““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Bombardier's Learjet 85
This year, Bombardier will launch one of the most ambitious flight-test programs in business aviation history. The Learjet 85 is scheduled to enter service next year and as many as five conforming aircraft could make their first flights in the coming months.
The 85 will be the first mostly composite aircraft certified under the stringent requirements of Part 25 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) and breaks ground on several fronts: creating a new category of business jet between midsize and super-midsize; featuring a Euro-style cabin that draws heavily from the luxury automobile industry; utilizing composites for the fuselage and wings; and stitching together a complex global supply chain that must function perfectly for the company to bring the aircraft to market on time and within its performance and weight targets.
This is the biggest thing to come out of Wichita since Beech Aircraft Corporation launched the ill-fated, futuristic composite Beech Starship in the 1980s. The manufacturer produced only 53 copies of that airplane at a total development cost thought to be close to $1 billion. Bombardier expects a far different result for the 85 and has put risk mitigation front-and-center in the program.
The 85 plows a new market niche. Bombardier claims it will have 19 percent more cabin volume than its closest competitor. Indeed, for a midsize, the 85’s cabin is already capacious: 24 feet, nine inches long; six feet, one inch wide; and six feet tall, yielding 665 cubic feet of passenger space and 130 cubic feet of luggage stowage, including three large cabin closets with a combined 30 cubic feet of storage.
Several configurations will be available, including eight single executive seats in a double-club layout or six single seats and a three-place divan. The single seats are pitched at 30 inches and recline into full-berthing positions. (A maximum of four can be berthed at any one time.) The highly contoured single seats feature armrests that retract into the seat backs that can give plus-sized passengers bigger seat-bottom cushions. Seat pedestal stowage drawers that open into the aircraft aisle are significantly easier for passengers to access while seated. They are big enough to hold a laptop computer. The divan and the berthing seats reflect the 85’s 3,000-nautical-mile transcontinental/transatlantic range (with four passengers).
The overall cabin design is bold, even daring, for a midsize corporate jet, with splashes of aluminized interior surfaces, wild-patterned carpet, glossy black piano wood accents and cabinets, flowing oval and curved shapes and hand-stitched white leather seats that look as if they came from a new Bentley Continental. Bombardier enlisted Design Q, the UK consultancy best known for automotive styling work on supercars such as Aston Martin, Ferrari and Maserati; the firm also works on mega-yachts and VIP and luxury airline interiors for a variety of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. Design Q previously collaborated with Bombardier on the design of the Vision flight deck for the Global XRS that made its debut in 2007.
Designers worked hard to create a spacious-feeling cabin. Rather than running the sidewall ledges down the entire length of both sides of the cabin, the sidewall basically starts and stops next to the seats. Stowage nooks big enough to hold briefcases are molded into the sidewalls, as are cabin controls, ledge space and sidewall table stowage.
Leaving the space open between the seats not only creates a more open and airy look; it yields more legroom. Similarly, oval-shaped units containing gaspers, reading lights and drop-down oxygen masks protrude from the cabin ceiling over individual seats rather than running the full length of the ceiling.
This longer-legged, $18.25 million Learjet also features a full galley and an aft cabin lavatory with a vacuum toilet system. Like several other contemporary cabin designs, the 85 will feature larger cabin windows, 12 by 16 inches each, and more monolithic, streamlined headliners and sidewalls. Bombardier has tapped Lufthansa Technik to provide the cabin-management system; Rockwell Collins for a three-screen Pro Line Fusion avionics system with advanced capabilities including synthetic vision; and Pratt & Whitney Canada for new PW307B engines (6,100 pounds of thrust each). Maximum speed is Mach 0.82 and the aircraft is designed to operate comfortably from 5,000-foot-long runways.
Using composites as opposed to metal eliminates much, but not all, of the aircraft’s substructure, saving weight while increasing available cabin volume. The 85’s wings will use composite skins and spars and metal ribs, similar to the design of the Bombardier C Series regional jet that is currently under development. The metal ribs are better able to absorb loads on the inboard section of the wing and manage tolerances more efficiently. The 85’s cabin is one-third larger than the smaller Learjet 60XR’s, yet slightly smaller than that in a true super-midsize.
While the 85 will weigh one-third more than the 60, it will need only 20 percent more thrust, fly 500 more miles on a load of fuel and have a slightly higher top cruise speed–all while offering better specific fuel consumption. Bombardier is relying on its composites plant in Querétaro, Mexico, to fabricate the structure. Final assembly is to take place in Wichita. Bombardier development and production teams are working together to validate the aircraft’s manufacture in Wichita; Montreal; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Querétaro. Throughout Bombardier, approximately 1,250 employees are dedicated to the Learjet 85 program.
Taking weight variability, cost and uncertainty out of the manufacture of composite structures can be a tricky business, as many aircraft companies including Boeing have discovered. Bombardier has designed a process it believes solves the problem. Digital engineering drawings of the composite plies are projected onto the mold. This allows precise placement of each ply and layer of composite material and should aid in weight control. Bombardier is now focusing on getting the process down to where it is repeatable at the correct production volume. While drawing heavily on company resources for the Learjet 85, Bombardier is still relying on 41 “major” suppliers for the aircraft and is using a collection of 63 test rigs at these companies to ensure that all of the aircraft’s components work properly when installed.
Bombardier has carefully thought out this airplane, which could very well help rejuvenate its languishing Learjet brand. It definitely will be one of the most innovative and exciting airplanes to come out of Wichita in a long time.