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Eclipse Hits the Road

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Quite out of the blue, the local controller at Orlando Executive Airport couldn't quite contain himself: "I really like that airplane," he said. He was referring to the Eclipse 500 we had just landed on runway 7 at KORL. His unsolicited compliment almost prompted me to key the mic and ask why he liked the airplane. Was it because the thing will fly comfortably from 100 to 250 knots below 10,000 feet and thus offers more sequencing flexibility for a busy ATC sector? I doubt it. I figure he liked it because the Eclipse is just a good looking airplane, with just the right proportions and, at least in the one we were in, a spiffy new paint job.

It's also a nice little package of speed and efficiency and although it won't do it all, the Eclipse 500 does enough well to deliver on the appeal of a personally flown jet or a small, economical business ride. Having resurrected the airplane from the shambles of the original company, the newly constituted Eclipse Aerospace is making the rounds with demonstrators to show they're serious about making another run at the market. Serious, in this case, means a realistic price between $2.6 and $2.8 million and offshore assembly manufacturing in Poland to control costs. Welcome to the bold world of globalization at the small GA aircraft level.

Do they have a prayer of succeeding? As I've said before, I think Eclipse is doing everything right and what I saw in my demo flight on Sunday just reinforces that view. (Look for a video later in the week.) The old Eclipse company had, in burning through more than a billion bucks in capital, succeeded in proving the conceptual bones of the basic idea of a small, fast jet, but their execution of it was bad management writ large in aluminum and friction stir welding. The new Eclipse, under Mason Holland, is steadily erasing much of the damage done to the brand and I sense that many of us—me included—are cheering for their success.

During my flight trial with Preston McClay, who flies charter Eclipses for North American Jet, we went over the numbers. Basically, the Eclipse will do largely what it was always intended to do: Fly three or four people with substantial baggage over a 700-mile leg at around 360 knots in relative comfort or five people with day bags over a shorter distance. The version I flew was a so-called Total Eclipse, one of the original airplanes remanufactured to nearly the specs that the new production airplanes—to be called 550s—will have, including the Avio NG avionics, with systems integration and FMS. The days of portable GPS velcro'd to the glareshield are long gone for new Eclipses. Further, Pratt & Whitney has engineered a fix for the PW610F that removes an altitude restriction of 30,000 feet because of hard carbon deposits in the engine burner cans. With new cans, the airplanes are legal to FL410, although I'm told the 500's sweet spot is in the mid-30s. All the bits and pieces of the once-troubled Avio system are there and operating as they're supposed, including a superb—and vital—autopilot. The new production airplanes will have some additional features, including anti-skid brakes and new paint schemes.

In short, there's a lot of capability in this small airplane for just the right customers, the ones who resonate with the idea of small and efficient but who also happen to find Cessna's CJ line, even the Mustang, just a bit much. Turboprops are appealing, but for many buyers, they don't have the cachet of a jet. The fact of the matter is that in a world economy approaching $70 trillion, there's a lot of concentrated wealth and in the wide scheme of things, it doesn't take that much of it to buy your own Eclipse, either to be flown by the owner or a professional pilot. Yes, it's a niche market for the wealthy or the small company with resources to invest, but then isn't all of aviation? If Eclipse can't sell 30 to 50 these a year minimum to a global market, it's time to knock out the lights in GA and move on to lawn bowling.

A word here about Showalter Flying Service. I have business at Orlando Executive about once a year, I guess, and Showalter never fails to impress as one of the best FBOs on the planet. The service is always speedy, friendly and evenly applied to all airplanes no matter what their size. When we landed after our demo, for instance, the cabin door was barely open before Showalter towed out the ground power unit so we could diddle with the avionics and systems on the ground. When the airplane had to be repositioned for photography, they were on it in minutes. It ought to be that way everywhere, but it just isn't. Showalter still continues to set the standard.

Comments (32)

Is the new Eclipse friction stir welded? And has friction stir welding proved to be cost cutting? If not, how do they cut costs below competition?

