Rewind to 2008, and I had just finished the online Learning Management System (LMS) course – a first in general aviation – for the Eclipse Jet 500 (EA500S) type rating. Eclipse Aerospace was on a roll, and I attended one of the first simulator classes at the Double Eagle Airport in New Mexico. Of course, a lot has changed in the interim but the type rating was, and still is, one of the most comprehensive for a business aircraft.
Written into the FAA regulations and the aircraft certification are specific training requirements including jet basics, emergency situation training (including upset and recovery), and a very specific aircraft training and mentoring program – all of which must be completed under the guidance of an FAA-approved training provider. The resulting check ride isn’t more difficult than other jets, but the training requirements are more thorough. With the accident rate one of the lowest in the industry, these standards deserve some credit.
Fast forward to 2018, my wife Jane and I were on the search for an airplane to replace our Piper Meridian, and the Eclipse took front and center in our search. Today, we are proud owners of an Eclipse 500.
There are two Eclipse Jet models, the 500 and 550. Both models feature the same airframe and engines, ICAO type (EA50) and performance. The first production Eclipse 500 flew in 2006, with 260 produced by the end of 2008. The company restarted as Eclipse Aerospace in 2009 and completed four more 500s by 2012 before starting production of the 550 in 2013. They produced 32 of the 550 models before the last one was completed in 2017.
The avionics are unique to the Eclipse Jet. Except for a few with Avidyne Avio avionics, all Eclipse Jets have the IS&S version of Avio, featuring two PFDs and a 15-inch MFD. Behind the scenes, the Eclipse avionics architecture includes two Avio Computer Systems (ACS) (the primary controlling computers), a Center Switch Panel (CSP) and other components on this highly integrated and sophisticated aircraft.
The IS&S Avio 1.5 and 1.7 aircraft have one or two aftermarket Garmin GPS (GNS400, GNS625) installed in place of the keyboards as the primary FMS. These navigators can’t fully integrate with the autopilot, nor can these Avio versions take direct advantage of some upgrades. However, the ease of use and additional FMS functions have made them very popular with many owners and offers potential buyers a lower-priced Eclipse option.
The Avio 2.x (2.0-2.92) airplanes represent the bulk of the fleet, with the 2.08 being the most popular. These airplanes are considered Integrated Flight Management System (IFMS) aircraft. All fully couple to the autopilot and share most of the same FMS capabilities. The later versions offer upgrades such as anti-lock brakes, autothrottles (the first in light jets), improved displays and two independent FMS’s. IS&S offers a synthetic vision option, FMS updates, and autothrottle improvements on the latest version of Avio (2.9.2), but software support for earlier IFMS versions to fix issues is lacking.
About the Airplane
With a few exceptions, the Eclipse is an all-metal aircraft, with many components milled from solid aluminum billets. Most components are fastened with traditional methods, while portions of the plane are friction-stir welded. Friction-stir welding is a solid-state process involving two high-speed, non-consumable devices, one on each side of the joint, literally melting the metal of the pieces into a single component. It is considered stronger than other welding techniques.
All systems, except for the brakes, are operated electrically. It was a very advanced design at the time and is still ahead of many aircraft. There are two nose-mounted batteries (system and start), and each generator produces 200 amps. Flight controls include two sidestick controllers operating the flight control surfaces by means of pushrods and cables.
Eclipse incorporated an innovative data collection capability unique when it was developed. The Data Storage Unit (DSU) continually records 3,400 signals, including detailed data generated by three air-data sensors, air conditioning actuator positioning, activation of every switch, and all communication between the displays. The Eclipse can also transmit engine trend information over the Iridium satellite network in flight. Eclipse engineers and service centers use the extensive DSU data to pinpoint the exact cause of anomalies, which accelerates diagnosis. Pilots can also upload their DSU data to Aerocor’s website, www.flightdata.com, for their own analysis.
