On opening day of Oshkosh AirVenture 2007, the Very Light Jet (VLJ) manufacturer Eclipse Aviation was celebrating the certification and first deliveries of its Eclipse 500 twinjet.
It was simultaneously going through great financial distress, and that was no secret to any of the hundreds of people at the company’s press conference at its exhibit on opening day. And few in attendance would be surprised when, about a year later, things started to go south for Eclipse, resulting in its bankruptcy, possibly the biggest such collapse in the history of light general aviation.
But what did surprise everyone was when Eclipse on that July day introduced a brand-new jet, the Eclipse EA400, a single-engine offshoot of its EA500. People were flabbergasted. The question on everyone’s lips was, how could the company, which was under extreme financial strain, spend precious resources to build a second model?
The answer was, it really was indefensible, despite the company’s explanations of how it was financing the program. In retrospect, these dozen years after Eclipse went down in flames, the one thing I find myself thinking is, wasn’t that single-engine jet really cool?
It, like a number of other intriguing models across the decades and across the industry, never really stood a chance. Many were, like the EA400, victims of economic factors beyond their builders’ control, and others were abandoned in the wake of corporate decisions not to pursue the program, some of which look foolish in the luxury of 2020 hindsight. Others were the victims of what’s likely the second-most-common reason for the failure of a design—that is, after the failure to find enough cash to build it—the inability to find the right engine for the plane.
The pressures on GA plane makers are so great that, if anything, it’s a wonder that there aren’t more cool planes like these in our informal lineup of cool planes that never were.
Piper Sky Sedan
A far more practical Piper that never made it to market, the PA-6 Sky Sedan had the looks of a really fun family flyer, but it was a victim of the post-war crash in plane building that claimed a number of GA manufacturers that had gone all in on building small planes for veterans returning from war. There was, as it turned out, a limit to the number of planes that the market would bear, and U.S. aircraft makers mid-decade greatly exceeded that. The Sky Sedan seemed to have it all, too. All-metal construction, seating for four, a modern four-cylinder aero engine, the Continental E-165, a 165-hp six-banger, good speed—an advertised cruise of 150 mph—range of better than 500 miles and a pretty silhouette. One can easily imagine the Sky Sedan growing a nose gear, expanding into a retractable gear model, maybe even a twin. But Piper was in cutting-losses mode and shelved the Sky Sedan, relegating it to the annals of aviation history. The development of new models and new markets would have to wait a decade and a half.
Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons