Eclipse: Shoulda Worked, Still Can

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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.

Comments (10)

All true, but for another 500-700k you can get a Citation Mustang that works out of the box without all the prior dirty laundry from the Eclipse debacle.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | April 7, 2010 9:28 AM    Report this comment

The second mouse gets the cheese.

Posted by: BRADLEY SPATZ | April 8, 2010 7:19 AM    Report this comment

The airplane was pretty good from the beginning. The FAA mandates that run up the cost and delay certification, combined with management that didn't understand what they were getting into killed it. It can live again.

I live in San Angelo, TX where Mitsubishi assembled their airplanes and I fly a Beechjet. The Mitsubishi Diamond Jet was a good airplane that was underpowered. Pratt had the JT15D-5 engines used on the Beechjet ready but the FAA would not sign off on the approval. So Mitsubishi went ahead with the -4 engines which didn't produce enough thrust to make the airplane perform. That combined with a declining market put Mitsubishi out of the airplane business(at least for then), and resulted in hundreds of job lost in my home town. Eclipse is just another verse of the same song. Maybe the new owners will be able to finish what Eclipse started, just like Beech did with the Beechjet.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | April 8, 2010 10:58 AM    Report this comment

Yes, if the new owners don't let their egos get in the way; if they don't start development of a second airplane til they get the kinks worked out of the first; if they don't insist on the fanciest and the best for company parties they may just make it. If they get folks who are experienced in training lower time pilots in jets -- you can't train a 300 hour pilot the same way you train an airline jock -- they may just make it. If they don't insist on building exhibit space rivaling Gulfstream at airshows, they just may make it. If they don't have anyone upper management suffering from the short man syndrome, they may just make it.

Posted by: Linda Pendleton | April 8, 2010 11:54 AM    Report this comment

From the glass half empty perspective, that new name humorously says finished all the way this time, but not in the way that you indicate. I'm not dissing the new effort, I just thought that name was kind of funny when I saw it.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | April 8, 2010 12:01 PM    Report this comment

I remain skeptical that there are enough buyers in this larket willing to put up $2.15 million for a tiny jet with a chequered past and an uncertain future. There are some terrific deals on used light jets like Citations etc. offering much more capability for much less and your investment is likely to grow when the market comes back.
The Eclipse jet makes perfect sense at $1.0 million because it competes with a few turboprops, but at $2.0+ million, I have some doubts.

Posted by: James Kabrajee | April 12, 2010 9:28 AM    Report this comment

Actually, I don't believe in Vern Raburn's claim as well. I consider it to be a well-thought cunning advert move.
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