Posted by: Bill Berson | February 10, 2013 11:38 PM    Report this comment

I agree with the controller, this is a nice airplane. I was involved (slightly) with with original program and saw the poor management decisions that resulted in the company failing.

I think the new company is heading in the right direcction and hope this version will find its niche in the GA market. Time will tell

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 11, 2013 5:44 AM    Report this comment

A personal jet? Absolutely, there is a market for that. Does the Eclipse 550 fit the bill? Maybe. The fact that it exists is a huge plus. Overcoming its history is a huge minus, a la Beechcraft. It's fast enough, but its two engines leave it with a range that in my worthless opinion is insufficient by a long shot. For US domestic use, 1,100nm (no winds) with three aboard (or 2+2) is the magic number. The Eclipse also is r e a l l y small. Climbing into the cockpit is like tring on a pair of jeans that you wore in college - 40 years ago. The impression is that this is a 75% scale model of an actual airplane. Cessna's line has been that their Mustang is "twice the plane for half again as much money." Sales figures show that the purchasing public seems to agree.

The Cirrus Vision offers a design that more-closely matches the P-J mission. But it doesn't exist - a major drawback, by any measure.

Do the big-cabin turpobrop singles have enough utility to overcome the cachet of a jet? TBM, Pllatus, Kestrel, and now Beechcraft (and maybe Cessna) think so. Is that marketplace big enough to sustain five players - maybe more?

The arrival of fully-autonomous vehicle technology will expand the entire marketplace, though, so time soon will tell.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | February 11, 2013 6:32 AM    Report this comment

I hope and love to see Eclipse 550 succeed. It is a personal jet for owner pilot, a small cabin doesn't bother me and a twin-engine design would be my choice over the turbofan or turboprop single for this purpose. The extra engine gives me a peace of mind not only flying over the extended water but also during the night flight. Like those single jets/turboprop, Mustang is a great one that I won't choose. If I'd carry more than 3 souls plus myself for a regular basis, I'd choose a M2.

Posted by: Eric Teng | February 11, 2013 7:17 AM    Report this comment

We want pictures!

Posted by: A Richie | February 11, 2013 8:41 AM    Report this comment

I have wanted to like the Eclipse, and have demo flown it, etc. The bottom line for me, as a personal jet prospective owner, is the thing is just too dang small. Maybe once my two kids are grown and it is just me and my wife. But with four of us plus the dog, it just doesn't fit.

Posted by: Jon Carlson | February 11, 2013 9:32 AM    Report this comment

I think the price tag screams that the single engine jet is the way to go. I really think you need a 2 mil solution for the owner pilot. FL250, single engine complexity for the win.

OTOH, there ought to be air taxi and charter opportunities for this plane. The size should become a selling point. Mr. CEO, I can get your professional workers around the field and back to home in one long day for a price that is competitive with them going on a three day field trip. And, this is no Gulfstream.. No one is going to schedule extra trips to ride in this Bizjet. It's a comfortable transport, not a luxury liner.

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 11, 2013 11:58 AM    Report this comment

There is no market for personal jets. Unless your net worth is over $10m and even then the cost to run it is ludicrous. Talk about a design that has no future. These planes are wet dreams, not practical alternatives.

Posted by: G Bigs | February 11, 2013 12:35 PM    Report this comment

The Eclipse may be fast enough below 10,000 feet to sequence with larger jets, but at it's "sweet spot" of the mid 30's, it's like a moped on the freeway. Center controllers are far less enthusiastic about the aircraft than the tower controller you quoted.

Posted by: Jennifer Carr | February 11, 2013 1:46 PM    Report this comment

$2.8 million and the desire for a personal jet? I'd by an L-39 (with 2 more L39's just for spares). I'd then have 2.1 million left over.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 11, 2013 3:04 PM    Report this comment

There's plenty of demand for a vehicle that can reach anywhere in the continental US from, say, Dallas or Kansas City, in half a day or less. For a small business owner, it's a very attractive alternative to spending an entire workday enduring airline/TSA "service." That gets old very fast. And if you're one of the lucky SB owners who has to drag along about 150 pounds of "interesting"-looking electronic hardware, you quickly learn that the airlines/TSA are adept at making up rules as they go along - different rules in each city, at that.

