Eclipse Aviation Corporation last week announced reaching a series of milestones in the company’s march toward certification of its first very-light jet (VLJ) sometime next year. According to the company, its test aircraft fleet -- seven Eclipse 500 aircraft -- is nearing completion. Five of the seven test aircraft are presently in final assembly positions. Eclipse also announced that its second piece of friction stir welding equipment is operational, providing an additional 24 inches of height over the first one. According to Eclipse, the new piece of equipment, called a gantry, provides greater flexibility in joining parts. The new equipment also features upgraded software for improved control of the welding process. As for its certification test aircraft, Eclipse reports it has finalized fabrication of all vertical fins and horizontal stabilizers for the entire test fleet, including instrumentation and strain gauges. The upper and lower cabin assemblies for two test aircraft, N505EA and N506EA, were recently joined, while aircraft N502EA and N504EA are being instrumented for flight testing. The fuselage for the static test airframe has also been completed. These represent significant steps toward the successful completion of Eclipse’s test fleet, culminating in FAA certification of the Eclipse 500. These test aircraft will join N503EA, which entered flight testing on Dec. 31, 2004. Five aircraft will be used in flight testing and two for static and fatigue testing. Eclipse says it recently received the PW610F engines for N502EA, the second FAA-conforming Eclipse 500 test aircraft, which is slated to enter flight testing in April.