Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Tale of Two Airplanes provides aviation tracking for IFR flights within the United States. After a free sign-up, enter a tail number or an airline flight number, it will display all of the flights for the past 120 days. Click on a flight, then the (track log). The program will display, minute-by-minute position (lat-lon), speed and altitude.

Aircraft owners can opt out of the system and block all reports for their aircraft which Eclipse has obviously done. But six of their flights since the First of July have passed through the filters and the data is on the web (at least until Eclipse reads this post):

Here are the flight profiles:

July 1, 2006 KABQ - KSJT
Albuquerque to San Angelo, Texas 378 nm
Flight plan cruise speed - 275 kts
1 hour 32 min en route
Time to climb - 18 min
Cruise altitude - 27,000 ft
Max cruise speed - 289 kts

July 17, 2006 KBRO - KMAF
Brownsville, Texas to Midland, Texas 440 nm
Flight plan cruise speed - 250 kts
1 hour 37 min en route
Time to climb - 22 min
Cruise altitude - 28,000 ft
Max cruise speed - 331 kts

July 17, 2006 KMAF - KABQ
Midland, Texas to Albuquerque 288 nm
Flight plan cruise speed - 250 kts
1 hour 12 min en route
Time to climb - 25 min with 5 min at FL 240
Cruise altitude - 28,000 ft
Max cruise speed - 321 kts

July 22, 2006 KABQ - KICT
Albuquerque to Wichita, Kansas 470 nm
Flight plan cruise speed - 250 kts
1 hour 59 minutes en route
Time to climb - 21 min
Cruise Altitude - 27,000 ft
Max cruise speed - 281 kts

July 22, 2006 KICT - KABQ
Wichita, Kansas to Albuquerque 470 nm
Flight plan cruise speed - 250 kts
1 hour 51 min en route
Time to climb - 20 min
Cruise altitude - 28,000 ft
Max cruise speed - 330 kts

July 23, 2006 KDSM - KOSH
Des Moines, Iowa to Oshkosh, Wisconsin 269 nm
Flight plan cruise speed 250 kts
1 hour 5 min en route
Time to climb - 17 min
Cruise altitude - 23,000 ft
Max cruise speed - 310 kts

Once this poor bird gets above FL 250, it is about out of climb. Compare the operational numbers with the Eclipse published numbers:

"A 41,000 ft ceiling avoids most severe weather"
Time to climb to 35,000 ft - 19 min
Cruise speed - 370 kts

Excuse me Vern, are you building one airplane and selling another?

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Donkey Cart

Vern has dangled one carrot after another in front of the press and public for the past six years. His latest carrot was revealed in a recent interview with Flight International:

"Additional "avionics functionality" that Eclipse views as its "market differentiator" will not be available for another six to 12 months, says Raburn, adding: "We will certificate with what most aircraft have, but we will not have many of things needed to realize the potential of this aircraft." As the hardware is already installed and approved, he says, Eclipse will add the functionality as software upgrades."

Vern, people do not buy airplanes because of their "avionics functionality" or other whistles and bells installed in the instrument panel.

Your carrot, and the only positive Eclipse "market differentiator" is low cost and a level of performance that approaches what would be expected from a jet. Of course today, your carrot isn't looking so good. Performance is less than promised and costs are escalating.

Then there is the issue of the wheels on your cart, they are looking a little wobbly. The only thing keeping the wheels on the axles is money. Starting an aircraft assembly line from scratch takes a lot of money and Eclipse will be financially upside-down for perhaps hundreds of the initial deliveries. Plus now you are having to me$$ around with two more design iterations. First converting from plastic tip tanks to metal ones, then to even larger metal tanks.

In an August interview with CNBC European Business, you claim you can build a complete unit in 4.5 days thanks to the capabilities of friction stir welding.

The operating word is "can." You have not yet accomplished the feat and 90% of the airplane is conventionally riveted.

The main advantage of FSW is for "show and tell." You can march prospects, the press and potential investors over to the FSW facility and dazzle them with technology they probably never have seen before. You can rightfully claim that no other general aviation manufacturer is using the process (because there is still the long term corrosion issue associated with the process), and Eclipse is leading the way through technology.

