“Time is our most precious commodity, and there are conveniences that wealth brings to essentially get you more time. —retired Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, explaining why he commutes via private jet from his Seattle home to watch games of the Los Angeles Clippers, the basketball team he bought last year for $2 billion. ”
The transition from office or home to the cabin of a private aircraft should be effortless and comfortable. With that in mind, designers and engineers continue to seek ways to make business jet cabins as plush and inviting as the environments you've come to appreciate on the ground.
In the June/July issue of Business Jet Traveler, we'll look at some of the most auspicious new developments in cabin electronics. Meanwhile, here's a survey of notable recent successes in the area of creature comforts for the cabin-including several still in the development stage and some that have already been incorporated into products you can buy.
BAe Systems has come up with a variation in cabin configuration that has angled seats at both ends of a side-facing divan. With a pair of two-place divans opposite in a club configuration, the result is a comfortable and functional conference area seating eight.
Cessna's new large-cabin Citation, the Columbus, offers another noteworthy layout. Cessna put an unusual amount of time and effort into creating a "reverse design" that places comfort ahead of certification, with larger windows, more comfortable seats and more storage.
Last spring, meanwhile, Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer introduced what amounted to a total cabin makeover of its Legacy 600. The addition of a drop-aisle provides an additional two inches of headroom, sufficient for a six-footer. Redesigned seats are more adaptable to full-flat sleeping. There's better soundproofing. And improvements to the galley turned it into something reminiscent of a street-corner bistro.
The so-called "smart window" isn't really all that smart. But it is a brilliant idea, adapted from the worlds of automotive and architectural design. The technology has actually been around for a while, and the self-dimming rearview mirror in luxury automobiles is just one example. Aviation engineers have been at work for more than half a decade adapting it to aircraft, and it promises to replace the heavier, more maintenance-hungry, electrically operated, pleated shades.
Smart windows are available from PPG Aerospace of Huntsville, Ala., and Research Frontiers of Woodbury, N.Y., and the technologies are similar. Both incorporate a gel-like material and a conductive coating between polycarbonate or glass layers. The introduction of a minute amount of electrical current through the coating causes the window to darken or become clearer.
Smart windows can't block 100 percent of outside light, nor when "clear" do they allow passage of 100 percent of outside light. But they work well enough that Hawker Beechcraft picked InspecTech smart windows as a retrofit item on its King Air line, and the company may also make them an option on new King Airs, as well as on Premier IAs and Hawkers.
Not only are aircraft completion and refurbishment design shops considering human factors-so are their vendors. Last year, independent completion and refurbishment center Landmark Aviation last year signed an agreement to be the North American supplier of the aircraft seat from UK-based NuBax. The seat's foam-based technology, said a NuBax spokeswoman, enhances comfort by "maintaining the natural curvature of the spine." The technology is available in all 9-g energy-absorbing aircraft seats undergoing cabin finishing at Landmark's Springfield, Ill. shop. NuBax is also developing a 16-g seat that it expects to make available later this year.
All Washed Up
If cleanliness is next to godliness, then someone's helicopter is flying high indeed. Heritage Aviation last year installed a custom shower-surround stall in the aft lavatory of a customer's Sikorsky S-92. Water storage was a problem, but the Grand Prairie, Texas company solved it by putting two, specially designed, cross-fed, clean-water tanks in the overhead and gray-water catch basins on each side of the aircraft. The design also neatly answered the question of a changing lateral center of gravity. The total capacity of the clean-water tanks is 40 gallons.
Some technology is as beautiful as it is functional. Carpet specialist Kalogridis International of Dallas hired designer LiChing Liu Tsai to turn the dream of aircraft owner George Kalogridis into reality. That dream, now called Deconel, is a 3-D decorative process applicable to bulkheads, headliners, window panels and dado panels. It comes in some 300 designs, ranging from a satellite view of the desert to split bamboo. While the finish is smooth, hard, easily cleaned and abrasion resistant, the illusion is one of depth, whether it is embossing, carving or some other special effect. It was created, said LiChing, to replace tapestry, fabrics and leathers usually applied to cabin surfaces. As an added benefit, she explained, it can reduce cabin noise by as much as four decibels.
Aerostone looks like stone and is just as hard but is 50 to 60 percent lighter (weighing only about a pound per square foot). The deep-gloss countertop material from Aeroquest of Lawrenceville, Ga., was introduced last year at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany. According to the company, it can be molded easily to create integral, seamless features, accommodating bullnoses, splash panels and sink bowls. The company claims the finish can be made to match customer samples of other countertop materials.
