 crew.
The renewed attention on radar-guided threats could manifest itself in multiple ways, including greater interest, again, in towed decoy devices. The advent of more sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems will also require advances in radar warning equipment to a higher-end, almost electronic support measures-type capability.
The increasing availability of digital radio frequency memory technology should help tackle the advanced threats to produce jamming waveforms that more accurately represent the radar return and thereby spoof an adversary’s surface-to-air missile system, Roberts notes. Representing the complex scattered returns would not have been possible in the past, he says. The waveform generation is coupled with advanced phased array jammers that can allow airborne platforms to deal with multiple threats at different locations and frequencies.
The underlying technologies to handle the increasingly complex threats exist, but managing that information is a work in progress. The U.K. has been funding the common defensive aids system technology demonstrator program. The goal is not just to better integrate elements of a self-protection suite, but to optimize the use of the systems in a tactical scenario, Roberts says.
For instance, the system is supposed to alert pilots during an engagement where to fly to gain the maximum effect from their countermeasures or, depending on the distance between the helicopter and an infrared threat, adjust the pattern at which flares are dispensed. “The combination of maneuvers and countermeasures is more effective than maneuvers alone or countermeasures alone,” Roberts notes.
The concern regarding radar-guided threats could also lead to a shift in priorities in signals intelligence. During the focus on insurgency campaigns, low-band communications intelligence has had primacy over the traditional high-band electronic intelligence-gathering domain. Given the uncertainties in the global political landscape related to where the next conflict may erupt, it increasingly important to have both strong communications and electronic intelligence capabilities, Hulle says.
Another threat that may gain increasing attention is laser-guided surface-to-air missile systems. Warning systems already exist to detect those threats, but developing the appropriate countermeasures has lagged. Options are available, Roberts notes. One is to try and defeat the missile in its final phase of flight, which may be difficult, while another is to disrupt the optical tracking system. Directed infrared countermeasures (Dircm) systems, now used to defeat infrared-guided-missile sensors, may have applicability when it comes to disrupting optical trackers.
The underlying theme regarding electronic warfare developments—whether to defeat radar, infrared or small arms threats—is a reduction in systems costs. Larsen believes demand will remain for infrared protection for post-Afghanistan operations, given the ubiquity of the man-portable air defense threat. And, he adds, “with several ongoing Dircm development and test programs under way, it could be anticipated that the price of such systems could go down and thus gain a more widespread use.”
Hardware and software reuse will also become more important, Hulle says. In the RF domain, for instance, he sees a move to using a common core across a variety of applications, starting with equipment serving as an improvised explosive jammer and then being modified for electronic countermeasures or even electronic support measures.
On the signals-intelligence side, too, he adds, the key will be to reduce size, weight and price so the technology can go on smaller mission aircraft or unmanned air systems.
The new market outlook is already shaping product strategies. For instance, the increased interest in radar threats helps explain Terma’s decision to add a third Mil-Std. 1553 bus interface to its ALQ-213 as part of the new reliability, maintainability and performance upgrade that is slated for next year. The feature is aimed at allowing for an easier interface of radar warning systems, such as the ALR-56M.
Moreover, the company is adding a gigabit Ethernet interface aimed at keeping pace with the employment of advanced radars, such as active, electronically scanned arrays, and more modern displays.
EADS is looking to bring to market this year a Block 2 upgrade to its ubiquitous Milds missile warning sensor to provide hostile-fire-indicator functions.
Selex, too, has been working in this area. The company’s Sage digital electronic-support measures system and the related Seer digital radar warning receiver are aimed at bringing those technologies to lower-cost platforms.
Developments in Italy prove that even cash-strapped countries are finding funds for electronic warfare. The defense ministry recently contracted Elettronica to develop the Virgilius self-protection suite for the country’s AW101 combat search-and-rescue helicopter. The multi-phased effort first will see an electronic-support measures system with radar-warning-receiver functionality added to the helicopter. Later, radar-jamming electronic countermeasures are to be added, as is the ELT/572 Dircm system.
Because budgets in Europe will not be sufficient to sustain all these development paths, industry is focusing on the export market. Hulle says that though EADS sees a business case in places such as India or Saudi Arabia, it still needs to spend its own money to develop a product and bring to market a new technology that it then can also sell elsewhere.
Photo: Northrop Grumman