This is nothing more than a high tech "con."

When the wheels come off the cart, they come off abruptly like they have for Sino-Swearingen. The money runs out, the investor(s) grow weary of unachieved goals and broken commitments. S-S had to lay off 100 in San Antonio this month when the investor said enough was enough.

The Swearingen aircraft was certified in October 2005 and they have yet to deliver a single airplane to a customer. One could see trouble on the horizon six months ago when the game of musical chairs began. The head of marketing left the company, the chief test pilot takes his job, the head of the company leaves and they bring in Max Bleck to provide some direction. Bleck is a well traveled aviation professional with top management positions at Cessna, Beech and Piper. His strength is in engineering.

Thanks to flightguy for details from the Flight International interview. More of what flightguy wrote is in the comment section of my August 4 post on Cinderella's Slipper:

The CNBC interview is posted on the Eclipse site. The title of the interview is "Mr. Blue Sky." CNBC had that nailed!

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Thus far, this blog has 18 posts which may be a bit much for a new reader to wade through. Here is a summary of what has been written:

August 5, 2006
Money Money Money Money Money Moneeeee
With the infusion of another $225 million of investment capital, development funds will total between $600 million and $700 million, a huge sum and very difficult to recover by building airplanes.
This post describes a scenario whereby Eclipse can issue an IPO, then as long as Vern can keep the stock price pumped, he and all of the original investors can cash out before the new stockholders figure out the Eclipse project is a money loser and always will be and their stock prices go down accordingly.

August 4, 2006
Cinderella's Magic Slipper
Compares how the aircraft turned out against the goals set by the Eclipse V.P. of Engineering in 2002. What he wanted and what he got was two different things.
A critical opportunity was missed when they changed to the Pratt engine. The design needed more wing, instead they added tip tanks. Now due to even more performance shortfalls, they are enlarging the tip tanks which are sooo uncool, mid-20th century, clunky and out of technical style. Winglets are the rage today...sleek and sexy and sooo 21st century.
More empty weight growth reported, by now a familiar story.
And about Cinderella's magic slipper, you will have to read the post.

August 3, 2006
Transparency Lost
Points out Eclipse is no longer providing specific performance information. Web diagrams used to show flight profiles with a direct climb to 41,000 ft and high speed cruise at 375 kts.
Now only statements:
Maximum speed 370 kts (but at what altitude?)
Airplane cruise altitude 41,000 feet (but at what weight and at what speed?)

August 2, 2006
Oshkosh Report
Compares Vern's claim of "Type Certified" to Bush's "Mission Accomplished" banner. In either case, the job is not done and may take some time to complete.
Discusses further erosion in Eclipse performance claims.
Questions the inconsistency of claims the airframe is friction stir welded when 90% of the assembly uses conventional rivets.

July 12, 2006
Hi'ya Bill, this is Vern
Projection of the Eclipse business model as they go forward and run out of money.
A fun read!

July 2, 2006
Eclipse Takeoff Performance
Explains the safety issue related to the Eclipse claim for exceptional high altitude takeoff capability.

July 1, 2006
Falling Short
Details the erosion of predicted performance, escalating purchase costs, escalating operating costs from inception, to the Pratt engine changeover, to the latest published data.

June 26, 2006
Certification Delay
Raburn is always quick to blame suppliers for problems and delays, but never accepts any blame for late changes by Eclipse.

May 29, 2006
Eclipse - Customer Deposits
Discussed the ethics of using customer deposits to fund development which puts those monies at risk rather than keeping the deposits in escrow accounts which is industry standard for start up companies.

May 21, 2006
Eclipse - Empty Weights
First evidence of an empty weight problem was revealed in a Flight International magazine article.
The test flight for the FI writer never got above 32,000 feet.

May 21, 2006
Eclipse - Return on Investment
Post reminds us when the switch was made to the more expensive Pratt engine, the company did not increase the sales price on existing purchase orders. This will reduce profit margins on these units even more and push the recovery of development costs further out in the future.
This will be an item to check in the prospectus when the IPO comes out.

May 18, 2006
The Problem With Small Turbines
Details the difficulty small turbines have with developing sufficient bleed air for pressurization and adequate thrust for high altitude cruise.

