Piper is ready to begin producing five conforming aircraft for its very light jet programme after completing the preliminary design review with no major modifications.
The PiperJet in March completed the review, which according to chief executive Kevin Gould gave the manufacturer's owners the confidence to invest in producing conforming aircraft. "We came away confident that we are on track to meet all the goals for the airplane," Gould says, referring to both performance and cost.
Piper vice-president engineering Dennis Olcott says the Florida-based manufacturer will start building tooling and parts for conforming aircraft this summer. He says a fleet of three conforming aircraft will be used in the PiperJet flight-test programme while another two aircraft will be used for structural testing.
Olcott expects the certification programme will take about 30 months to complete, leading to first deliveries in the first half of 2013. He says the proof-of-concept aircraft will continue to be flown outside the certification programme as Piper sees it as a useful tool for gaining additional information.
The proof-of-concept PiperJet has so far logged over 240 flights and more than 340 hours. It is now flying on average seven to 10 flights a week.
Olcott says there will be some differences between the proof-of-concept and conforming aircraft but none of them are noticeable. He says the Williams FJ44 engine will stay in the same high position on the aircraft.
Olcott says the main objective of the proof-of-concept aircraft was to determine if the unusual position of the engine and nozzle was acceptable from a design perspective. He says the conclusion was "it flies just like an airplane with the engine at the front".
He says the proof-of-concept programme was also used to test new manufacturing techniques. Piper is looking at how much of these techniques it should apply when producing the conforming aircraft.
As the PiperJet programme moves to the next stage, the manufacturer is looking to hire 60 additional engineers. It already has 80 engineers assigned to the project, many of which were hired using a new tranche of funds provided by Imprimis after the Brunei-based investment firm purchased Piper last year.
Piper says there has not been any big influx of orders, which stand at about 200, since the Imprimis funds allowed Piper to reaccelerate the programme. But Olcott points out there has not been any big sales campaign as Piper has been focusing the last year on advancing the programme to the preliminary design review stage.