Preflight & Start
Once you complete the external pre-flight and turn on the batteries in the cockpit, the Eclipse performs a full initialization sequence which takes about a minute. Cabin weights are entered on the MFD graphical synoptic after the pilot chooses a seating option for the flight (you can select from several). The fuel weight is automatically sensed, and your CG is graphically and textually displayed. With that information entered, the pilot confirms or enters the OAT and the only V-speed for takeoff, Vr, is computed and posted on the PFD airspeed tapes. The latest IFMS versions (2.5 and above) also have an integrated TOLD computation capability. Eclipse offers its QRA iOS app free to operators and type-rated pilots, which provides all necessary flight performance data, weight and balance, and direct access to all checklists and other information.
The flight plans can be retrieved from a catalog or entered quickly via the FMS. I can typically enter a three-hour flight plan in under three minutes, which can easily be done before the start, with or without a GPU. The pressurization is automatic, setting the profile based upon departure and destination airport elevations.
After a few other steps, it is time to start the PWC610-FA turbofans, each producing 900 pounds of thrust. With the power control lever (PCL) at idle, turn the engine knob to “Start” and the FADEC takes over. The system synoptics are animated, showing relays opening, valves moving, and pumps running. The pilot then executes various system checks with the Avio-guided test sequence. A few additional steps are needed before the MFD displays “T/O CONFIG OK.” (If you try to take off without this confirmation, you receive a loud warble sound in your ear, from what I’ve been told).
Flying the Eclipse
Flying this plane is simply a blast. It can carry six people (four adults comfortably), rotate in less than 1,200 feet, climb 3,000 FPM at sea level, and burn 340 to 380 pounds per hour while cruising at 340-plus KTAS at FL410.
The cabin offers a variety of loading options. I typically fly with four total seats except when flying to a mountain biking destination. In that case, cabin seats are easily removed in under 5 minutes using a tool my son Tigre and I designed. With our bikes secured in the cabin, my wife Jane and I are ready to embark on another adventure. I’ve also used the cabin flexibility to maximize cargo when flying volunteer flights, such as support for Hurricane Dorian relief.
The sidestick controls can be considered heavy since you control the plane with your wrist, so proper trimming is essential. The plane is intelligent, preventing engagement of the yaw damper or autopilot until 15 seconds after takeoff. The autopilot has an integral climb profile that changes target speed as you gain altitude. With an unrestricted climb, I can rotate at 86 to 91 KIAS, climb from sea level to FL410 in at little as 32 minutes or 6 to 10 minutes longer if temperatures are above ISA. While the highest speed is obtained at FL300 to FL350, I generally need range, flying at FL400 to FL410 on all but the shortest flights. On a recent 970-nm, three-hour flight from San Diego to Puerto Vallarta, our Eclipse consumed 1,240 pounds of fuel.
In cruise, the flexible avionics configurations are very useful, with the capability to split the MFD into multiple windows of information. The XM weather overlays on the MFD are some of the best available in OEM avionics. The plane has the Honeywell RDR2000, which has vertical scanning, however, that feature is not enabled in the Eclipse. AT FL410, the 8.3 PSID pressurization provides an 8,200-foot cabin altitude, with a sound level of 78 to 80 Db.
Descent planning is easy, with the exception that the autopilot has no VNAV capability. I use the simple VNAV planning page to estimate the required vertical speed to a single waypoint. The Vref is calculated by the avionics and posted on the PFD with the push of one button. The airplane has a Vmo of 285 KIAS (0.64 MMO), enabling fast descents.
With a gear and approach flap extension speed of 200 KIAS, the Eclipse mingles well with other jet aircraft in high-density terminal areas, transitioning from 200 KIAS 15 to 20 miles from the airport to a typical Vref of 87 to 92 KIAS. The Eclipse is also approved for LP approaches, a feature not available on all light jets. With the “tall chart” available with Avio 2.5 and above, you can actually see the plane descending on the Jeppesen RNAV approach plates. The autopilot/FMS does have a unique “Arm Intercept” mode that can be confusing to new pilots, but a simplified procedure eliminates that issue.
Landing the plane is simple and smooth with the trailing link gear. ABS is included with Avio 2.5, and I upgraded my Avio 2.08 Eclipse with that option. The ABS works extremely well, and Eclipse factory testing showed the ability to stop the airplane in less than 1,000 feet.