May 15, 2006
Message to Eclipse - Corrections Welcome
Eclipse was invited to provide any needed corrections to this blog. None were requested.

May 14, 2006
Eclipse Performance - What Happened to the 5% Guarantee?
Discovered the removal of the 5% performance guarantee that was previously posted on the Eclipse web site.
Noted that none of the dozen or so reporters who had test flown the Eclipse had been above 32,000 feet.
This post suggested there may be a warning flag (related to performance) flying over the Sandia peaks...there was!

May 7, 2006
Vern Raburn has enough hot air to float all the balloons in the Albuquerque Balloon Fest
Explains why the Eclipse is so quiet. It is hardly flying at jet speeds and is powered by an engine with not much more thrust than my wife's vacuum cleaner.

May 7, 2006
Eclipse - House of Cards
Exposed the shaky foundation of Vern's three-legged business plan: Unprecedented high volume production, Extremely low costs, High sales rates; each leg interdependent on the other.

May 6, 2006
Eclipse Charter Rates
Destroyed the myth that the airplane could operate at 50 cents per mile direct operating costs and that charter rates would approach full fare airline ticket costs.

April 11, 2006
Eclipse - Four Topics for Discussion

Introduction - Compared to the achievements of the Lear Jet program 40 years ago, Eclipse Aviation does not have too much to brag about.

Part 1. Predicts empty weight problems for the Eclipse and discusses the importance of the subject.

Part 2. Challenges the Eclipse use of friction stir welding. Cites Boeing and Cessna concerns for corrosion developing in these welds.

Part 3. Questions how Eclipse can recover nearly a half-billion dollars in development costs.
Refutes Vern Raburn's claim that he was the first small aircraft company to use a high-end CAD system (Unigraphics) for airplane design. I personally purchased a UG system 23 years ago to do a small kit airplane.
Refuted Vern's claim regarding the accuracy and how "leading edge" Eclipse was by using a Faro Laser Tracker. I own one and use it in my business, it is industry common.
Refuted the Eclipse/United Airlines claim to be the first to utilize a major airline for business aircraft training. Learjet tried the same thing with United in 1966, sent them a photo of a Learjet painted in United's colors.

Part 4. Questioned why, if Eclipse has 2,000+ orders, the company is doing all the promotion and self promotion? (we got our answer in August)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Money Money Money Money Money Moneeeeeee

"For the love of money
People will lie, Lord, they will cheat
For the love of money
People don't care who they hurt or cheat
I know money is the root of all evil
Do funny things to some people
Give me a nickel, brother can you spare a dime
Money can drive some people out of their minds,"

Donald Trump's theme song - could be Vern Raburn's as well.

Trump likes to flaunt money, Vern likes to spend it.

It was probably no coincidence that on the day they were awarded a Provisional Type Certificate, Eclipse announced receipt of another $225 million in funding and a new board member. The new director is an investment banker and the funds from an investment banking group, probably some linkage here as well.

Eclipse stated the total funds raised now exceeds $600 million. I thought they had $475m committed previously and the $225m would bring the total to $700 million. Six hundred or seven hundred million, it doesn't matter. The numbers are so large there is no way the company could pay the debt service (principal & interest) plus the premium for risk by delivering airplanes and applying the full profit margins towards the indebtedness. Some of this debt is probably six years old and the obligation of accrued interest and risk premium would raise the debt load to something over a billion dollars.

A clue to Vern's game plan is in the July 27 press release. The $225m was brought in as a pre-IPO (initial public offering) convertible debt, "...a loan that can be converted into equity at a later date." Here is how that kind of a scenario would work:

Eclipse authorizes $1.5 billion in stock:

$1.2 billion of the paper goes to the investors to repay the loans, back interest and risk premium.

$50 million in paper is set aside for employee (including Vern) stock awards

$250 million is sold to John Q. Public with funds paid to the company.

Then the trick will be for Vern to keep the stock prices up at least as high as the initial offering while he and the original investors bail out at a slow enough rate so as not to depress stock prices.

