Eclipse Pains

The continuing saga of the very light jet (VLJ)

You all know about it and many of you might have gotten a close-up look. It is a marvelous looking little jet that has performance akin to the stable of legacy real jets like the Citation series and similar machines but weighs in at only a little more than 6,000 pounds. It seems to have provoked the same excitement as the Learjet did many years ago. Flight to 410 at 300+k. At the point the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, 259 of them had been produced.

A company that is essentially controlled by the current CEO has offered to purchase it in a Bankruptcy Court proceeding. The purchase transaction in the Bankruptcy Court has not been completed at this writing, and two more offers have surfaced. The type certificate (TC) is held by the Bankruptcy Court along with all of the other assets.

The original proposed aircraft price was in the vicinity of $0.8 million and it soon reached $1.3 to $1.6 million, depending on options. I understand from recent statements in the press that the new price (if the company survives) will be on the order of $2.6 million, if and when production ever resumes.

I have a friend who took delivery almost a year ago. Of course, there was no hint that the company was on the way to perdition. Due to maintenance defects his aircraft has less than 25 hours flight time since that date. Like other buyers he has lost warranty coverage, a $60,000 maintenance pre-paid deposit, and other completion items that could not be finished before delivery.

However, he is the lucky one. I pity the poor purchaser who paid for his aircraft the day before bankruptcy was filed and could not get his aircraft or his money back! Another local Eclipse had a serious leak of the (PhostrEx System) fire suppression cartridges in the engine compartment after delivery but he fortunately returned to the factory and had them fix it. The contents had somehow leaked into the engines and required them to be partly disassembled and cleaned and some parts had to be replaced. He was lucky this happened just before the bankruptcy filing. His aircraft would probably still be locked in at the factory had he not got it out before then. It would have been seized by the trustee.

Missing completion items
Some of the delivery items that needed completion were things like the hardware for flight into known icing (no approval so far), cockpit panel wiring, GPS operational items, electrical system defects ... the list goes on. Interestingly, however, flight into known icing has since been re-defined and is now much more liberal insofar as it gives pilots much more discretion on the matter of flying into known icing conditions. Maybe the factory knew something we did not? Again, a jet such as this one, of necessity, must frequently fly, at least, through known icing conditions, in order to get to its cruise altitude. There is a specific AD note that cautions pilots and ATC people that this aircraft cannot be vectored through known icing when on a IFR flight plan, and thus it can complicate the job of ATC in separating traffic. Does this suggest to you that the aircraft was pushed out the door and type certificated by the FAA too fast?

None of the aircraft delivered, even those delivered for air carrier work, some 28 at DayJet in Florida, were approved for flight into known icing conditions, and still are not. It had ordered 1,000 of the aircraft and is now bankrupt. Apparently this did not hold up the TC issued to the factory for the Eclipse. I can only wonder why. Eclipse had to repossess these aircraft.

An Eclipse accident on landing in Chicago some months ago was apparently caused by the pilot’s inability to reduce engine power when there was an apparent failure of the engine control unit due to a lack of power signals to the computer. An AD that addressed this subject was sent out after this incident. The pilot’s inability to shut down an engine when power should fail to the computer appears to be a serious defect. The engines cannot be shut down from the flight deck when the computer loses power for any reason. (There is no emergency battery or other manual shutdown.) This fact alone, in my opinion, should have been enough to delay certification.

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