Ahh, Hawker Beechcraft – the 125 at 45

Hawker Beechcraft, the former Raytheon Aircraft, has just flown the Hawker 750 and certificated the Hawker 900XP – the latest versions of the ever-popular Hawker 800-series mid-size business jet.

Following the model successfully used by Gulfstream when it decided to keep building the GIV alongside its new GV, Hawker Beechcraft has decided to offer two models side-by-side – the budget-priced Hawker 750 and the higher-performance 900XP.

The result should be higher sales of an aircraft that has long been the best seller in its class.

But I have two questions. When will the 45-year-old design get a new wing? And how long will Airbus keep making the airframes?

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The story starts with the de Havilland DH.125 Jet Dragon, which first flew on 13 August 1962. It was of one the first purpose-designed business jets to fly – beating all but the Lockheed JetStar into the air – and the only one to still be in production today, more than 1,000 aircraft later.

The aircraft took the Hawker name for the first time in 1963, when de Havilland became part of Hawker Siddeley and it became the HS.125. The orginal Bristol Siddeley Viper turbojets were replaced by Garrett TFE731 turbofans in 1976 and it became the 125 Series 700.

Another name change came in 1997, when Hawker Siddeley Aviation was merged into British Aerospace and it became the BAe 125. A design refresh in 1983, which introduced the modern face the aircraft carries today, produced the most successful of the 125s, the Series 800.

When BAe sold its corporate jets division to Raytheon in 1993, the aircraft became the Hawker 800. Final assembly was moved to Wichita, Kansas in 1996, ending an era in British aviation, but the airframes continue to be produced in Broughton, Wales – now an Airbus UK plant.

Raytheon and the Hawker were good for each other, production rising to more than 60 a year and helping pay the bills as development and certification of the all-new super mid-size Hawker 4000 dragged on endlessy. Incremental upgrades led to the 800XP, 800XPi and 850XP.

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Hawker heritage – ram’s horn yokes in the 850XP’s modern cockpit

Now we have the 750 and 900XP, and Hawker Beechcraft has more in store. So what about a new wing? With some changes along the way, today’s aircraft ride on essentially the same wing as the original 125. But new wings are expensive things to develop, and the Hawker’s success is its value for money.

The 900XP, with new Honeywell TFE731-50 engines, provides rock-solid US coast-to-coast range, which is what customers expect from this class of aircraft. But it is slow – slower than the rival Gulfstream G150 and Learjet 60 mid-size jets – so maybe the need for speed could justify a new wing.

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As for Airbus continuing to build the airframe, Broughton is not among the plants the company plans to sell off. Making Hawkers is probably a profitable part of its business, but small and perhaps not the top priority. And there are plenty of low-cost manufacturers out there hungry for aerostructures business. But so far the Hawker connection remains intact.

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