These are magnanimous people who would like to share their wealth and opportunities with the public. If all this seems too far fetched, consider how executives and other insiders have cashed out of companies by selling their stock in the period between July 2004 and July 2006:

Google $7.2 billion (with a "b")
Carnival $1.2 billion (also with a "b")
Nike $939.2 million
Oracle $881.7 million
Qualcomm $503 million

Source, Business Week Magazine, August 7, 2006, p.11.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Cinderella's Magic Slipper

"The whole airplane is a point design."

"Many aircraft get into an upward weight spiral during development but the Eclipse 500 is different."

"...the E22 engine launched the Eclipse on a downward weight spiral, where less weight led to less wing area and less weight again."

So sayeth Oliver Masefield, V.P. Engineering during a 2002 interview with Aviation Week.

Oliver, I am proud of you for understanding the holy grail, the fundamental truth in aircraft design!

Hit these goals and you can wear Cinderella's magic slipper, get to kiss the golden lips of the princess and all good things will come to you.

But you got in that awful upward weight spiral and are now destined to suffer the same fate as Cinderella's ugly step-sisters!

Had any of us sat in on that 2002 interview and suggested to Oliver that his "point design" was perhaps a "blob design" and that the Eclipse would only achieve 72% of the expected range and would need 27% more fuel to even achieve the reduced number, he would have probably jumped up and beat us to death with his slide rule.

His "point design" certainly did not assume a heavier weight. In fact, he said, "We eliminated the temptation to build in weight for a growth version. We can't afford that." He got the heavier weight anyway and fortunately for him, the structure was so over designed it could absorb the weight increase with no further testing.

But tip tanks, for God's sakes! What a terrible compromise. During most of a flight, they are empty...the airplane is carrying dead weight and dead drag. Nobody puts tip tanks on airplanes today!

At Oshkosh, Vern said that 97% of the airplane was redesigned for the Pratt engine. If you have a two year hiatus for an engine change and are in a 97% do-over mode, why not scale the wing up 8% and gain an additional 26% of fuel volume, eliminate the need for tip tanks, the stall speed would be lower and the increased wing area would provide better high altitude performance.

(Scaling up the wing would increase span 8%, chord 8% and thickness 8%. Doing the math:
1.08 x 1.08 x 1.08 = 1.26 or 26% more volume)

During this same 2002 interview Oliver also said:

"Some items - from seats to oxygen bottles - do not scale down as the airplane gets smaller: as a result, smaller airplanes tend to have higher empty weight fractions than larger craft."

Oliver, you understood the equations, why were they ignored?

Empty weight fraction = empty weight divided by gross weight
(the lower the number, the better)

Empty weight fractions for three similar Cessna airplanes:

6,765 lbs/10,800 lbs = .63

7,725 lbs/12,500 lbs = .62

8,300 lbs/13,870 lbs - .60

The Cessna numbers validate Oliver's point, smaller airplanes tend to have bigger empty weight fractions, now let's see what he did:

Eclipse empty weight fractions:

Projected with Williams engine
2,700 lbs/4,700 lbs = .57

Projected with Pratt engine
3,390 lbs/5,640 lbs = .60

Latest iteration:
3,550 lbs/5,920 lbs = .60

Oliver, unless your engineers have developed skills way beyond those at Cessna, your empty weight fraction by your own dictum is probably closer to .64 which would mean an empty weight of 3,789 lbs and if so, would decrease your range another 200 miles or so.

I hate to pile it on, but Eclipse is typically showing the aircraft in a five seat configuration and I suspect the empty weight reflects that number as well. Want to carry six total, add another 40 lbs for the sixth seat. Let's look at a weight build up for a high density flight:

Empty weight 3,789 lbs
Sixth seat 40 lbs
Six at 190 lbs 1,140 lbs
Fuel 951 lbs
Total 5,920 lbs

Eclipse has not released sufficient performance data to accurately estimate the range with six on board, but I would guess between 400 - 500 miles. That does not stop Vern from saying in one breath, we have a 6-place, 1,125 nm range jet. This guy would wear out a two man truth squad on his tail from morning to night.

