Eclipse Customers Meet Its Makers

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Engine Issues Explained...

As expected, the re-engined Eclipse 500 will be heavier, thirstier, faster, later and somewhat more expensive than the original model, but that doesn't seem to bother those who have put money down on one. Eclipse gathered customers at its Albuquerque headquarters last week to update them on the project in the aftermath of firing Williams International as the engine supplier. Don Morris, who was one of the first to place an order for the five-place twin-jet, said the gathering wasn't told who will supply the new engines, which will put out about 900 pounds of thrust. They were also told the price has gone up. Morris declined to quote a figure but said current position holders will still get their mini-jet for less than $1 million and the price is expected to break that barrier in the near future. He said he'd expected a bigger price hike and is more concerned about the delays inherent in finding and fitting new engines. Morris was supposed to get his Eclipse in 2004. "I'm disappointed that I won't be able to fly this wonderful personal jet next year," he said. "The time and delay is very agonizing."

...More Power = More Fuel

Despite the setback, Morris remains upbeat about the airplane and his involvement and he said the vast majority of those attending the meetings appeared to feel the same. "People were very positive," he said. "They're still optimistic and enthusiastic." Morris said Eclipse officials made it clear that continuing with the Williams EJ22 engine wasn't viable. The challenge now is to meet the range and performance predictions as the power and gross weight increase. Morris said an extra 250 pounds of fuel needs to be accommodated and tip tanks are one of the options being considered. Fuselage tanks have been ruled out for safety reasons, he said. Morris said Eclipse, as an airframe builder, has hit all its development and production deadlines. "I have no doubt that if they had the engines, they'd have airplanes flying," he said. The group was told that Eclipse wants to resume flight testing as soon as possible and that might mean using some type of off-the-shelf alternative power. "They're working on interim measures to get back in the air," he said. Morris said he personally remains convinced that Eclipse is the revolutionary development its makers claim it to be. "This airplane is incredible. It's the first airplane of the 21st century."