Any personal aircraft that can travel at 300kts or more, for 1,100 miles or more is desirable, regardless of its powerplant. The 5x-net-worth income Bigs suggested isn't suported by any factory-new GA vehicle - from LSAs to Gulfstreams. How many buyers of a new SR-22 are worth nearly $5mil? How many Malibu buyers are worth half again as much? Hell, by that measure, many LSA buyers would have to be worth a $million or more. I'm sure some are - but most aren't.

People will buy personal jets instead of chartering one when they need it, for pretty much the same reasons as people buy personal light airplanes instead of renting one when they need it. Convenience. Flexibility. Personal challenge. Being good to themselves. Strange aeronautical enjoyment (aka the fun of flying).

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | February 11, 2013 3:07 PM    Report this comment

The Elipse has intrigued me since the first time they were at Oshkosh. At that time I was sure it was propelled by snake oil and was going nowhere. The little jet just wouldn't lay down and die though. It seems that with enough time and gobs of money it may be ready for prime time. If the company can make a living off sales of 35-50 planes a year they can probably pull it off despite its limits... sorta like a jet LSA.

Posted by: Richard Montague | February 11, 2013 3:09 PM    Report this comment

Looking at the pictures of the aircraft in the UK Pilot magazine and showing it to my wife I told her that I wanted one and she told me to dream on.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | February 11, 2013 3:12 PM    Report this comment

"doing everything right" would be making it in the USA. At half of the 2.8 mil price. It looks to me like they are just getting less and less innovative as they move along. Enter at the entry level fine. You gotta bring a lot of new ideas into the party.

Posted by: lloyd moroughan | February 11, 2013 3:29 PM    Report this comment

Some of the negative remarks ring true for these small jets, but trust me, they are not "wet dreams" With the right routes, pricing and marketing efforts, private flights for four (especially over water) could be a huge business in the very near future. Keep in mind, Cirrus and Eclipse are not the only ones betting billions on this. HondaJet is too. Personal ownership may not be the sole market though. Charter companies around the Globe will probably be best. If I could board a 550, Vision or Hondajet and get to St. Maarten from Miami without having to fuss with TSA... I'm there. Anyone doing business in Mexico, Brazil or points South and needing to get 1000nm quick will absolutely lean towards chartering a smaller jet for a fraction of the cost of a gulfstream if given the option. I think flying four over water will be the market to focus on though. Remember when everyone told Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett southwest airlines wouldn't fly? yeah, me too ;)

Posted by: John McIntosh | February 11, 2013 3:29 PM    Report this comment

Laughing. In the age of Obama and $17T in debt. $3m 6-seat personal jet running on $8 jet fuel burning 70gph and insurance around $30k a year it's perfect for the guy worth $30m net minimum. by the way, Obama is trying to kill the business jet tax subsidy. So don't even THINK about financing it. Tons of other options. Part ownership of a Gulfstream. Fly first class. on and on.

Posted by: G Bigs | February 11, 2013 4:34 PM    Report this comment

Paul, the Eclipse is a good looking plane. I have followed it since it first appeared at OSH and was very skeptical about all of the claims and a bit taken aback by all the hooplah the owners exhibited. You are right about Showalter. Spent a few days there in my RV8A a few years ago and they treated me like I owned the place. Thanks and keep up the good work.

Posted by: larry maynard | February 11, 2013 6:06 PM    Report this comment

Welcome to the "Bold new world of no jobs in the USA." Seriously, how is manufacturing in Poland good for Albuquerque? And, who will buy airplanes in the US if no one has job?

It was not manufacturing in the US that killed Eclipse 1 - it was, in my opinion bad upper management decisions and an incomplete aircraft with sub-standard avionics offerings.

