I stood the autothrottles of the Hawker 4000 up straight, and like magic they came right out of my hand and set their own power as though they knew just what I wanted. I kept my left hand on the tiller along the sidewall waiting for the 60-knot callout, at which point I knew the big rudder would become active. Hearing “60 knots,” I swapped hands, putting both on the elegant ram’s horn-style yoke and hanging on, keeping the airplane straight as it accelerated down the runway, centerline hash marks flashing past. Then, as we passed quickly through 100 knots and just a bit more, I heard “rotate,” and I did, the view changing from runway to blue and clouds as I pulled back and we climbed, positive rate, gear up, 400 feet, flaps up, then 14 degrees nose-up as we climbed straight out, the big picture-window view out the front and to the sides making the message quite clear that this is an impressive airplane by any standard.
To put things into a business perspective, let’s start with the big picture. The Hawker Beechcraft Corp. (HBC) Hawker 4000 is a super-midsize airplane that seats eight passengers in an elegant and luxurious stand-up cabin. With a range of nearly 3,200 nm, it is a true coast-to-coast performer against nearly any headwind and at better than airline speeds. It is a remarkable short-field performer for an airplane in its class, and it is competitively priced too. On top of that it is remarkably sophisticated, with systems and features unparalleled in its category. Sounds great, right? And it is.
So the question is, why has it taken so long for the 4000, which was delivered to its first customer three years ago, to get off the ground?
That’s the question that Hawker President Bill Boisture had when he walked in the door a couple of years ago. This is the story of where the airplane came from and, more importantly, how it has arrived.
The Price of Innovation
Ask those who have been there and they will tell you that, if you want to be an innovator, be ready for surprises. And be aware that very few of those surprises will be pleasant ones. Along the way toward that great new product, there will be detractors, financial setbacks, unforeseen technological hurdles and resistance from the regulators. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get the whole thing done not when you originally hoped to be crossing the finish line, but in about double that time. That’s not pessimism; when it comes to aviation, that’s just the way these things go.
Which is why the story of the early years of the Hawker 4000, which for years was known as the Horizon, is in many ways a painful one to recount. Until you get to the good part, that is, which HBC believes is ready to happen right about … now.
New Concepts All Around
From the beginning the concept, like many such things, seemed nothing but promising. The Horizon would be a super-midsize bizjet with a mechanically wound carbon-fiber fuselage, metal wings, cutting-edge avionics, industry-leading automation and highly integrated systems.
Getting to the point of bringing the airplane to market, however, has been a long road. Without going into gory detail, the path from concept to an airplane ready for prime time took a dozen years, two names, four company presidents and untold millions.
Along the way there were schedule delays galore, certification complications, extensions, reliability issues, big orders and even bigger cancellations. The road has been so rocky, in fact, that it seems nothing short of miraculous that an airplane has emerged at all.
To the delight of its owners today, the airplane that has come to pass is an extremely satisfying one, one that delivers, finally, on all its original promises and then some. It is, argues Hawker Beechcraft, the most advanced business airplane in the world.
And with due respect to some remarkably advanced (though much larger) bizjets and a couple of midsize airplanes emerging right now, it’s hard to dispute that claim. The 4000 is remarkably innovative.
This is something Hawker Beechcraft hasn’t done a good job of selling either, probably because it’s been so busy taking care of its small but growing fleet — there are at this writing 46 Hawker 4000s in service.
Because there’s no set definition, it’s pretty easy to call a product innovative. Regardless of who’s delivering the message, however, the 4000 is without argument a groundbreaking product. Indeed, there are precious few things about the airplane that are business as usual.
The biggest innovation, because it’s the biggest component on the airplane, is the fuselage, which is made from carbon fiber. It’s not the first carbon-fiber bizjet.
That distinction belongs to the Beech Premier light jet, which was the inspiration for the design of the 4000. Like that of the Premier, the fuselage of the 4000 is wound by machine on a huge mandrel. The result is a component that is extremely light, strong and stiff, which are all good things when it comes to fuselages.
