Teething Problem Grounds Eclipse 500 Test Fleet

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Eclipse Aviation president and CEO Vern Raburn yesterday confirmed in a memo to customers that the Eclipse 500 test fleet has been grounded for the past two weeks or so because of a problem with the aft wing attach bolt bushing. Raburn told AVweb that the problem was discovered during a routine inspection and in no way could have led to wing separation or failure. According to Eclipse, the aft wing attach bolt -- one of four wing attach bolts, two of which carry the main load -- primarily prevents forward and aft wing flexing during hard landings. The snafu centered around improperly installed bushings, which "migrated and caused the hole to become elongated," though ever so slightly -- about a tenth of an inch, Raburn says. Still, that was enough for Eclipse to voluntarily ground the test fleet. Moreover, Eclipse says the problem does not affect production airplanes. The company chief pointed out that this is exactly why Eclipse long ago decided to log so many hours on its test fleet: "We've flown more than 3,300 hours, so we're the ones finding the kinds of problems that customers normally find out in the field." Besides temporarily putting on hold flight testing of the very light jet's new metal tip tanks and aerodynamic improvements, the grounding was also responsible for the Eclipse 500's no-show at AOPA Expo last week, Raburn said. One test aircraft is to be back in the air today, with the rest coming online by the middle of next week. Once it's flying again, the test fleet will finish flutter testing of the new tip tanks.