Eclipse: Shoulda Worked, Still Can
The other day I was walking out onto the local FBO ramp and spotted a little jet idling on the ramp. It was an Eclipse and noting the N-number, I think it was locally based and I've met the pilot. We used to see these airplanes a lot around Florida when DayJet was running, but not anymore.
Too bad, really. In seeing the airplane prepping for departure, two things occurred to me. One, it's really a good looking little airplane and second, the basic idea should have worked nicely and probably would have save for what was, in my view, toxic mismanagement that all but guaranteed it would fail.
Now that the original Eclipse management structure is gone and we've had some breathing space from its misguided claims, dropped deadlines and unrealistic promises, it's possible to react more evenly to the airplane itself. What's left? A fairly fast and quite economical jet suitable for mid-range trips flown by a single pilot.
This week's announcement of the Total Eclipse program by Eclipse Aerospace, the resurrection of the old company, felt like a massive gust of fresh air. The play on words will not be lost on the careful observer. "Total Eclipse" could and does mean "finished Eclipse" because the airplanes the original company rushed to owners give the phrase "half baked" a bad name.
The new Eclipse bought back some of the airplanes from the original owners, retooled them with known ice packages and actual functioning GPS nav systems and is offering them as new airplanes at a price of — surprise — $2.15 million. That price alone adds to the company's cred, in my view. That's what the thing should have sold for from day one.
Few people really believed Vern Raburn's claim that he would show the airplane industry how it's done by producing a small jet selling in the $1 million range. It took wrecking several fortunes and more than a billion dollars for him to prove how wrong he actually was, although he deserves credit for the underlying good idea. Now the new owners have to continue to sweep up the mess, and it looks like they're doing just that.
I can't help but feel they've got a solid foundation to work with in the idea of the airplane itself. A big challenge is getting the airplane's advanced but underdeveloped integration to work with the avionics and autopilot. It's not so simple as just putting in a G1000 and rolling the airplane out for sale. Hindsight never lacking in clarity, if Eclipse had gone with off-the-shelf steam gauges first, then off-the-shelf glass for the next gen and state-of-the-art integrated systems for the generation following that, they might have succeeded from the start.
Then again, if pigs had wings…
Here's a tip of the hat to Eclipse Aerospace. So far, they look to be doing all the right things.