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Vantage Searches For An Advantage

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Business jet aficionados may do a double-take if watching the Indianapolis 500 in late May, when the name VisionAire Jets flashes by on rear wing of Jonathan Byrd's #88.

Widely held as a dead program, VisionAire Jet’s Vantage single-engine jet program is not yet ready to succumb (cue Monty Python’s Holy Grail), and the sponsored car at Indy is meant to signal, at least to the Indy crowd, that good things could be on the horizon with a little luck.

A proof-of-concept (POC) version of the Vantage is parked on the West ramp of the sleepy Hickory Airport in western North Carolina, where executive vice president of operations, Marc Bailey, is keeping a light turned on. I happened to be passing through the airport recently and did a double-take of my own upon taxiing into the main office, spotting from a distance a small business jet that looked sort of like a Cessna Citation, but with air intakes above the fuselage. A closer look and a query at the airport revealed that the mystery jet was the POC Vantage jet, sans engine and most of its avionics.

Company owner Jim Rice, stationed in nearby Newton, NC, where the aircraft will be produced if Rice can come up with $150 million for the certification and production ramp up, says the POC did its job and will probably not fly again, but he's careful not to say. The focus now, money willing, is production, and much of the engineering pre-work has already been accomplished. 

VisionAire Jet almost hit the jackpot in 2012 with a letter of intent from a Chinese investor, but the deal fell through two weeks before the funds were transferred. Rice continues to look for the influx of cash.

The China letdown was not the first hard knock for the Vantage: 

  • VisionAire founded by Rice in 1988 to build single-engine personal jet priced at $1.65 million, about half the cost of the closest sized twin-engine business jet, the Cessna Citation.
  • Rutan builds the POC. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney JT15D turbofan. First flight in 1996.
  • Company raises $110 million in financing, but needs another $100 million or more to certify; goes bankrupt in 2003.
  • Design is purchased by Evation, a group based in Ames, Iowa. Evation teamed with former Embraer co-founder and aerospace engineer, Guido Pessotti. Evation flies the POC to Sao Carlos, Brazil, to complete the build and certify with Brazilian authorities. The team decides to change the basic design for a larger twin-engine jet powered by Williams FJ44 engines and Garmin G1000 avionics.
  • Evation fails; Rice repurchases assets in 2012 (including the POC and an outfitted cabin mockup on a truck) and launches Visionaire Jet. Production is to take place in Newton, North Carolina, a couple of miles east of Hickory. The POC, now with more than 500 hours flight time, is moved from Iowa (after it had been flown back from Brazil) and was to fly again in 2014 with the Williams engine – it did not. Rice says there was nothing left to learn from a cost-benefit standpoint.

It's easy to see why the composite machine turns heads; it sits high on a fighter-jet type landing gear...

...has a spaceship-like cockpit and those forward-swept wings.

....which beyond looking awesome, allow for a larger cabin as the main structure for the wings can be behind the seating area.

Bailey says the POC could be flyable, but “needs a little work."

Below is a VisionAire Jets marketing video showing the POC in flight.

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