Speaking of cockpit creature comforts, Piper did not forget that the Altaire will likely be used as a personal jet by significant numbers of buyers. So rather than shoehorning "the help" into a cramped, tiny space up at the pointy end, the Altaire features a generously sized cockpit, with comfortable seats that are easy to get into and out of. The stylish and comfortable Millennium-designed crew seats are also a reflection of Piper's recognition that a large number of those sitting in the front seats will also be the ones writing the checks.
Also, cockpit eye candy in the Altaire goes well beyond the upholstery. Even before the redesign, it was known that the PiperJet project shared the distinction with the HondaJet of being the launch customers for Garmin's G3000 avionics suite, the newest and most advanced integrated avionics package earmarked for Part 23 turbine aircraft. The G3000 back end is very similar to the now-ubiquitous G1000. But what meets the eye — and the fingertips — is significantly different.
Dominating the view in the cockpit are the three expansive 14.1-inch-diagonal display screens - two primary flight displays (PFDs) and the center-mounted multifunction display (MFD). That's not unlike the G1000. But what really sets the G3000 apart are the two console-mounted GTC 570 touch-screen controllers. With their 5.7-inch-diameter screens, the controllers provide pilots with home-computerlike, icon-driven command software built on Garmin's new "shallow" menu structure. That is, it's specifically designed with the human factor in mind, so it's not necessary to mine down several layers to find the desired page. And it's equally easy to navigate backward using "back" and "home" keys, should you find yourself headed down the wrong cyberpathway. That translates to being able to access more systems and sensors with fewer page sequences and keystrokes (or more accurately, key touches). The pair of console-mounted GTC 570 touch screens control everything from transponder codes and idents to remote audio and intercom functions. They are also used for entering and editing flight plan data and accessing weather, traffic — even entertainment and custom display options. Old-school knob spinners can still use the single set of mechanical concentric knobs, a mechanical volume control and a map joystick, should they so desire.
Of course, the G3000 has all the now-familiar features available on the G1000, such as synthetic vision, datalink weather, traffic, GFC 700 automatic flight control system, checklists, geo-referenced airport diagrams, FliteCharts, SafeTaxi and more.
As enjoyable as it will be to sit inside the Altaire — either up front or in the back — stepping outside and taking that satisfying look over the shoulder will also be a pleasure. Piper has made available three color-palette choices for coordinating the interior upholstery and exterior color schemes. The mock-up in Atlanta was done in "Northstar." The Altaire's round fuselage and new, more-jetlike oval windows add a lot to the airplane's visual appeal. So does the redesigned, more-rounded nose and lower windshield angle. At the back end, there's a new nacelle cloaking the 2,500-pound-thrust Williams International FJ44-3AP, and it makes a big difference. Gone is the "beer-barrel" shape of the proof-of-concept airplane's nacelle, replaced by a much more flowing look.
The new nacelle shape is not just for eye appeal. Because the PiperJet's engine is necessarily mounted above the fuselage centerline, increasing power tends to push the nose down, and reducing power can cause it to pitch up. PiperJet's Exhaust Angle Control Technology (EXACT) system automatically bends the exhaust nozzle to redirect the thrust based on the Altaire's pitch attitude, power settings and so forth. The Altaire's new nacelle shape incorporates refinements to the system, and Groom said that flight tests have shown that EXACT lives up to its acronym.
The new-design engine nacelle is also positioned lower and farther aft. Besides further optimizing the thrust line, the new arrangement means that, should the engine's rotor self-destruct, it would not buzz-saw through the Altaire's tail section and depressurize the cabin — a big safety consideration and very pleasing to certification authorities. The tail surfaces are also redesigned, lower and with a more attractive shape. Some observers speculate that the tail configuration would nicely accommodate a pair of engines mounted on either side in the standard light-jet configuration, so it isn't hard to imagine larger siblings of the Altaire, with expanded fuselages (a round fuselage lends itself to easy stretching) and another engine strapped on the back.
For now, though, Piper is happy with one. Groom is convinced that the lower costs of the single are key, and that people's perception of turbine engine reliability has come a long way. The continued success of single-engine turboprops suggests that much of the old prejudice against singles may be crumbling as their reputations for reliability and safety continue to build.
So the next couple of years will ultimately decide how buyers will respond to the siren call of the single-engine jet. But Piper has done its part to make that decision that much more attractive.