October 29, 2012
Credit: Credit: Bombardier
William Garvey Queretaro, Mexico, and Wichita
The Oct. 8 strike by members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) at Bombardier's Learjet plant in Wichita is merely the latest challenge in the Model 85's development saga.
Launched in October 2007, the midsized, Mach 0.82, 3,000-nm aircraft—the largest Learjet yet and the first constructed of composites–was to be jointly developed with Grob, a German company well known for its composite trainers. However, the program was set back when Grob declared bankruptcy in 2008, at which point Bombardier decided to bring all development work in-house.
Subsequently, the Montreal-based OEM switched the composites technology from the wet layup used by Grob to the prepreg material more prevalent in U.S. industry and familiar to the FAA. Several different composites are involved, but the material system selected for the overall airframe is a low-pressure, oven-cured carbon fiber, including sandwiched sections.
To accommodate the new manufacturing process, Bombardier decided to build a new 185,000-sq.-ft. facility at its airport campus in Queretaro, Mexico, where the aircraft's forward and aft fuselage, nose, tail cone, vertical and horizontal stabilizers and wings are molded and large sections mated. However, as all that was underway, the business jet market—and particularly the light and medium jet market—collapsed, and has yet to recover. But Bombardier soldiered on.
While the composite construction offers no weight savings, Bombardier says the material provides a weight-to-strength ratio superior to aluminum, largely eliminates corrosion concerns, reduces parts count, results in a super-smooth and low-drag exterior, allows for bigger and better placed windows, and maximizes interior space.
The completed sections are then trucked 1,400 mi. north to Learjet's main plant at Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita, where the whole aircraft is assembled, and the Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics suite, Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307B engines with full-authority digital electronic control (Fadec), and interior are installed. It is here that the exterior is painted and buyers take delivery of their $19.67 million aircraft.
The flight deck, an adaptation of the Bombardier Vision platform on the Global line, features a three-screen (15-in.) panel, dual flight-management systems with graphical flight planning, auto throttles and dual cursor controls.