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Quick Look: Hansa JetQuick Look: Hansa Jet

The ‘German LearJet’ was forward thinking, yet doomed

The German-designed Hamburger Flugzeugbau HFB-320 Hansa Jet created quite a stir in general aviation in the 1960s. After William Lear struck public-relations gold with his LearJet, airplane manufacturers around the world took notice—including some in Germany. Hoping to out-engineer the little Lear, Hansa Jet designers strived to create a roomier jet that was just as fast, using the same General Electric CJ610 engines.
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Hansa Jets employed a mid-wing design known to maximize speed. The jet was designed with a forward-swept wing to keep the spar carry-through section farther aft on the fuselage, opening up the whole front portion to a 15-foot-long, 69-inch-tall cabin unencumbered with carry-through spars. And with the engines mounted far aft, it boasted a quiet cabin.

The GE CJ610 was the powerplant of choice, since there were basically no other small turbojets manufactured at the time. These engines produce brutish thrust and incredible climb performance at the penalties of copious fuel burn and decibel ratings that rival a Kiss concert. Speaking of Kiss, it was rumored the band used a Hansa Jet as its tour airplane in the 1970s.

April 1964 marked the first flight of the Hansa Jet. Less than a year later that prototype crashed, killing the company’s chief pilot. Reported to be in a deep stall that turned into a flat spin, the spin had developed too far for the spin chute to recover the airplane. The stall system was then modified and a stick pusher was added.

Deliveries started in 1968 and, depending on the source, 45 to 47 airframes were built until production ended in 1973. The largest customer was the German Air Force, which had 16. The airplane was certified to Part 25 standards and featured triple-redundant systems. It had a fully automated fuel system with a 1,075-gallon capacity spread through tip, wing, and fuselage tanks.

On the negative side, the Hansa liked its runway. A balanced field length of 5,900 feet kept it out of smaller airports, greatly limiting its practicality. Aviation journalist Richard Collins witnessed the Hansa Jet’s appearance at the Reading, Pennsylvania, airshow and quipped, “every takeoff drew a crowd.” On landing, it chewed through brakes at an alarming rate. A drag chute was optional equipment on those early airplanes until thrust reversers and bigger brakes became available.

Collins recalled that sales and service were halfhearted, leading to little customer interest compared to other business jets. Although a failure from the standpoint of passenger service, the Hansa Jet soldiered on for decades as a cargo hauler around the world. An operator in Turkey used them until the early 2000s. The last blip of a Hansa Jet in the United States occurred when one crashed in St. Louis in 2004 on a maintenance flight. After compliance with an airworthiness directive at the shop, the pilots failed to check the pitch-trim system prior to takeoff and failed to discover it was rigged in reverse.

Because of the low number of airframes in the field, it became economically impractical to re-engine or install hush kits on the noisy CJ610s, effectively limiting aircraft powered by such engines (Lear 20s, among others) to locations where Stage 3 noise limits weren’t in place.

An airworthiness directive issued in September 2006, when no Hansa Jets were reportedly even airworthy, put a symbolic last nail in the coffin of the type, limiting the airplane to 15,000 hours or cycles. Despite its forward-thinking design and safety touches, the Hansa became relegated to the cockroach corner of airports throughout the world, joined by the likes of the Aerospatiale Corvette and McDonnell Model 220.

Peter A. Bedell

Pete Bedell is a pilot for a major airline and co-owner of a Cessna 172M and Beechcraft Baron D55.

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