Start-up manufacturer will target five-seat very light jet at owner-flyers and aims for certification within two years

US start-up aircraft manufacturer Excel-Jet will begin flight tests of its Sport-Jet very light jet (VLJ) this month as it seeks investors to help fund the project.

The Colorado Springs-based company was expected to start taxi tests of the single-engined VLJ this week and says it is aiming for a maiden flight before the end of July.

The company is negotiating with military aircraft manufacturers to establish whether components can be produced in central Europe as part of offset programmes against fighter sales.

Excel-Jet has signed a memorandum of understanding with Williams International to use the 1,500lb-thrust (67kN) FJ33-4A turbofan on production aircraft, but the first aircraft due to fly is fitted with a modified General Electric T58.

Excel-Jet expects certification within two years and will launch a sales and marketing campaign after the first flight, says Russ Howarth, an independent project consultant.

The five-seat aircraft, which has a maximum ceiling of 25,000ft (8,500m), is targeted at owner-flyers and had been due to make its first appearance at this month’s Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, but fell behind schedule, says Howarth.

Instead, the company will hold a series of private viewings around the USA. Howarth says the planned production rate of 120 aircraft a year will be “horribly undercooked” compared with the level of demand expected for the $1 million Sport-Jet.

“Because of the systems on board, ease of flying and very competitive insurance offers, this aircraft is going to appeal to owner-flyers,” he says.

The company is also attracting interest from unnamed Middle East military customers looking for lower-cost basic trainers. “With its stall speed of 68kt [125km/h], top speed of 375kt and climb rate of 2,500ft/min [12.7m/s], it can work as an ab initio trainer that creeps well into the lead-in syllabus,” he says.

Following the first flight, Excel-Jet will be looking for $3 million of seed capital from private individuals in return for share options, to be followed by about $30 million for the development and production phase from major finance houses.

The company has held talks to source wing and empennage production in the Czech Republic and Poland as part of offset business for BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin, says Howarth. But final assembly would remain in Colorado, he adds.

The Excel-Jet was designed and developed by Bob Bornhoffen, who was also behind the all-composite Maverick Jets Leader kitplane.

Justin Wastnage / London

Source: Flight International