Eclipse Watch: 1,000 Flight Hours Reached; Facilities Expanded

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Eclipse Aviation continues its march toward certification of the first very light jet (VLJ), and on Jan. 19 noted its test fleet has surpassed the 1,000-flight-hour mark, spread over some 750 flights. The company noted achieving its latest milestone without updating its scheduled certification date, which last month was postponed from the first calendar quarter of 2006 to the second and was blamed on component supplier delays. "Six years ago we pioneered the VLJ category with a vision to change air travel, and it's incredibly rewarding to move even closer to our goal of bringing the world's first VLJ to market this summer," said Vern Raburn, president and CEO of Eclipse Aviation. "We designed the Eclipse 500 to provide our customers with an unprecedented dispatch rate, and we're experiencing the benefits of this commitment firsthand as our test fleet achieves critical test points and builds hours at an astonishing rate."

Earlier, on Jan. 16, Eclipse broke ground in Albuquerque, N.M., for a new primary assembly building. The new 52,000-square-foot space will house a state-of-the-art assembly and manufacturing center, and serve as a central hub for Eclipse 500 production, which the company hopes will reach four aircraft per day. Eclipse is slated to begin production within the next two months in preparation for FAA certification and first customer deliveries late in the second quarter. Eclipse has five flying prototypes, plus two non-flying versions used for static and fatigue testing, respectively. The flying test beds include:

  • N502EA, the aerodynamic and structures certification test aircraft, used for flutter, stall characteristics, longitudinal and lateral handling qualities, and performance development testing.
  • N503EA is used to test mechanical systems and powerplant certification requirements, including the powerplant installation and operating characteristics, fuel system, pressurization system, environmental control system, landing gear, flaps, foreign object damage (FOD) and water ingestion.
  • N504EA is the avionics and electronics certification test aircraft and has completed requirements for avionics development. It is also being used to test powerplant drainage, smoke clearing, and the interior and exterior lighting systems. This airframe also will be used to certify the communications/navigation system, the Flight Management System (FMS) and the autopilot.
  • N505EA is a "beta test" aircraft; it has completed lightning testing, attitude heading reference system (AHRS) developmental testing and night flying evaluation. The aircraft is currently undergoing high intensity radio field (HIRF) testing in Patuxent River, Md., and will soon undergo function and reliability testing.
  • N506EA is another beta aircraft, and has been touring the southern U.S. since last November, allowing potential customers to get up close and personal with the market-leading VLJ. This aircraft has visited cities in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California, and over the next month is scheduled to go back to Florida and California, and then on to Arizona and Nevada.