IT HAS BEEN almost 15 years since I held the controls of a Beechcraft Premier I business jet, briefly at Flight Level 410 and also during our descent into Beech Field, in Wichita, Kansas.
It’s difficult to work this into ordinary conversation; but it can be done.
Here are tidbits from one of R&T’s more exclusive comparison tests, co-produced with sister magazine Flying. The latter’s editor-in-chief J. Mac McClellan and I explored the relationships between experiencing a supercar and a super aircraft, in R&T and Flying, July 2005.
Composite Construction. “These days,” I noted in 2005, “carbon-fiber composites show up in everything from golf clubs to tennis rackets—to the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and Beechcraft Premier I.”
Mac and I learned more in visiting Beech’s headquarters in Wichita, Kansas, a city highly regarded for its aircraft heritage. Mac wrote back then, “Carbon fiber offers its virtues only to those who are willing to reassess the way they build airplanes. And, so far, only Beech has made the commitment to invest in the necessary equipment and people.”
Based on an early less-than-profitable effort (the company’s 1990s Starship), “Beech concluded that its greatest payoff was in the fuselage,” Mac wrote. “With wall thickness less than that of a corresponding aluminum frame-and-stringer structure, the Premier has the largest cabin cross section of any light business jet, though the size of the fuselage, and thus the drag it creates, is not proportionally as large.”
“Viper Fiber Placement Systems from Cincinnati Milacron align thin resin-impregnated tapes, 24 at a time, each with thousands of carbon-fiber strands, precisely where they are needed to carry structural loads.”
“After the Viper has formed the fuselage inner skin,” Mac continued, “a central honeycomb is attached.”
“Then,” Mac said, “the outer layers of carbon fiber are automatically applied. The last layer has fine copper wire mesh imbedded in it to conduct a possible lightning strike to a safe exit at the trailing edges of the wing or tail. Last, the entire half of the fuselage, mandrel and all, is cured under high pressure and temperature in a giant autoclave.”
Other Elements of Aluminum and Carbon Fiber. The Premier I’s “wing and tail are aluminum,” Mac described. “Many of its other large components, such as the fairing that melds the wing to the fuselage are made from carbon fiber or other composite material. Wing flap and aileron fabrication uses a resin-injection process, while other elements are laid up by hand and then cured. The key is to select the most cost- and weight-efficient means of building each part.”
A $455,750 Supercar and $5.7 million Super Business Jet. From Wichita to Sedona, Arizona, Mac shared the Premier I controls with Beech chief test pilot Trevor Blackmer. (I flew second seat on the Sedona/Wichita return.)
“While climbing through low altitude,” Mac said, “each jet engine was plowing through 900 lb./134 gal of fuel an hour. At a rarified 40,000 ft., the Premier settled into cruise at Mach 0.78, which equated to 445 knots/512 mph across the ground. Fuel flow at this altitude dropped to about 400 lb./60 gal. per hour. That is, speed and range depend on reaching the aircraft’s optimum altitude quickly.”
I met Mac at Sedona Airport in the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. By that time, I could share its road test results, including a 0-60-mph time of 3.5 seconds, quarter-mile results of 11.5 seconds at 126.1 mph, and braking from 80 mph in an impressive 186 ft.
Mac wrote of the Premier’s Sedona landing, “Touchdown occurred at about 110 knots/127 mph, and in 2000 ft. the 9500-lb. aircraft came to a stop using only the two main wheels for braking. True, an SLR can be hauled down from this speed in a lot shorter distance—but it weighs considerably less [est. 4040 lb.] and has four tire patches to its benefit.”
Yes, it was a memorable comparison test, even without my brief control time at Flight Level 410. ds