Fourth Eclipse 500 Joins Test Fleet
Another milestone: Eclipse Aviation this week put its fourth certification prototype in the air, one the company is calling the first of two of its "beta test jets." The aircraft, N505EA, powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) PW610F turbofan engines, took off from the Albuquerque International Sunport for a 43-minute flight. While aloft, the latest example of the Eclipse 500 very light jet climbed to 15,000 feet and accelerated to 160 knots airspeed. This airframe and another beta aircraft will be "tested under accelerated usage conditions to ensure superior reliability and functionality prior to first customer deliveries," according to Eclipse. “We remain the only VLJ manufacturer with multiple FAA-conforming jets in flight testing,” said Eclipse Aviation President and CEO Vern Raburn. That may be, but Eclipse admitted in a press release that the aircraft only "completed a majority of [its] scheduled test points" on the maiden flight. Eclipse has had three other aircraft in flight testing since Dec. 31, 2004, but only has accumulated 150 hours of flight time across the fleet, according to the company. By contrast, Dassault's 7X flight-test program (see above article), which began on May 5, 2005, with the 7X's first flight and which just launched its second aircraft, has accumulated almost half as many hours with half the airframes and in only two months. Eclipse says it uses "progressive testing techniques and a sophisticated telemetry system" to generate its flight-test data, examining more than 4,500 aircraft parameters in real. So far, the airplane's envelope has been expanded to 230 knots and FL300. The test program continues, and Eclipse says the final flight-test aircraft and second beta test jet, N506EA, is in its final assembly position. The company's previous statements have targeted March 31, 2006, as its FAA certification target date.