And if Vern were to read this blog, he would probably say it is all a bunch of bullshit. Vern, my pile of crap is not as big as yours nor does it smell as bad.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Transparency Lost

Vern Raburn has promoted program transparency as a responsible way for a start-up company to do business. Lately, his transparency has been on the wane.

As an example, he makes the statement that all range figures are based on maximum speed. Does that mean the throttles are jammed all the way forward and the airplane is going as fast as it can or is the airspeed pegged at the redline? And at what altitude is the mission flown? Are step climbs involved?

His website used to diagram the flight profiles showing a direct climb to 41,000 ft and cruising at 375 knots. Now Raburn is just throwing the numbers out and letting the audience draw whatever conclusions they may.

As pointed out by a reader of this blog, Vern was interviewed in early July by Aviation International News, Vern mentioned further performance shortfalls for the first 100 deliveries, range will be 1,050 nm rather than the 1,150 nm as published and planned for the later aircraft. Nowhere on his website will you find this information.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Oshkosh Report

Eclipse was ready for Oshkosh with a well orchestrated award ceremony featuring FAA Administrator Marion Blakey doing the honors. The Eclipse exhibit was festooned with banners and signs proclaiming "Type Certified", reminiscent of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" banner on the aircraft carrier. George's celebration was premature as was Vern's.

Eclipse earned a Provisional Type Certificate as did Raytheon back in December 2004 for the Hawker Horizon. Raytheon delivered the first production Horizon symbolically to Jack DeBoer then promptly leased the airplane back for further testing. Twenty months later, Raytheon has yet to receive the "Type Certificate" for the Horizon and Jack has yet to get his hands on his airplane nor have any other units been delivered. Raytheon is still struggling to clear its open items...Vern says he can clear his by the end of August (we assume he means August 2006).

One of Vern's issues was the determination that the composite tip tanks would not pass the lightning strike tests...a clear engineering blunder. Somebody should have known better. Fuel tank lightning strike protection is a basic FAA requirement that has not changed in many years and compliance is well understood. Eclipse will now convert to aluminum tanks.

My recollection from 44 years ago suggests they should be using .050 material which is pretty thick (and heavy) for such a small tank, but absorbing the electrical charge dictates the thicker material.

To boost fuel capacity to 249 gallons, the tanks will be made about 16 inches longer. The individual I spoke with said Eclipse had been flying the larger shape and that it did not affect stability or performance.

In a statement to the press, Vern claimed that receipt of the Provisional Type Certificate proved the naysayers wrong. I don't know anyone suggesting he could not certify the airplane. He has been at it for about 6 years and has spent nearly a half-billion...3 times the amount he expected...3 times the elapsed time he expected and he still can't stand on the carrier deck and claim "mission accomplished".

This naysayer and others did say the Eclipse would not meet it's empty weight target, range nor cost projections. The naysayers were right and this naysayer expects further empty weight increases with associated reductions in performance. The cake is not out of the oven! We will learn the true empty weight when the 101st unit is delivered and we can read the weight and balance page out of the FAA approved Flight Manual.

In a July 6, 2006 interview with Aviation International Online, Vern announced the first 100 airplanes will have even shorter range, 1,050 nm vs 1,280 nm. After unit 100, the range will be boosted to 1,150 nm as claimed in their June 25, 2006 press release. I asked an Eclipse employee how they would achieve this extra hundred miles. He explained it was mostly from the larger tanks and a drag clean up relating to the horizontal and vertical tail intersections.

Eclipse has been relentless in touting the use of friction stir welding and the man-hours saved in manufacturing. In follow up to my April 11 post discussing the technical problems with FSW, I wanted to again look at a production aircraft to see just how many of the joints are welded. My guess is at best, only about 10% are welded. The rest, conventionally riveted and they use some really large and protruding exterior fasteners where the tailcone joins the pressure vessel, definitely not cool for a "fast jet."

We are not getting much feed back on this blog but did learn the Eclipse competitors are reading the material. They are happy to see somebody writing objectively on the program rather than just reprinting Eclipse press releases and interviews with the very accessible Vern Raburn.

Three more posts are in work. The include: Transparency Lost, Cinderella's Magic Slippers and Money Money Money Money Money Moneeeeeee. Check back.