Cessna Doubles Down On Bizjet Market Lower End

The top executive at Cessna Aircraft’s parent company says the struggling business jet manufacturer needs to stay focused on its core market of small- and medium-sized aircraft and dismisses talk it could revive a project to develop a larger jet anytime soon.
Scott C. Donnelly, the chairman, president and CEO of Textron, expresses confidence that the hard-hit lower end of the business jet market will rebound and says Cessna’s priority should be to protect its leading position in that segment against newcomers, particularly Brazil-based Embraer. “The fact of the matter is the light to mid-sized market is the core of what Cessna is all about,” Donnelly said in an interview with Aviation Week. “The best thing for us to do is invest and strengthen that market, which has been our most important.”
Demand for small jets was hit particularly hard when the onset of a global credit crisis in 2008 left scores of buyers unable to pay for aircraft they had ordered. Since then, the value of Cessna’s backlog has shrunk from $16 billion to just $2.2 billion. But Donnelly is confident the hard-hit market segment will rebound. “I believe there is no fundamental change in why people buy light to midsized jets,” he says. Demand for aircraft that can travel 3,000 mi. or fewer “is going to come back to being a robust, vibrant, necessary marketplace.”
Donnelly also dismisses speculation that Wichita-based Cessna might revive a $775 million project to develop the Citation Columbus, a larger, super-midsized jet that would compete with the Gulfstream 280, Hawker 4000 and Bombardier Challenger 300.
Launched with great fanfare in 2008, it was scrapped a year later after the downturn hit. “Could Columbus come back someday? Possibly,” he says. “But in the near to midterm, I think it’s a lot more important for us to make the kind of investments we’re making … to strengthen and make sure that we retain that light to mid-sized marketplace.”
Two of those investments—the Citation M2 and the Citation Latitude—were unveiled last fall to counter new competitors in the light jet market. The M2 will take on Embraer’s popular Phenom 100 light jet and Honda Aircraft’s HondaJet, while the Latitude will compete directly with Embraer’s Legacy 450. “Obviously, there’s more stuff in the works,” Donnelly said.
The Textron chief shook up Cessna’s management team last May, ousting longtime CEO Jack Pelton. While avoiding direct criticism of Pelton, he says that Cessna had been too complacent about the challenge from Embraer’s entry into the light jet market. “I saw what happened with Embraer in other market segments,” he says. “And I looked at Embraer and I said … We need not to sit back and say, ‘OK, we’re going to give up a certain amount of share to the new guy.’ We need to sit down and say, ‘How do you compete and win against this company?’”
In addition to Cessna, Textron’s aerospace businesses include Bell Helicopter and Textron Systems. Donnelly’s interview came as Wall Street was buzzing about a report from Reuters that the company was conducting a strategic review that could lead to the spin-off of one or more of its divisions. While he declined comment on that speculation, he does not rule out the sale of a major unit. “If we thought there was something that didn’t belong in the portfolio … we would pursue that,” he says.
At the same time, Donnelly reiterates that Cessna, which was Textron’s profit engine before the downturn hit, remains a core property. “Let me assure you that Cessna is a very, very important part of the future of the company,” he says.

PC-12 Passes 1,100 Mark, With Follow-On Coming

There was nothing like it: A pressurized, single-pilot, single-engine turboprop with 1,500-nm range, capable of taking off and landing on short, grass strips, featuring a flat-floor, 6-9-passenger cabin as capacious as those in some medium jets, and with a fully enclosed, flushing lavatory. And in addition to its people door, it had a barn-sized one that could swallow cargo measuring 4 sq. ft.
Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. had always been known for building unique utility and training aircraft, but this one stretched the definition to the limits.
If it could sell 200 of the curiosities, the Swiss aircraft maker would consider the PC-12 (see photo) a success. At least, that was the thinking at the aircraft’s debut in 1994. That thinking has since changed. The company has now delivered more than 1,100, making the PC-12 the most populous Pilatus ever, and five new ones roll off the wooden production floor in the Alpine burgh of Stans every month.
PC-12 buyers are as eclectic as the aircraft is unique. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police uses its fleet of 15 to transport personnel and prisoners and carry out searches. The two-dozen medevac versions operated by the Royal Flying Doctor Service are key to providing emergency care and transport for patients throughout Australia. PC-12s serve as regional airliners in South Africa, cargo-haulers in South America, executive short-haulers in the U.S.—PlaneSense, a fractional ownership program headquartered in Portsmouth, N.H., boasts a fleet of 30—and are a favorite among special ops forces alighting in places dark and dangerous.
Pilatus focuses on aircraft that serve niche markets and promise long production runs—the short-takeoff-and-landing PC-6 Porter has been in production, albeit at a very low 2-5 annual rate now, for over 50 years—and the PC-12 fits those criteria perfectly. The airplane was in production for 14 years before it underwent a major upgrade in 2008, being fitted with Honeywell’s Primus Apex integrated cockpit and a more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67P engine flat-rated at 1,200 shp, creating the PC-12NG (as in “Next Generation”). That model, which is standard, sells for $4.5 million.
Conventional wisdom holds that airframers must provide their customers with follow-on models, and, accordingly, Pilatus management is regularly asked, “What’s next?” For years, the (non)response left reporters’ notebooks blank.
Privately held, Pilatus eschews debt and instead funds new product development—alternating between military trainers and civilian programs—with profits from sales, but it exhibits the reserve of a Swiss banker in sharing any details. Still, Chairman and CEO Oscar J. Schwenk has acknowledged that design work is underway on a new civilian model, the PC-24, and one company executive recently hinted there might be “some news this year” regarding the new aircraft.
Details on the airplane are woefully absent—could it be a turbine twin? A larger single? Something altogether different? But certain characteristics seem certain: it will be built to last, it will be unique, and it will be around for a long, long time.