Another big innovation is in not going with carbon fiber on the wing but instead creating a tried-and-true metal wing and keeping it simple in terms of the aerodynamic design of the flight controls: the ailerons, flaps, spoilers and speedbrakes; there are no leading-edge devices. By optimizing the design of the airfoil and flight controls, Hawker Beech engineers were able to create a clean, high-performance wing that’s an excellent fit for the mission and the aesthetic. The airframe, according to HBC, is around 60 percent composites. Some skins are composite, others not. The use of materials was smartly determined by looking at the component and determining what worked best in that instance.
To really understand the Hawker 4000, it’s important to realize it’s a super-midsize airplane with features that are sometimes found on the best large-cabin business jets, airplanes that typically cost many millions more than the $22 million price tag of the 4000. My sense when flying the airplane, which weighs just less than 40,000 pounds at max takeoff weight, is that you’re flying something in the same class as a large-cabin Falcon, Gulfstream or Global. There are a few features still that you can’t get. No head-up display system is yet available for the 4000, nor is there any enhanced vision option at this time.
While other, more recent bizjets have gotten a lot of ink for their fly-by-wire flight controls, the Hawker 4000 has had a limited set since its inception. The rudder, spoilers/speedbrakes and stab trim are all fly-by-wire, and the ailerons and elevator are, as Hawker sales rep Patrick Buckles described them, “the original fly-by-wire,” in this case the “wires” being good old cables and bell cranks.
The results of this hybrid approach are very satisfying. You get an airplane that hand-flies smoothly with the advantages of fly-by-wire on the secondary flight control systems. One benefit, for instance, is an always-on yaw damper for the powerful, electronically controlled rudder. There is also brake-by-wire, which in this case works superbly. The feel of the pedals is very natural, which you can tell on hard braking after landing and when taxiing. It’s easy to get just the right amount of brake when you need it. In short, HBC seems to have come up with a great approach to fly-by-wire that simplifies the operation — there are no elaborate flight control laws to learn and adhere to in case of emergency — and at the same time, the weight and complexity of many flight control systems have been greatly reduced.
Autothrottles are also standard on the 4000, a feature that can’t be found as factory equipment on any existing airplane at this price point. (The midsize Embraer Legacy 500, due out next year, will feature autothrottles, along with full fly-by-wire flight controls.)
For those of you who haven’t flown with auto thrust, it is a remarkable innovation that enhances safety by keeping an eye on the power at critical junctures of flight. In the 4000, for instance, the autothrottles can be programmed to hold certain indicated airspeeds at a given flap setting. With the first notch of flaps, the throttles will give you 180 knots, with two notches 160, and so on. They greatly reduce workload and cut down on power errors. One common scenario is the level-off after a descent. When pilots get busy with other tasks with the airplane on autopilot, sometimes they forget to bring the power back in a timely manner, and speed can bleed off quickly. The autothrottles, on the other hand, are never distracted. They’ll also remember to reduce speed when you level off after a climb, which can keep you from busting a speed restriction, and they can hold Vref on final, I learned, within a couple of knots even in gusty conditions. You can, of course, switch the autothrottles off, but I’m not sure why you’d want to, other than for the practice. Their operation, by the way, is smooth and intuitive. Pilots will love them.
The avionics, the Honeywell Primus Epic, are a highly integrated suite in the same class, once again, as the avionics offerings on much more expensive airplanes. The five-panel system has a pair of PFDs, two MFDs and a shared electronic instrumentation crew alerting system (EICAS) display. The airplanes boast dual laser-driven inertial reference units, dual flight management systems, built-in testing and a central maintenance computer that can pinpoint issues to eliminate a lot of troubleshooting for mechanics and reduce down time.
The system is standard with dual GPS with vertical navigation and enhanced go-around capability, TCAS II, Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System and excellent, easy-to-understand systems synoptics pages.
There are dual air-cycle machines for greatly enhanced peace of mind on those long overwater flights — both systems are capable of cooling the entire airplane independently, so no emergency descent would be required. Also, the 4000 has dual main hydraulic systems as well as a backup hydraulic-motor-driven generator, in case you’re having a really bad day and lose both generators. The list of redundant features, including the autothrottles, by the way, is long and impressive.
