How little jets could go to war

The US Air Force clearly has not got the message that Very Light Jets are Very Bad Things, and threaten to Blacken The Skies, because it has dusted off its January 2006 request for information on potential capabilities and military uses of VLJs weighing no more than 10,000lb and costing less than $5 million.

Plans to evaluate available aircraft were shelved because, at the time, none of the VLJs had been FAA-certificated. Now Cessna’s Mustang and the Eclipse 500 are approved and others are on the horizon, so the USAF is re-opening discussions with industry – but still with no intent to award a contract, just gather information and maybe fly one or two of them.

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It’s a trainer…it’s a bizjet…no, it’s a VLJ (ATG Javelin)What the Air Force says it wants from industry are ideas on how VLJs could perform as sensor platforms, communications relays, network gateways or unmanned aircraft as well as in the more traditional roles of transport and training.

And the USAF is not just seeking responses from the VLJ manufacturers themselves, but is also looking for “innovative modification and/or partnering approaches from traditionally defense-focused companies”. So look out for the Boeing Eclipse or Lockheed Martin Mustang.

The Air Force plans “limited qualititive evaluations” (flight tests) of FAA-certificated VLJs – still a very short list – but says it’s okay for companies to submit information on aircraft that are not yet approved – still a very long list. So Adam, ATG, Cirrus, Diamond, Embraer, Piper and even Old Uncle Tom Cobleigh are free to respond.

But while VLJs look like affordable alternatives for some missions that use older or larger aircraft today, knowing the USAF’s procurement processes there is little risk of any near-term blackening of skies.

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