Advanced Aerodynamics & Structures (AASI) is completing final assembly of the third Jetcruzer 500 pusher turboprop and has already amassed more than 50 flight-test hours on the second prototype.

"Test flights are indicating better performance in terms of climb and cruise speed than we anticipated," says AASI executive vice-president Gene Comfort. The Long Beach, California-based company plans to certificate the low-cost, corporate aircraft with a cruise speed of 320kt (590km/h) at altitudes over 22,000ft (6,700m), but now hints that this may be increased further.

"We don't want to commit to anything higher until certification," says AASI, which aims to obtain US Federal Aviation Administration approval by the last quarter of this year.

The third Jetcruzer, which AASI hopes to complete in time to begin flight tests in late August, will be flown by newly appointed flight test operations pilot Robert Blair. The former US Navy test pilot joined the company earlier this month and will also assist in the test programme for the forthcoming Stratocruzer-1250.

FAA certification for the Jetcruzer is expected to dovetail with completion of the company's 18,580m² (200,000ft²) manufacturing site at Long Beach Airport. AASI, which recently teamed with Designworks/USA to design and manufacture a cabin interior for the Jetcruzer 500, says it is deliberately "oversizing" the $7.5 million site to provide enough space for near-term expansion into a second production line for the Stratocruzer-1250, a 10-seater corporate jet powered by twin 10.2kN (2,300lb)-thrust Williams-Rolls FJ44-2 turbofans.

For the moment, however, the production line will be dedicated to the Jetcruzer 500, for which it has 127 orders.

"Full-rate production will begin around the 20th aircraft," says Comfort, adding that this process could happen as soon as "early to mid-1999".

Initial deliveries could begin in December, with maximum production of up to 120 Jetcruzer 500s planned per year with a single shift. AASI believes its orderbook may be "over 220 by the year-end".

AASI's rapid development from a struggling, cash-strapped company is largely down to an innovative public offering campaign which netted $32 million in 1996. It received an extra boost last year - $8.5 million in low-cost financing for the construction of the Long Beach factory through the State of California Industrial Developments Bonds programme.

Source: Flight International