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Sun, Jul 31, 2005

Jets For Dummies: The Eclipse 500 Makes Jet Flying Look (and Feel) Easy (Part 7)

ANN Flies The Eclipse 500... and The Eclipse Lives (Part 7 of 7)

By ANN Editor-In-Chief Jim Campbell

We flew a series of landings… Full-flap, no-flap and SFOs (simulated flame-outs). A standard landing differs little from one of my favorite airplanes… the Aztec. With 90-100 knots in the bank, the pitch attitude on final is fairly nose-down, providing a very good view of your touch-down zone.

The lightweight Eclipse holds its energy fairly well for something of this size, but a slow flare to 10-20 feet off the deck and a final 85-90 knot approach is best completed with idled power and a slowly increased flare to a modest deck angle, followed by the inevitable touchdown.

The E-500 boasts an appreciable amount of ground effect that cushions the final few feet of the descent VERY nicely with no attendant trim excursions. As the gear makes contact, a small amount of additional aft stick will add to the deceleration instigated by the spool-down, and light braking will glue the bird to the deck. Roll-out, with a light cross (slightly higher, at times, than our prohibition… ooops) was a total non-event… requiring a quick touch of rudder, a little in-wind aileron and modest braking. This gets thing slowed down fairly well. These are not the most heart-stopping brakes in the world, right now (and we've heard some criticism of them that we don't quite agree with) but at the speeds this critter operates at, brakes are not going to get that nasty a workout. I did not measure a roll out with the one full-stop landing that was completed that day… but the Eclipse expectation of 2000 foot landing rolls is not unbelievable. The typical 3000 foot GA runway is going to be child's play.

A no-flapper was flown down short final at 110-120 knots, with a flare at 100… resulting in a decent attitude that offered a bit more float than we'd seen in a full-flap approach and the need for a more aggressive pitch attitude to "stick" the flare and touchdown. Terry took over just once in the whole flight to demo a solidly impressive SFO from a little over 2000 feet over the threshold -- to plant the beast on the runway with impressive ease.



Since the whole flight was being monitored by Eclipse's extensive telemetry system and flight test eval staff, there is no way I can con anyone into believing that I shot that particularly landing. My actual attempt was ultimately successful but a bit abortive since I was somewhat distracted by local traffic, the dog ate my homework and there was a long-overdue library book that was starting to weigh heavily on my mind. That's my story and I'm sticking to it… though the landing, the final one of the series was a greaser that I was glad I could take credit for… even though the real work was done by Vern's wunderjet-I just played the nut on the end of the stick… convincingly.

Vern is right… landing the Eclipse is EASY -- and a really enjoyable way to kill off a surprisingly small quantity of petroleum products. It's as easy as an Aztec… and a heck of a lot classier. 

One final note… Let's talk about the that trailing link gear… whomever proportioned and designed that aspect of the Eclipse is THE GOLDEN GOD OF LANDING GEAR. I kid you not… this is one of THE most forgiving sets of gear I have EVER rested my ponderous posterior upon. It cushions light to modest descents very well and will probably forgive some real thundercrunch arrivals (which I did not test… for a change… even on purpose). The gear boasts excellent energy absorption, tracks like a slot car, and rides occasionally uneven pavement rather nicely. The guy sipping the martini in the back is not going to get much, if any, on his expensive tie. Part 135 operators are going to love this bird.

Final Test Pilot's Summary

It is way too early to attempt to summarize any aspect of this airplane outside of the fact that it seems very much on the right track.

As to the big question... how does the critter fly? Damned well. No kidding. I really enjoyed myself and became positively comfy with the bird within minutes of departure. From a strictly flight dynamics standpoint, I'd say that the Eclipse is well on it's way to being the ultimate 'jet for dummies' -- for all the guys who feared to tread in the flight levels... either because they were short a few pence, or once thought that jet flying was 'really hard or something.'

More important, the Eclipse flies particularly well in a really boring kinda way... and is a hell of a lot simpler than most (possibly all) light piston twins of our acquaintance. A long time ago, Raburn told me he wanted to build a jet that was easier to fly than a Baron... and he's (so far) done just that -- by quite a bit.

The upshot of all this is that the Eclipse legitimately presents itself as a novel transportation system that is truly much less taxing to fly and manage than most light (piston) twins and certainly any light twin carrying pressurization and/or known icing capability.

