Tuesday, July 17, 2012
The Little Jet That Can
The Eclipse 500 is back, and this time, they’ve done it right
Once the single-engine Cirrus Vision and Diamond D-Jet are certified, they'll be serious competition to the Eclipse, both presumably at lower prices but with reduced performance. Jet engines aren't very economical at 25,000 feet, the presumed max operating altitude for both models. The airplanes' 1,900-pound-thrust Williams FJ33-4A-19 engine will burn something like 80 gph at FL250 and deliver a cruise just over 300 knots. Meanwhile, the Eclipse 500 is here and now. If you'd like to join the entry-level jet set, Mason Holland will configure a Total Eclipse in roughly 90 days.
Flight To 410
When I met with Eclipse demo pilot Matt Blackburn at Van Nuys Airport, north of Los Angeles, he was on a hectic schedule of demo flights, flying back and forth across the country, to show prospective buyers that the Total Eclipse is now a viable airplane.
Sitting on the ramp, the Eclipse looks about the same size as a Beech Duke in wingspan and length, but it's slightly larger than most of the old cabin-class twins on the inside. The cabin is 55 inches across by 50 inches tall, reminiscent of the Aerostar, another airplane that frequently flew with the middle-row left seat removed for easier boarding. (The sixth seat is an option on the Eclipse, by the way.) All seats are now forward facing. Holland's airplane should be very comfortable for its chosen mission, typically less than 800 nm. More on that later.
|The Eclipse jet features an Avio NG integrated avionics system, with primary flight displays and QWERTY keyboards for both pilot positions, plus a large multifunction display at center panel.|
Several years ago, the National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA) surveyed members to determine the average number of passengers and the typical stage length. You might actually find the numbers surprising—a flight crew plus two passengers on trips of 700 nm or less. The Eclipse was apparently configured to meet those exact mission requirements.
Blackburn allowed me to assume the left seat and demonstrated a trick to get into the captain's position. He reclines the left-front seatback full down, making it easy to step around the center console and settle into the chair.
Like most of the new generation of flat panel displays, the Eclipse's Avio NG integrated avionics system looks intimidating at first glance, but familiarity breeds friendship. The jet is fitted with PFDs for both pilot positions plus a large MFD at center panel. I flew the airplane for about 1.5 hours, and some of the Avio NG's operating procedures were starting to sink in. That's obviously an important part of the transition training.
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