“I have such a hard time flying commercial. I always want to—it’s cheaper, it’s easier—but there can be 300 perfectly lovely people at the gate and one crazy person who ruins it for everyone, so flying private is great because I don’t have to worry. ”
Hawker Beechcraft’s Hawker 750
Three years ago, Hawker Beechcraft began delivering what is arguably the best of the venerable 125-series aircraft: the Hawker 750. Performance and price both help to make this midsize-cabin model a strong contender.
Hawkers have been around since 1962. Over the years, they have received significant improvements in airfoils, engines and systems and their rugged construction and reliability have made them the mainstay of several leading fractional-ownership fleets. When it comes to business jets, these things are tanks.
Thanks to their dependability, they have been a popular choice for operations in remote and harsh environments worldwide, and the 750 is proving to be no exception. Through the first quarter of 2011, Hawker Beechcraft delivered 67 of them, with about 40 percent going to the Americas, an equal amount to Europe/Africa and the rest to the Asia/Pacific region. NetJets Europe operates eight.
At $13.3 million (typically equipped), the model costs $2.7 million less than the same-sized but plusher and longer-range Hawker 900XP and about as much as two smaller aircraft from other manufacturers: the $12 million Cessna Citation XLS+ and the $13 million Learjet 60XR. The 750 isn't as economical as the Citation or as fast as the Learjet. But it trumps both in one important category: cabin size. The Hawker's passenger cabin is 604 cubic feet, while the Citation's is 461 and the Lear's is 453. Headroom is better in the Hawker as well; a six-footer can actually stand almost upright in its trenched center aisle. Passenger seating capacity is nine if you count the belted lavatory seat. Realistically, this is a comfortable airplane for four passengers on a longer trip.
Enter through the five-foot-nine-inch-tall main cabin door and, in the standard layout, you'll find a small forward galley with microwave, coffee maker, ice drawer and stowage cupboards opposite a small closet. Seating consists of five reclining slide-and-swivel executive seats and an aft, three-place divan that is large enough for snoozing. Behind that is the lavatory and a small baggage hold that you can access in flight. Compared with the ones on previous models, the lav cabinetry provides more functional stowage for toiletries and other personal items.
Cabin electronics are handled via the Rockwell-Collins Airshow 21 cabin-management system–a relatively simple system that you should be able to navigate without having to borrow a 10-year-old child to translate. The system's master touch-screen controls temperature, lighting and entertainment.
While the 750 isn't as plush as the 900XP, it is more than adequate for most users. You can choose from five basic color pallets and order upgraded leathers and fabrics. "The airplane comes so well equipped, there really aren't a lot of options," said Ron Gunnarson, vice president of Hawker marketing.
Gunnarson added that international customers typically order additional avionics, such as high-frequency radios and backup automatic direction finders. However, the Rockwell-Collins Pro Line 21 avionics system is adequate for most applications.
It features four eight-by-10-inch LCD displays and can show electronic navigation charts, turbulence-detection weather radar and map overlays for superior pilot situational awareness.
Hawkers were one of the first business jet models to use the Honeywell TFE-731 turbofan engines that were developed in the late 1960s. At the time, they represented a quantum leap in efficiency and they enabled a new generation of six- to eight-passenger corporate jets that can still pass Stage III noise requirements. The iteration of the engine on the 750, the TFE731-5BR (4,660 pounds of thrust each), burns 20-percent less fuel than the 731 engines on 800 series Hawkers while still enabling climbs to 37,000 feet in 19 minutes.
That said, the 750 is only marginally faster than the XLS+ on most missions and considerably slower than a Learjet 60. Maximum cruise speed is 465 knots and long-range cruise speed is 30 knots slower than that. Going cross-country makes for a long afternoon. However, most Hawker flights are considerably shorter and on a trip from, say, Chicago to Atlanta, the speed disadvantage won't cost you more than about 10 minutes.
Like all 125 series Hawkers, the 750 doesn't force operators to choose between full passenger seats and full fuel tanks–this airplane allows for both. With full fuel, payload is an impressive 2,250 pounds. However, also like its predecessors, the 750 remains challenged when it comes to baggage capacity, to a point. Unlike previous 700-, 800- and 900-series siblings, the 750 has a separate, heated, externally accessed baggage compartment that holds up to 500 pounds and can swallow items as bulky as golf clubs. Combined with the traditional 47 cubic feet of in-cabin stowage, this gives the 750 a total of 79 cubic feet of baggage space.
It comes at the expense of range. The 220-gallon fuselage fuel tank is removed to make the space, reducing the 750's range to 2,195 nautical miles (with four passengers), compared with the 900XP's 2,600-mile range. Range with eight passengers still exceeds 2,000 miles. You can increase range by 100 nautical miles and slash time to climb 5 percent by adding aftermarket winglets from Hawker Beechcraft. The $295,000 winglets–which should be certified and ready for customers by the time you read this–also produce modest handling improvements at lower airspeeds.
Even without them, though, the 750 can fly farther than any comparable airplane near its price point. It can travel non-stop from the northeast U.S. to Venezuela or from India to Singapore.
Range aside, taking out the center fuel tank makes the airplane lighter and, depending on how heavily it's loaded, the 750 can now get into airports with shorter runways–places Hawkers have never been before. Fully loaded at 26,950 pounds (8,500 of that is fuel), the 750 can easily negotiate 5,000-foot runways. It can also land on gravel and grass strips, something best not tried in a 60-series Learjet.
Several years ago, on a return flight from Alaska, I landed a small, single-engine propeller airplane on the rough gravel strip at sparsely populated Hay River in Canada's Northwest Territories. No other airplanes were in sight and, by the way the airport attendant greeted me, I thought mine had been the only airplane to come in for weeks. Not so, he said: "We had another airplane in here about an hour ago–a Hawker."
I should not have been surprised.