Sound of Silence
A quiet cabin is a goal yet to be realized, and considering the constrictions, it may never be. But those in the thermal/acoustic business are working on it, and with some success. 3M Acoustic Solutions in St. Paul has introduced a Thinsulate-compressible acoustic insulation (originally developed for automobiles) that may find a place in private aviation. It is a low-density, nonwoven acoustic absorber that is cavity filling, compressible and shape-conforming and also has some thermal properties.
More noise relief comes from France. SMAC, a subsidiary of MontBlanc Technologies Groupe in Toulon, first put its "Smacsonic" noise-reduction material in a Falcon 50 about six years ago. Today, it is an important ingredient in Dassault Falcon Jet's new Falcon 7X, giving the business jet what the manufacturer bills as "arguably the quietest cabin in the sky." The ultra-thin material, which is also being installed in a Eurocopter AS 322L Super Puma, employs a 0.5-mm aluminum layer, a 0.2-mm pressure-sensitive adhesive layer and a 1-mm vibration-absorbing viscoelastic layer.
Back in the 1960s, "mood rings" and "mood lamps" were marketed to a generation that is now in its 50s and 60s. So maybe the term "mood lighting" will resonate with those Baby Boomers who are today comfortably installed in the cabins of private jets. Mood lighting incorporates bright, white LED light, along with a broad variety of programmable, color-blending presets. There are sunset and sunrise modes, and the lighting is 100 percent dimmable and compatible with current cabin management systems. And the pricing is somewhat comparable to what you'd pay for white LED wash lighting. Second-generation mood lighting from B/E is already being installed by independent and manufacturer completion and refurbishment centers. Emteq's Quasar, meanwhile, has a system in development to fit narrowbody business jets such as the Airbus A319 and Boeing Business Jet.
Looking for a seat that reclines fully for sleeping? B/E Aerospace has introduced its Ultimate-Comfort executive seat, with adjustments ranging from "comfortable" to "bliss." The Miami-based seating division of B/E Aerospace claims it is the first full-flat berthing accommodation for business aircraft. Designed for midsize through large aircraft, it also features an adjustable seat pan for a more comfortable position while dining and working. Nifty options include heat, massage, six-way adjustable headrest and electric articulation.
Last year marked the arrival of the designer aircraft cabin, as Hermes, Pininfarina and other fashion houses paraded their styles on a runway of a different sort. Eurocopter and the house of Hermes revealed l'Hйlicoptиre par Hermes, an EC 135 with a decidedly upscale interior. It seemed somewhat appropriate, as in Greek mythology, Hermes is the god of travel, trade and athletics and is depicted with winged feet.
In collaboration with TAG Aircraft Interiors, Italian design house Gianni Versace of Milan continued a move into private aviation begun in 2006. In 2007, the partnership offered the Versace/TAG-A1 catalog of interior design applications for the Airbus ACJ line, Boeing Business Jet, Global Express XRS and Gulfstream G550. On display later in the year at the Dubai Air Show was an executive reclining armchair suitable for the narrower confines of small business jets.
Also in 2007, Aero Toy Store, a Fort Lauderdale-based independent completion and refurbishment center, announced that it is the exclusive provider of the Pininfarina Edition aircraft inspired by the Italian automobile designer better known for its contributions to Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo. The first Pininfarina Edition airplane, a Learjet 60, has already been delivered.
Heat in the seat is cool. Emteq is marketing a new seat heater and Hawker Beechcraft has awarded an initial contract to the New Berlin, Wis. company to install it as an optional item on the manufacturer's King Air line. The technology provides individually controlled heat in the lumbar and seat areas. Emteq expects FAA approval of the seat any day now and is already working on heaters for seats on aircraft from other manufacturers. According to an Emteq engineer, the heaters are a particularly attractive feature on aircraft not equipped with an auxiliary power unit. "When you get on a smaller airplane and the cabin is cold because there's no APU to warm it up, a heated seat is pretty welcome," he said.
"Everyone who flies has a personal stake in cabin air quality," said Roger Renaud, vice president of completions and modifications at Midcoast Aviation. With that in mind, an air-purification system made by Air Data of Canada is being offered as an option on the Bombardier Global Express XRSs and Global 5000s that Midcoast has been contracted to finish. In tests, the system has been shown to be 99.99 percent effective against bio-contaminants such as the corona virus, serratia marcescens and staphylococcus aureus (anthrax surrogate). When tests were conducted simulating avian flu, the company reported "a complete reduction from a high concentration of virus at the system inlet to undetectable levels exiting the unit." The system also is said to "significantly" reduce cabin ozone levels.