Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Little Jet That Can

The Eclipse 500 is back, and this time, they’ve done it right

From the outside looking in, starting a jet engine always sounds complex, but on the Eclipse, it's anything but. The Hispano-Suiza Canada FADEC system monitors all parameters during start-up and will automatically abort if any temperature becomes too far out of tolerance. Pilots used to advancing the appropriate condition lever to introduce fuel at exactly the right time, then, monitoring engine temps as they climb quickly after liftoff, won't need to worry about that on the Total Eclipse. You turn a switch, and the appropriate engine starts automatically.

The current airplane has a max ramp weight of 6,034 pounds against an empty weight of 3,780 pounds on our test machine. That leaves a payload of 537 pounds with full fuel—a pilot and two passengers plus a few pounds of luggage.

Carrying full fuel means burning more fuel to lift the additional weight. For that reason, neither the airlines nor corporate jet operators tanker fuel they don't need. If your stage length is 600 nm or less in an Eclipse, you could most often fly that trip in two hours. Matt Blackburn flight-plans for fuel burn of 500/400/300 pounds in the first, second and third hour of flight (at max cruise), so 2.5 hours endurance would demand only about 1,050 pounds, well under full fuel of 1,717 pounds. Leave 667 pounds of Jet A in the truck and you could fill the remaining three seats.

Takeoff is always more fun in a jet. The twin P&W 610F turbofan engines generate a collective 1,800 pounds of thrust, enough to provide a satisfying shove into the seat back when you bring the warp core online.

The Eclipse comes off the ground cleanly and starts uphill with no hesitation to catch its breath. Once you're off the ground and cleaned up, you'll see an initial 3,000 fpm climb. Accelerate to 180 knots, and the jet will still make 2,500 fpm or better.

For a three-ton airplane, the Eclipse maneuvers with the agility of a Pilates instructor. One owner analogized the Eclipse to "a Mooney with two jet engines." Handling down low is quick and positive.

The airplane seems to almost mind-meld with the pilot, and while abrupt maneuvers seem inappropriate for an airplane designed to spend most of its life in RVSM airspace where all operations must be on autopilot, the Eclipse is a ball to fly.

Predictably, Los Angeles Center couldn't give us an unrestricted climb to FL410, so we had to settle for three steps to the high ground. We finally reached max altitude over the Sierra Nevada and settled in for 20 minutes of cruise flight. I removed my headset for a few minutes to sample the noise level, and there was little more than a gentle hiss emanating from the twin Pratt & Whitneys back on the tail.

Buyers of turbine aircraft have a slight advantage over piston fans, as turbine manufacturers must guarantee their performance within established parameters. For that reason, I wasn't surprised that the Eclipse hit all its performance targets on the mark. At FL410, we were leaving our contrail behind at 340 knots. Dropped down to FL360, speed worked out to 360 knots, about Mach .636.


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