With the certification of a sweeping upgrade program, the avionics capabilities match the airplane’s overall level of sophistication. And with Hawker Beechcraft’s recent upgrade to the system, it has even more capability, including a GPS navigation page on the FMS, automatic lateral navigation transition when executing a missed approach (a great workload-reducing feature), RNP 0.3 enhanced navigation capability (for curved arrivals and other specialized procedures), precision VNAV and LNAV capabilities, vertical glidepath for arrival at nonprecision approach runways, WAAS/LPV and additional waypoints. The system is now capable of autopilot-coupled Category II approaches as well. There are electronic checklists (love them), wind-shear prediction and Honeywell’s impressive Runway Awareness and Advisory System (RAAS), which guards against a number of runway-related hazards on both takeoff and landing. There are also electronic georeferenced charts, with own-ship position that displays on the MFDs. And there’s more, including the latest fuel safety certifications, enhanced automatic engine shutdown and greater time at maximum thrust when flying with an engine out. With these improvements, any notion that the Hawker 4000 is a work in progress is a thing of the past.
While HBC had its work cut out for it in updating the avionics of the 4000 and in creating a top warranty program for the airplane, as far as the cabin was concerned, there wasn’t that much to do. This is because of the simple fact that, with few exceptions, the company got it right to begin with. The cabin features seating for eight passengers in a double-club configuration. All seats are berthable, so with the addition of the optional custom JetBeds for the airplane, you get four comfy beds in a midsize airplane. There’s also a side-facing divan option, which adds an extra passenger seat, bringing the total to nine. Nearly half of customers are ordering the divan option these days.
The 4000 boasts a flat floor — not the rule in an airplane of its class — and a stand-up cabin, with an average cabin height of right around 6 feet. The composite construction allows passengers more interior room in every dimension for the same external cabin dimensions because there’s no space-robbing internal fuselage framework needed. Composites also allow for the use of larger windows and for optimum window placement. Because HBC designers didn’t have to put them at any particular height in order to avoid underlying structure, the windows are placed at the optimum height and in the optimum location for passengers to look outside. The fuselage is also very low vibration — with the possible exception of when I am landing the airplane — and it is quiet too. In fact, the latest iteration is quieter then ever, thanks to work by HBC engineers to ferret out and silence noise throughout the cabin.
And as you might expect, the 4000’s interior has earned a number of very nice upgrades. Standard equipment is the Rockwell Collins Airshow 21 cabin management system and the Airshow 4000 system with available mapping. In addition to the divan, there are options galore. You can get Aircell Axxess II, which connects through Iridium with telephone handsets up front and in the cabin. There’s optional high-speed Internet, high-definition cabin LCD displays, personal displays at each seat, XM Radio, power jacks and even wireless access.
With the latest upgrades, HBC has improved the seats, giving them greater adjustability while offering a number of upgrades, including retractable armrests and lumbar support. There’s LED lighting throughout the cabin, a galley with full meal capability, a nice hard-door, externally serviced lavatory with hot and cold water and increased capacity for longer flights.
Bags are accessible in flight, though they can be loaded through the large, roll-top door on the left side of the airplane. There’s room for skis and golf bags, even a couple of mountain bikes.
As Mark Danin, the right seat pilot for my flight in the Hawker 4000, went through the checklists for me, I was amazed. Despite going through two checklists, the paper version and the electronic one, and despite answering my many questions, Mark got through it in just a few minutes. This is telling. The airplane was designed with the pilot in mind. It lets you know in most cases if there’s something you need to attend to. If you don’t, why make it an item? Pilots are thus freed up to do something better with their time than to run endless checks, like go flying.
Starting a fadec engine is still a little disconcerting to me. The Pratt & Whitney Canada PW308A turbofans on the 4000 (6,900 pounds of thrust apiece at ISA +22) are fully automated, so I got to push a button and then monitor, though the joy of monitoring was short-lived when Mark pointed out that, if something were to go amiss during the start, the engines would take care of shutdown too. I monitored diligently nonetheless.