Among the Competition
The Eclipse is a personal jet, frequently compared to various turboprops or light jets. Based upon service ceiling and speed, the Citation Mustang, Phenom 100 and Citation M2 are competitors. But those jets also offer much larger cabins, longer range, higher payloads, and concomitant operating costs. On a 1,000-nm flight, the Eclipse Jet would be a few minutes faster than the Mustang, the same as the Phenom 100, arrive ten minutes after the M2 – and burn up to 1,100 pounds less fuel.
Expand that comparison and you can include the Cirrus Vision Jet, the Piper M-class turboprops (M500 and M600) and TBM 940. All of these aircraft are excellent choices. From an altitude and speed perspective, the Eclipse Jet flies 10,000 to 13,000 feet higher, is quieter, and cruises faster. But, the Eclipse cabin is smaller, which can be significant if you want to fly with more passengers or simply want more room. The full fuel payload of the Eclipse is slightly greater than the M500 and Vision Jet and less than the TBMs or the M600. On my recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, for example, the Eclipse would take the shortest time and use less fuel than the TBM 940 or the Vision Jet and slightly more than the M600. The M500 doesn’t have the range to make that trip nonstop.
Parts & Support
Without a doubt, support for the Eclipse has been a roller coaster from the beginning. However, with recent ownership changes of Eclipse Aerospace, the future looks brighter than it has for years. Over its history, the availability of parts, service and support has been quite variable with a small number of aircraft AOG for relatively simple parts. I won’t go into the full details of the company’s history since books have been written about it – literally.
Parts availability has been the single most important drawback to owning an Eclipse Jet, with no current source for a few components. The new management of Eclipse Aerospace has stepped up to that challenge and is working with vendors to improve the parts supply chain and find new alternatives for those components in scarce supply. Also, an innovative company called Resurgent Aviation Solutions (RAS) started by Cary Winters, former executive vice president at Eclipse, has also been a lifesaver for aircraft owners. Not only does RAS have PMA approval and numerous useful STCs, but they can also repair many components that previously would have resulted in a plane being AOG for months. They are continually developing new solutions, and I’m not alone in being amazed by Cary and
his team’s capabilities, which also includes Mike Martin and Jonathan Fox, both well known for their Eclipse support expertise.
Maintenance support in the U.S., where most of the planes reside, has been provided by up to four Eclipse factory service centers over the years, with two presently operational – Albuquerque, New Mexico, (KABQ) and Aurora, Illinois (KARR). In addition, there are two Eclipse gold service centers in the U.S., Apex Aviation in Henderson, Nevada (KHND) and Boca Aviation Maintenance in Boca Raton, Florida (KBCT). There are also several other qualified facilities that support the planes throughout the U.S. and in other regions.
In summary, the Eclipse is a well-designed jet with some unique characteristics, such as the Avio avionics, that offers both challenges and benefits. The support issues appear to be on the way of being resolved and the future looks promising.
December 1, 2020, was the beginning of a new chapter for Eclipse Aerospace, Inc (EAI). On that date, the assets of EAI were purchased by AML Global Eclipse LLC (AML Global) as part of the One Aviation, Inc. bankruptcy. Other assets of One Aviation were not obtained by AML Global.
When Eclipse re-opened their doors in December, they rehired virtually all EAI employees who were laid off previously by One Aviation. The company is now under new management led by CEO Mike Press, a longtime Eclipse Jet owner and co-founder and executive vice president of EAI before the merger with Kestrel in 2015.
Both Eclipse factory services centers in Albuquerque, NM (KABQ) and Aurora, IL (KARR) also became operational on that date after just a short pause. With more than 50 employees and expanding, EAI is now rebuilding their relationships with component suppliers essential for supporting the fleet. While it is early in the next phase of EAI, it is clear that the leadership and employees of Eclipse are positioned to support the existing Eclipse Jet fleet at a higher level than in the last several years and perhaps offer additional options in the future.
AML Global is a global aviation and jet fueling company owned and led by Christopher Harborne. Harborne has operated an Eclipse in Europe for some time, and in our conversations, it is clear that the continued support of this aircraft is an important aspect of his international corporation.