One simple example... remember all that macho crap about jet starting procedures? Spool this up, monitor that, turn fuel on here, and try not to blow things all to hell (especially you jet warbird drivers... and you KNOW who you are)? Well, Eclipse spoils that, too. There are two three-position switches on the center overhead panel staring you in the face... one for each engine. To start a PW610F, you turn the switch to On/Start and then sit back and look useless (a skill that I have mastered like no other person in the world, let me tell you -- I AM SO qualified for this airplane...) while the FADEC does it all. The worst part of this is the eventual shutdown procedure... where you rotate the switch to "Off" and wait for the quiet. The shame, the shame.... I may never be able to wear my "Macho Jet Pilot" T-Shirt ever again. The whole airplane (where possible) is being designed for such simplicity.

Overall handling is obedient and somewhat agile but eschews the kind of sensitivity that gets nervous novices into all kinds of trouble, the PW610Fs are about as easy to operate as anything ever built with a throttle (and perform magnificently), fuel burns are equally impressive (your wallet is about to get a much-needed break), visibility is good and occasionally very good, low-speed behavior is docile, and (so far) devoid of perceptible threat, the bird holds energy well and sheds it in a pretty modest fashion, and the take-offs and landings are easily some of the easiest I've undertaken with a bird with real live jet engines attached.

Mind you, this is so darned EARLY in the flight test program and there is SO much more work yet to be done -- a lot of the systems that we flew were yet incomplete, not ready for prime-time (and occasionally hiccupping--which is a BIG part of flight test, no kidding), or just getting finished up... but that disturbs the bird not a whit. The thing I like best is that if all does go to hell, the E-500 is a surprisingly docile stick and rudder flyer, all by its lonesome, that should not overtly task anyone currently competent in flying any of the new generation of high-performance single engine airplanes, much less a multi. If all of technology's wonders take a dive, the Eclipse has enough battery power to give you basic info for a half hour or so, the FADEC locks in at the last 'safe' configuration, the gear will free fall with a vengeance (when released) and there ain't a hydraulically controlled bone in the beasties whole bod (unless you count brakes). In other words, while the bird is packed with the latest and greatest of techno-goodies, their criticality to safety of (basic) flight is not much of an issue. At the same time, the core of the Eclipse's "brain," Avidyne's AVIO shows immense promise as a tool for simplifying aircraft and flight management -- but good grief, what a huge piece of engineering R&D this is going to take to complete... especially, in time for certification.

While I am more aware than ever of a number of major obstacles staring Vern's troops in the face (and please do note that we have hammered HARD on this issue throughout this series), and the fact that certification is possibly the least (sit back down, I'm NOT kidding) of his real challenges for the future, I have to say that the bird, itself, is on the right track. More; I haven't had this much fun since learning about what you can get away with in a High School closet with Renetta V when the homeroom teacher is out to lunch.

The current short/sweet eval? In terms of handling qualities, the Eclipse 500 is already delivering pretty much of what Vern promised...

In terms of performance, I see excellent progress on speeds, some real progress on drag reduction issues, a good start on giving the airframe a needed diet, and workable programs to solve remaining tech issues with the aircraft's development. At the same time, any vendor or tech partner can throw a monkey wrench into the works at any time... so the whole program is not exactly a sure thing -- but an incredible balancing act involving exceptional management, foresight, and planning.

An amazing collection of things have gone pretty much right up til now (with the big exception of the Williams issue) -- but far more (potentially) threatening issues remain in the offing. This is turning into a tremendously fascinating but complex story... one that promises, one way or another, to turn GA on its ear.

Stay tuned... we've been invited to come back to fly the Eclipse, regularly, as the program matures and even help rack up some hours on one bird that is to be dedicated to testing component longevity and durability (and if ANYONE can test durability, it's moi… I kid you not). So… we expect to offer a number of updates as the Eclipse swoops toward certification, as well as the Type Rating process later this fall -- since Vern has invited me to come out and scare the hell out of the folks at United Airlines (who will be conducting Eclipse transition and type-rating training). I can't wait.

Suffice it to say that I liked my first look at the Eclipse - finding myself, even after two hours, reluctant to bring the bird back... because the Eclipse also does something that is rarely championed among those who get to evaluate today's jets… it was FUN to fly and a thoroughly enjoyable ride… and in the end, that is a most important factor to anyone who wants to buy and fly his very own jetplane.

The Eclipse is one cool little jetplane.... I had a ball.



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