Posted by: John Webb | February 11, 2013 8:18 PM    Report this comment

I like to sit in the rocking chairs on the porch at Showalter - KORL and watch the planes and people. The staff is welcoming even when the RV is states away in the hanger.

IMHO the GA lights are more likely to be knocked out by fewer pilots/mechanics/100LL refineries or increasing regulations and costs of earning a PPL/renting a plane or hanger/buying replacement parts.

I hope Eclipse and every aviation company gets a fair shot to attempt success with their dream, and that many do succeed. And the teen, 20 or 50 years from now, that looks up at every plane they hear, gets the opportunity to at least take a flight lesson and experience what we enjoy right now. Fly GA often, while we can.

Posted by: Carl M | February 11, 2013 9:23 PM    Report this comment

Cost cutting, I guess thats what its called now so we don't offend anyone! Call it going overseas to get labor for pennies on the dollar. Why not spend a little more in the US to get quality to begin with?

Posted by: Chip Martins | February 11, 2013 9:55 PM    Report this comment

Chip M My sentiments exactly. UK is well into the financial downturn. No manufacturing only services put in by M Thatcher but we now outsource that too, to far away places like India and far east. Soon the money in UK will dry up and then what are the people going to do to live? Seem like we are your future. I'm too old to worry about it

Have a great day

Posted by: Bruce Savage | February 12, 2013 5:32 AM    Report this comment

For the money,I'd rather have a PC-12

Posted by: Richard Montague | February 12, 2013 8:00 AM    Report this comment

Thanks, Paul, for an accurate article about the Eclipse.

Many of the reader comments above are interesting, but it seems none are from current owners/operators of light jets or turboprops... only those who are speculating which they would buy if they were in the market. After many years of flying a C441, I stepped up (some would say down) to an Eclipse. Best move I ever made. Sure, it's too small for the couple flights a year I used to make with more pax, but 1+4 covers 95% of my travel needs. And in a four seat configuration, the Eclipse is downright spacious. The quiet and comfort of jet flight in the high 30's is huge qualitative step up. The Eclipse is an outstanding airplane for personal/business/charter travel and is the least expensive airplane that delivers true airliner comfort. Every 135 charter passenger is shocked by the small size at first, but none complain after taking a flight. It is a sweeeet ride.

As for the upcoming single turbines, I wouldn't dream of giving up FL410 to pound along in the weather at FL250... HUGE difference in my book.

Assuming the EA500 would ultimately prove too small, I also ordered a Phenom 100. After flying the Eclipse for a while, I cancelled the 100. As a very satisfied owner/pilot, I concluded that I don't need to spend a lot of money to upgrade the passenger cabin.

Thanks for the excellent reporting, Paul.

Posted by: Marc Arnold | February 12, 2013 3:27 PM    Report this comment

An Airpark neighbor took a job flying an early 500 for a large organization. He thought it would not be very active and that an occasional trip would be a fun part of retirement. Well, it turns out he flys more hours monthly than he flew the heavy airline metal before retirement.

The Eclipse surprised both he and the owners with its capability.

I think the original management missed the boat with all the hype. I recall when Cessna introduced the Mustang and everyone was saying that it was stupid to try to compete with Eclipse with a VLJ price point of more than $2 million. I simply told people that Cessna knew what it cost to develop and build jets. Eclipse didn't.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | February 12, 2013 6:06 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for a great update Paul. It really is a good looking, easy to fly aircraft. As a serious, buyer in this market, I've looked at the TBM 850, Phenom 100, Mustang, and the Eclipse Jet; all great airplanes with roles to play in the world of GA. All things considered, the Eclipse Jet gets my vote. It would be great if it was completely manufactured and built in the USA. It would be wonderful if it did everything everyone wanted, all of the time, but none of them do. Thanks Marc for your Owner/Pilot comments. I see myself fitting the profile you described as well. I've thought about that a lot and I just don't see myself carrying 3-4 people and a bunch of baggage on most flights. Being able to reach FL410 "if needed" is always a plus, and with anti-skid brakes, landing on shorter runways would be an "option" in a pinch. I like options when it comes to weather and all things mechanical. I agree with Paul. Eclipse is serious about building airplanes and supporting those in the field. I like that too. I hope there's a market for the Eclipse Jet, as well as the other models I mentioned and many others. It'll be good for GA, create jobs along the entire GA sector, and be good for the economy. Besides, I don't particularly like lawn bowling. Thanks again Paul.

