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Fri, Jul 28, 2006

Eclipse Gets Typed

Provisional Certificate Has Limits

Vern Raburn accepted the provisional type certificate for the Eclipse 500 very light jet twice Thursday -- once in a private, VIP ceremony, and again under the beaming sun of Oshkosh, WI in front of a cheering, hooting, whistling throng of Eclipse employees, well-wishers, Eclipse position holders, and, for the first time, a pilot whose production Eclipse was sitting on the ramp.

After receiving the certificate from FAA Administrator Marion Blakey, Raburn stepped up to the microphone, paused as if momentarily overcome, and said, "Wow."

The certificate has significant limits, which Raburn explained as partly related to software integration issues, and partly related to documentation and paperwork. The integration that needs to be firmed up is specifically between the Eclipse AVEO system, the Avidyne Entegra instrumentation system, and some subcontractor components. Despite the snags, Vern Raburn assured all that he expects the complete certification to be done by the end of August.

The certification required is day/night, VFR/IFR, single-pilot and RVSM, throughout the Eclipse's complete operating envelope, so it's quite involved. However, there are no serious shortfalls except the design of the tip tanks, and a new design has already been completed and mocked up on one aircraft.

Raburn displayed his usual effortless mastery of the most minute and exacting details of the Eclipse program. For example, the engine change from the ill-fated Williams FW22 to the PW 610F required a redesign of 97% of the aircraft parts. There were 1.7 million engineering man-hours required. Certification needed 1800 test flights, 2700 hours. That's only the certification flights. About 2 1/2 times as many have been used for development.

Raburn admitted missing one desired target: "We've never stated range in any fashion except for full NBAA IFR range, at high-speed cruise." As the composite tip tanks did not certify due to insufficient lightning protection, metal tip tanks will now be fitted -- and they'll be a little bit bigger. "Range will be increased from 1055 to 1155. This is a miss! We said it would be 1280, and we did not make that. That's why we offered deposit holders a refund." The number of depositors who asked for their money back after the final range announcement: twelve. Out of 2,500.

That means 2,488 were probably glad to move up a space or two in the delivery schedule.

The most significant announcements were: the awarding of the type certificate; a new round of capital funding which has secured Eclipse's future; the successful completion of Part 36 noise level testing, establishing the Eclipse as the quietest jet in history; and not least, the departure of the first two customer Eclipses from the nest for Oshkosh. (One was already at the show; the other launched about 45 minutes before the press conference. It subsequently arrived safely).

The customer Eclipse bumped the company's own L-39 from its place on the Eclipse display. It belongs to David Crowe, co-owner of Magnum Aviation in San Jose, CA. He said he plans to use the aircraft for personal pleasure flying and some charter operations. ANN asked if he plans to fly his Eclipse home from the show. "I wish! I've got to pay the final bill first."

With a broad grin he described his reasons for choosing Eclipse. "This is a real airplane. It has a classy interior, classy looks and reminds me of a little hotrod Beemer. Anyone that rides in this plane is going to be comfortable... and nothing touches it on the bang-for-the-buck scale."

The tight connections of Eclipse stakeholders -- somewhere between a family and a cult, with Raburn as the patriarch -- were apparent. Raburn's voice was heavy with emotion as he praised his workers, and the workers reciprocated with lusty cheers when their boss acknowledged them; position holders also responded with a burst of applause on cue, and everybody -- even the reporters -- applauded pioneering owner Crowe.

For awhile Crowe was a member of a minority group of one, Eclipse 500 owners -- but by day's end the second customer Eclipse showed up. Right now, an Eclipse that is not in the factory's white and orange livery is striking, so accustomed have we become to the factory scheme. In the coming months that will change, as the world's most advanced general aviation factory begins turning out Eclipses on a regular schedule.

After all, 2,486 eager customers are still waiting.

FMI: www.eclipseaviation.com

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