As I mentioned, the 4000 is an excellent climber — we were at 37,000 feet in right around 15 minutes despite a couple of brief pauses in the climb. Up through the low 20s, I hand-flew the airplane. The goal of its designers was to make it a pleasant-flying airplane by sticking with mechanical controls for pitch and roll. The trim is leisurely. Instead of poking in a bit here and there, you stay on it for a while until you feel the desired effect. It’s a bit slow for my liking. The view out the front is nothing short of spectacular, with huge wraparound windows framing the scenery outside. It’s comfortable up front too. The dual air-cycle machines are more than effective enough to keep things the right temperature in front and in back, my only quibble being that the cockpit fans are a bit noisy, as opposed to those in the cabin, where the noise has been effectively tamed.
The Primus Epic suite is beautifully arrayed, and the overhead panel, about the size of an LP, for our readers who know what that is, contains mostly lighting and icing switches, so there’s not much time spent there. Most of the breakers are electronic, so you control them through the EICAS display. For an intercontinental jet, the 4000 features a remarkably clean layout. Even after a short familiarization I was able to acquaint myself with the cockpit sufficiently that I felt as though, with a few more flights, I’d feel right at home.
In terms of speed, range and comfort, the Hawker 4000, in my opinion, has nailed it. You get an advanced airplane with cutting-edge safety systems that can slide from coast to coast with the greatest of ease at 45,000 feet while maintaining a 6,000-foot cabin, an industry best. The numbers we saw on my flight confirmed the company’s claims. At our ceiling of 41,000 feet that day, we were looking at Mach 0.82, the airplane’s high-speed cruise, burning right around 2,000 pounds per hour. At an economy cruise of 0.78, that fuel burn was a little less than 1,700 pounds per hour, and interestingly, there was a nose-down feel in the cockpit, which makes for a great view. Most importantly, you get good speed, excellent range and an amazing cabin.
On descent, the 4000 is delightfully easy to manage. Dial in the rate of descent and program the altitudes, and the airplane does the rest, the autothrottles rising and falling as you descend and then level off again. If it were necessary, you can even throw in some speedbrakes, for which there is no maximum-speed restriction.
The hot-and-high performance is terrific. Although we were hot and low for my flight, the runway performance was still excellent. According to HBC’s numbers, for an airplane departing from a 5,000-foot-elevation airfield at 78 degrees and at max takeoff weight, the 4000 needs less than 7,000 feet of runway. At sea level under standard conditions, you can chop a couple of thousand feet from that requirement. When it’s time to touch down, the 4000 requires less than 2,500 feet at maximum landing weight.
On my final landing in the 4000, I was nothing short of amazed by its short landing ability. We were fairly light, but given my less-than-proficient performance, we still used just a few thousand feet to get stopped. I actually had to taxi past the first reverse high-speed exit to get to our taxiway, an exit I see singles and light twins miss all the time. There are lots of tools to get stopped. The huge carbon brakes are remarkably effective, the spoilers dump lift as weight settles on the wheels, and there are also effective thrust reversers that get you stopped in a hurry as well. This short-field ability opens up hundreds of airports in the United States alone to the Hawker 4000.
Nothing But New
Today HBC has embarked on a program to retrofit the entire fleet of Hawker 4000s — 46 have been delivered — to current standards, a program that is, to our knowledge, the first of its kind in the history of business aviation, at least for a program this ambitious. Every 4000 will be given new interiors, all new avionics upgrades, including new processors, and more, at no cost. The entire retrofit will take 60 to 90 days and will be performed at HBC’s Little Rock, Arkansas, facility. Hawker Beech will even provide replacement lift for these owners. And owners now get what might be the best warranty in the business, including 10 years or 10,000 hours on the airframe and five years or 3,000 hours on the engines.
Why would a company go out of its way and invest a huge amount of time and money to do this? There can be only one reason. HBC understands that customers are everything. The message this gives past, present and future owners of the company’s flagship airplane is that HBC is willing to do what it takes to make this product right, and to do it right now. And it was willing to invest a sizable sum to make that happen. That adds up to a commitment to an airplane that had an admittedly rough start but that is now, finally, ready for the big time.