Hawker 900XP: Evolutionary improvements enhance a long-time winner

The old joke about Hawkers is that not only are they built like bricks-they fly like them, too.

Hawkers have been around since 1962 and perhaps no business jet has a better history of durability or a longer record of evolutionary performance improvement. The airplane is built like a tank with simple mechanical systems that stand up to ham-handed pilots and heavy use. This durability has helped to make Hawkers a mainstay in several charter fleets as well as those of fractional providers NetJets and Flight Options.

Hawker Beechcraft now sells the aircraft, which British manufacturer de Havilland originally launched as the Model 125. Major components are still made in the UK, but final airframe assembly takes place at Hawker Beechcraft in Kansas. Then the airplane is flown to the giant Hawker Beechcraft completion facility in Little Rock, Ark., which also finishes out the larger and newer composite fuselage Hawker 4000.

Over the years, the 125-series aircraft has received significant upgrades in airfoils, engines and systems. One of the most significant changes came during the 1970s with the advent of more efficient engines. During the late 1960s, Garrett (now Honeywell) developed the TFE731 turbofan engine. It was a quantum leap in efficiency and enabled a slew of midsize six- to eight-passenger corporate jets such as the Sabreliner 65, Learjet 35 and Hawker 800 to come to the market in the 1970s and early 1980s. These airplanes had near transcontinental range and formed the backbone of corporate aviation in their time. Although they have long been out of production, almost all of these airplanes are still around.

Major Improvements

The Hawker 800 first flew in 1983 and featured major performance improvements over previous models. Between 1983 and 1995, the company produced 275 Model 800s. Deliveries of the Hawker 800XP began in 1995 and a major block change occurred on the model in 1999, when oval window frames, sidewall lighting, redesigned sidewall table access and restyled seats were added to the cabin. The new lighting, window treatments and seats resulted in a brighter, softer, more flowing look and were an immediate hit with customers.

Today, the descendants of the Model 125 remain among the best-selling business aircraft of all time, with more than 1,000 produced. Demand for the rugged and reliable eight- to nine-passenger midsize business jet remains strong. Raytheon Aircraft delivered more than 60 units annually in recent years and its successor company, Hawker Beechcraft, should do equally well with two new derivatives, the 750 and 900XP. (In 2007, 25 new 850XPs and 32 900XPs were sold-making it one of the best years for Hawkers ever.)

The manufacturer introduced the $14.3 million, 28,000-pound 900XP last year. It sports winglets and slightly more powerful engines than the model it replaces, the 850XP. The new engines also have a longer recommended time between overhauls-6,000 hours. The new engine/winglet combination boosts range by a modest 4 percent under most circumstances, to 2,950 nautical miles. The winglets merely create the illusion of speed, as the airplane is still one of the slowest midsize jets around, with a maximum long-range cruise speed of just 400 knots.

A cross-country excursion in the Hawker makes for a very long afternoon-almost seven hours. From Tampa, a Citation X will beat a Hawker to Long Beach by over an hour-with the same fuel burn. But the 900XP's tweaked engines give the airplane better hot-weather performance and faster climb speeds-a main contributor to the modest range gain. Simply put, the airplane climbs higher, faster; and the faster you get up there, the less fuel you burn and the farther you go. Time to 41,000 feet in the 900 is 25 minutes.

Although comparatively slow, the Hawker packs a lot of utility. Operators rarely have to choose between full seats or full fuel.

The cabin remains remarkably unchanged from the 850's. The cursed submarine-hatch-size airstair door has not been improved and the average guy still has to hunch over in the 5-foot-9-inch-tall cabin. That headroom comes only when you stand in the trenched center aisle. In-cabin storage is still notably absent. The standard layout features five single executive seats and one three-place divan. The comfortable single seats, perhaps the best in any airplane in this category, slide and swivel and have limited recline. (Legend has it that de Havilland engineers measured the leather armchairs in private clubs in London to use as the template for the original Hawker 125's seats.) The divan is not really big enough for a six-footer to fully stretch out on, but it is nevertheless useful for longer trips.

The belted potty in a lavatory, though a legal seat, is still best reserved for emergencies, the very diminutive or the hapless passenger who draws the short straw. The lav cabinetry is slightly improved, with more little drawers and niches for stowing personal products and supplies. A new optional layout allows you to remove the two most aft single seats and punch out the aft baggage compartment, adding a modest 10 cubic feet of stowage. Bags must still be loaded internally (no external baggage door). However, most of the luggage stowage-33 cubic feet-is in the forward cabin closet across from the entry door and bags that must go in the aft baggage compartment have to be carried through the cabin. In a tight aircraft with such a narrow aisle, this is not just inconvenient; it leads to prematurely trashed interiors from bags being slapped on seat edges and arms.

Up front, pilots benefit from a modern, four-display Collins Pro Line 21 digital avionics suite, but the trademark ram-horn control yokes, onboard since the aircraft line's inception almost 50 years ago, leave little doubt that this is still a Hawker.

Mark Huber welcomes comments and suggestions at: mhuber@bjtonline.com

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