Eclipse Pains

The continuing saga of the very light jet (VLJ)

Of course we will hear more about flight into known icing conditions and the use of autopilot control when the final report on the Q400 crash on approach to Buffalo is released. You may also recall that in 1994 an Airbus ATR 72 had a very similar accident in a flight out of Chicago where all hands were also lost. Tailplane icing was thought to be the culprit.

The French connection
To the extent that the engine controls are “fly-by-wire,” the systems in the Eclipse mimic the French philosophy of building aircraft. Their design technique is, in essence, to have a computer replace the pilot as the primary control feature.

Consider the A320 that went into the Hudson River. Few people are aware that the engines rolled back to idle when the plane’s engines ingested the birds. The engines simply were told by the computer that they were getting false data. The Eclipse has the same design. There is no hand control connection from the flight deck power levers to the engines. All you get is a voltage signal from a potentiometer that is positioned by the power lever. That is the reason for the accident in Chicago. The power levers were pushed too far beyond the stops and then failed to provide signals … the computer locked up the engine rpm at the last setting. There was no way to vary the thrust.

If the Hudson River A320 had been a Boeing, the engines most likely would have just kept churning and providing the thrust to return to the airport, rather than landing in the river. I’ll stick with Boeing, thank you.

Aircraft Certification 101
In accord with the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, the FAA Administrator has a duty to promote safety of flight of civil aircraft by prescribing minimum safety standards governing the design, materials, construction, and performance of aircraft. The Administrator is further authorized by law to issue type certificates (TCs) for aircraft and the law requires the manufacturers to complete certification requirements prior to issuance of a certificate. After a TC is issued, a prototype is built — if it meets all of the FAA’s standards, a production certificate (PC) allows the manufacturer to then build aircraft in conformance with the TC.

Each aircraft leaving the production line is then inspected to ensure it conforms with the TC. If it is found to conform then it is issued an Airworthiness Certificate. This document is placed in the aircraft and is its so-called birth certificate. The road to an Airworthiness Certificate is a long and labor-intensive process and can take years to complete.

The law requires that the aircraft manufacturer must analyze and test its new designs. Based on the engineering and test data, the FAA is then charged with determining the airworthiness of those designs. If the factory demonstrates that its design complies with the regulations, the FAA can issue a TC. In addition, the manufacturer must certify that no feature or characteristic of the aircraft makes it unsafe.

FAA engineers and inspectors are supposed to look over the aircraft in its various phases of production to determine that it meets required minimum standards. Testimony at the congressional hearing clearly shows that this did not occur. (See below.)

Field maintenance
Since there is now no field maintenance support for the EA-500, it remains for technicians in the field to fend for themselves when it comes to trouble shooting and repairing the operational defects in the aircraft. Experience has shown that although there had been some telephone aid from the factory, it was limited. It has now ceased with the furlough of the remaining 800 employees.

There was some support from contract workers who could examine and download data to send to the factory for analysis. I met two while they were downloading data from an Eclipse computer. They sent the data to the factory for analysis. I am not aware that this process solved any problems or even exists any more.

Owners can provide their technicians with a computer disc that contains the maintenance manual, but it appears that the information on the disc is very difficult to examine in detail because of the small format. Some have proposed having the disc copied to paper for more practical examination.

Few owners have sent technicians to the Eclipse maintenance school. The one technician I talked with that had attended said it was poorly presented and of little value. The factory school is now closed.

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