Type: proof-of-concept low-cost personal jet
Program: General Aviation Propulsion (GAP)/Turbine Engine Demonstrator Aircraft (proprietary)
Powerplant: 2 x 550lb. (250 kg) Williams FJX-1, then
Significant date: 1997
The sleek five-place Williams V-Jet II was designed and built to prove the concept of a low-cost, Bonanza-class personal jet for general aviation. Dr. Sam Williams, Chairman of Williams International, said, "Our objective is to replace aging, piston-powered light aircraft with all new, four-place single and six-place twin, turbofan-powered modern aircraft. This means we must develop a turbofan in the 700 pound thrust category that is very low in cost at a high production rate, is extremely quiet, is light in weight, and is very reliable." Not intended for production, the V-Jet II was designed by Dr. Williams to demonstrate the new Williams FJX-2 high bypass ration engine characteristics in flight over the anticipated speed and altitude range for future "turbofan-powered, light aircraft era."
Since the 1950s, Sam Williams’ company, Williams International, has been a recognized leader in designing and building small, efficient turbofan jet engines. Early Williams’s engines powered military target and surveillance drones. Williams International provided engines for the first cruise missiles and the quality and reliability of those engines helped make modern cruise missiles feasible. In the 1980s, Sam Williams set his sights on the general aviation market. He introduced the FJ44, a two-shaft turbofan rated at 1,900 lbs of static thrust. The FJ44 was so small (two feet in diameter and 40 inches long) and so lightweight (447 lbs) that it wasn’t practical to retrofit it into existing airframes. To take full advantage of its size, weight, and efficiency would require a brand new airplane.
Designer Burt Rutan was an employee of Beech Aircraft Co. at the time, and he convinced Beech’s management to take up Williams’ challenge. Rutan said he remembered seeing a mock-up of an aircraft Williams called the V-Jet at an NBAA convention some 18 years ago. Although the first V-Jet design was never built, Williams went on to design and build the FJ44 series of turbojet engines, which Rutan called "the most significant engine in aviation in years." Beech’s FJ44-powered proof-of-concept prototype was called “Triumph.” It flew in July 1988—the first aircraft to use the FJ44 engine. Though it never entered production, the Beech Triumph demonstrated the performance and economy promised by the FJ44. Another prototype, the Swearingen SJ30, used the FJ44 and first flew in early 1991. Real success came with the rollout of Cessna’s FJ44-powered Citation-Jet in April 1991. Other orders followed, for the production Swearingen SJ30, the Swedish Sk60 trainer, the Raytheon Premier 1 business jet, and others.
The V-Jet II originated in NASA’s Advanced General Aviation Transport Experiments (AGATE) program—a joint NASA/industry venture born at the 1992 Oshkosh convention and aimed at revitalizing general aviation. In the fall of 1996, under a competitive procurement program among jet engine companies, NASA selected Williams International to join NASA in a $100 million cooperative effort to revitalize the once-flourishing light aircraft industry in the United States through small turbofan engine technology. Under the program, Williams and its industry team members, which include Williams suppliers and future aircraft company customers, were to provide 60 percent of the resources and NASA 40 percent for the initial engine demonstration phase. Williams and NASA, under the General Aviation Propulsion (GAP) program, developed the FJX-2, an even smaller, lighter turbofan engine than the previous FJX-1.
Williams designed the V-Jet II as both a test bed and showcase for the FJX-2 engine. The FJX-2 is a compact turbofan delivering 700 lbs of thrust and weighing just 100 pounds. Several Williams "V-Jets" have been designed in past years by Dr. Williams with three full-scale mockups and at least a dozen small models studied to arrive at the final V-Jet II configuration. The name, V-Jet, started with the forward-swept or V-shaped wing that continues from the early Williams designs. Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, Inc. refined and built the design, unveiling it at the 1997 Oshkosh convention. According to Dr. Williams, "Burt Rutan and his team have made major improvements to this design and have introduced into this prototype many new, exciting manufacturing processes." Apparently the Model 271's initial name at Scaled was 'Spike', but it was hardly ever used, and very soon only the V-Jet II name remained.
The Oshkosh configuration featured the then-existing low bypass ratio, 550 lb thrust, FJX-1 version of the turbofan engines; these interim engines were used to check out the aircraft's performance and systems prior to installation of the new high bypass ratio, FJX-2 engines being developed in cooperation with NASA. The V-Jet II has the appearance of an advanced fighter with forward-swept wings. The sleek appearance is not only for marketing appeal but is for sound aerodynamic and structural reasons. The Williams design emphasized, and has not achieved for beginning pilots, very docile stall characteristics (because of the forward-swept wing) and minimum pilot action required in the event of a single engine-out condition (because of the close spacing of the engines in the unique Williams V-tail design).
According to Williams, the V-Jet II was used primarily to demonstrate the new turbofan engines over a range of flight speeds and altitudes that are expected to be required in future turbofan-powered light aircraft. Installation characteristics, engine performance data, noise levels, exhaust emissions, and flight parameters were reviewed with the aircraft companies that were participating in the program as members of the NASA/Williams General Aviation Propulsion (GAP) team. "Our objectives", said Williams, "are to develop the quietest and least polluting propulsion system in aviation as well as the lightest weight turbine propulsion system for manned aircraft. We also expect to be able to price these engines low enough to stimulate the rapid expansion of the light aircraft industry in the United States."
Another purpose of the V-Jet II flight demonstrations will be to stimulate interest on the part of aircraft companies in designing and developing production aircraft utilizing this new propulsion technology. Williams said, "When the public views the 3800 lb. V-JET II powered with the existing small turbofan engines, the interest will begin to build. However, later in the program when they view this sleek aircraft powered with extremely quiet, very low cost, light weight, high bypass ratio turbofans, the potential for a revival of the light aircraft industry through turbofan power should certainly be underway. I believe every light aircraft pilot dreams of being a jet pilot. This low cost turbofan technology can make this a reality."
In test flights, the V-Jet II exceeded 30,000 feet and 295 knots with docile handling and stall performance. Rutan said the V-Jet II was a lot of fun to fly. Ground tests of the FJX-2 were performed in late 1998, while the first flight tests on the V-Jet II airframe occured circa 2000. A single engine variant of the V-Jet II, the V-Jet I concept airplane, with seating for four, was also considered at some point, but later shelved. A single engine aircraft would have had the potential for the lowest possible cost. The predicted performance characteristics of that aircraft were validated through the measured flight performance of the V-Jet II, but there was apparently no intention to build this aircraft. The V-Jet II was then acquired by Eclipse Aviation and donated to the EAA Museum in 2001. "Williams' V-Jet II was very much the model for the Eclipse 500, according to Raburn. "It showed the way on a lot of issues." Although some changes became necessary as the aircraft was scaled up in size, some of the V-Jet's traits — such as engine placement — have been retained. Its composite construction was not, however. The Eclipse 500 jet is the first aircraft to use Williams EJ-2 engine, the the first commercial derivative of the FJX-2.
Meanwhile, former Williams International executive Alexander Craig and entrepreneur Michael Lemaire launched a new business aircraft of similar size called the Stratos 714...
Population: 1 [N222FJ] (c/n 1)
Crew/passengers: 2 crew, 4 passengers