Eclipse: It's All In The Details

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"Soon" is about all Eclipse Aviation will say when asked when the company will deliver its first production Eclipse 500 very light jet (VLJ). Despite recent setbacks involving what could be considered teething pains on its flight-test fleet -- which led the company to ground those airplanes as a precautionary measure -- Eclipse this week remained extremely positive about clearing these two hurdles. And, since it says there are some 32 of the new aircraft in various stages of production, Eclipse has no real reason to worry, even though one of its biggest customers, "per-seat, on-demand" operator DayJet recently said it would delay inauguration of its start-up service. DayJet seemed to blame its delay in part on financing and in part on delivery delays. Eclipse received full FAA certification, except for known icing approval and some of the flight management software, plus the autopilot, on Sept. 30. Still, DayJet and other customers are anxiously awaiting the first deliveries, which many expect by the end of November.

The voluntary grounding of Eclipse's flight-test fleet came after two anomalies were discovered. The first was found while modifying a flight-test aircraft with the new, larger tip tank design and involves incorrect installation of a bushing in the rear wing spar attachment lug. Eclipse says the bushing was displaced, causing excessive wear. To correct this issue on flight-test aircraft, Eclipse will use a larger bushing and shim it to prevent movement. The company stresses the issue involves an installation error, the procedure for which it has modified. According to Eclipse, "We have found no evidence of this condition on production aircraft." Another hiccup involves cracked cockpit windshields and side windows. As many as seven separate instances of cracks in each of these two components were discovered, which Eclipse attributes to fatigue failure resulting from a "combination of thermal and pressurization loads." The company says its “fail safe” design for the windshield and side windows, involving an interior layer of acrylic, was undamaged in all cases. As a result, an inspection and replacement interval was added to the Aircraft Maintenance Manual requiring the cockpit windshield to be inspected every 50 flights and replaced after every 100 flights, while the cockpit side windows are to be inspected every 50 flights and replaced after 250 flights. Eclipse says that, since it instituted the revised inspection and replacement interval requirements, it has not observed new cracks in any of the windows.