Ground Clutter

Well, I’ll be damned. Vern Raburn has been ushered out of the top position at Eclipse. By the time you get this issue, most of you will have already heard. Writing three days after the announcement was made, let me just say that the man will be missed. Aviation was more interesting when he was on the scene.

Frankly, I was taken totally by surprise on this, as was Vern Raburn himself, according to reports. I mean, Vern Raburn and Eclipse have been one and the same since we first heard of either. It just seemed kinda like that would always be the same.

I first wrote about Vern and the Eclipse in this column seven years ago in June 2001. The Eclipse was big news by then. It would be in the same price bracket as Beech Barons, and go much, much faster; much higher; in pressurized comfort.

All God’s chillun would have jets and, some predicted, there would be a “fleet” of Eclipses at every airport —allowing Joe Six-Pack to take his family on vacation in a chartered jet.

I didn’t believe it and said so in that long-ago column. I didn’t think Eclipse could produce the little jet to meet those specs for that price, nor did I believe Joe Six-Pack and his family would ever ride in one, much less charter one on vacation.

I was right, but also dead wrong. Right because the jet did go up in price. Right also because, so far, it seems that the real market is not charter operators but instead buyers who want to fly it themselves.

I was wrong, though — the VLJ is changing the marketplace. Danged near every airframe manufacturing company is building or is planning to build a very light jet. It’s too early to tell what the total impact will be in the long run, but for right now the world is a different place because of the VLJ.

Vern Raburn has been at the center of it all. It was fun to try to figure out what Vern was going to do or announce next. It seemed we never got to see how his last big announcement worked out, because there was always another announcement about something else ‘wonderful’.

It was exciting. It will be a different world without Raburn, and there’s the pity. I wish him well. It seems probable that he will leave a big mark in the world of general aviation.

He set out to do something everybody thought was impossible, and back then we mostly argued about whether he could or couldn’t. Now we argue over how many very light jets will be built and how much they will change the industry.

Not a bad legacy at all.