Posted by: James Strong | February 12, 2013 6:14 PM    Report this comment

Yeah good article. Not just because I agree :-)

About the time you wrote a previous article, I had just watched a lonely early build e500 in the circuit area at my local GA airfield. It was whisper quiet and still looked lithe and well proportioned despite the tip tanks. At the time my gaze was wistful as I figured it's hours were ticking down to permanent grounding.

Obviously the TBM 850 makes a pretty persuasive case, as does a Lancair Evolution turboprop. I'd fly them for sure. They'd win easily in terms of dollars per hour. But for people who insist on two engines, especially when over-water flights are involved, the options are either slower, more expensive or older. From that point of view, the Eclipse is still pretty well priced. For trips that would take up to about 4 hours with the airlines, these things would have to flog the airlines in doorstep to doorstep times. Then there is the intangible impact of access to one of these on your quality of life...

Posted by: john hogan | February 13, 2013 8:22 AM    Report this comment

Another great article Paul. I was cheering for the Eclipse from the beginning when it made it's Oshkosh debut. I remember all the troubles they had with the Williams engines, avionics and bad management. The new owners seem determined to fix all the prior troubles and make this jet work like it was envisioned.

When I saw the Eclipse fly at the Reno Air Races years ago I was amazed at how quiet it was. I think it has great looks and hope the new company succeeds with it.

Posted by: Ric Lee | February 13, 2013 9:15 AM    Report this comment

I think it's great that there is a credible Eclipse out there now. I recall being shocked when I saw the original Eclipse cockpit did not have an independent backup adi! I found this so unbelievable that I asked Vern himself about it at an Oskosh forum. He told me that their avionics were so reliable they didn't backup attitude displays!!

Right there I lost faith in the old company. I latter learned the FAA made them scab on a backup adi on the glare shield next to the scabbed on gps for part 135 operations.

The new Eclipse cockpits have real high quality backup instruments. Another small sign that adults are in charge now.

I hope they blacken the skies!

Posted by: Jim Howard | February 13, 2013 11:33 AM    Report this comment

For as quiet as the Eclipse is from the outside, it's unnervingly quiet from the cockpit. Climbing through 12,000 feet, the demo pilot closed the external inlet for the air conditioning to quiet a just barely noticeable rumble and I thought the engines had quit.

Really no need for a headset. A little louder on the ground, perhaps because the exhaust noise reflects back into the cabin. It's quite remarkable. I can see why passengers like it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 13, 2013 12:09 PM    Report this comment

Market potential: small-medium companies with a mission profile from 150-350 mi and "high net worth" private owners with 500-800 mi possibly?

Posted by: Rod Beck | February 17, 2013 11:38 PM    Report this comment

The Eclipse was priced was based on large volume production. This was possible with the the Ecconomy of the World at the time. Think back to 2000 time frame. Per- Dot Com bomb, per- 911, per- 2008 financial melt down, per $100/ Barrel oil.

Many a business plan of a Co was based on those things not happening.

You can refer to Cessna Mustang told you so. But they did not try to Mfg. Volume.

You do not get 100 ft lines to see New Aircraft often.

mz

Posted by: Michael Zucco | February 20, 2013 2:13 PM    Report this comment

Can anyone spell critical Mar-kett-ree-search????? Or simply; can DEMAND=PROFIT be reasonably assured? The only "volume" in aviation is: 1. Ailine passengers (mass more or less purchases) 2. Jet-A (several hundreds or thousands of gallons a in a matter of minutes)

Posted by: Rod Beck | February 20, 2013 9:02 PM    Report this comment

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