Saturday, October 28, 2006

What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?

This post was revised November 14 after receipt of weight and moment arms from flightfollowing. While I am not sure of the source of these numbers, they paint a more favorable view of the CG problems for the Eclipse airplane.

With four 190 lb occupants in the front four seats and fuel to bring the A/C up to max TO weight, the airplane is outside the forward envelope. Not good, but not as bad as I thought. If the occupants average 180 lbs, then the CG is in the envelope.

Extending the sloped lines on the CG envelope shown on the type data sheet up to the 5,920 lb weight Eclipse was predicting, and the CG travel would be zero, so I suspect the FAA may have limited the gross to 5,760 lbs where there was at least 2.5 inches of travel.

Flightfollowing's information shows a 3,700 lb empty weight. This empty weight, with the TCDS max TO weight and new fuel number shows 1) a reduction of cabin payload with full fuel from 724 lbs to 576 lbs and 2) a reduction of 162 lbs of fuel.

The question remains, what did they know and when did they know they had further reductions in performance and utility?

The first of October when the airplane was certified or in June when we were told that all testing was done and that software development was the only issue holding up certification?

Eclipse should have known about this situation last June. If there was an easy fix, engineering had five months to correct the problem. Obviously, it didn't happen!

I can't help contrast the Eclipse program with the Mustang. Several months ago, Cessna transferred most of the Mustang engineers to other programs. But then, Cessna got the airplane right the first time.

Eclipse did not get the airplane right; too small of wing, insufficient fuel, insufficient thrust and a flawed basic design. Eclipse's web site show openings for numerous engineers, they still have a ways to go.

Nearly every performance target has been missed, costs are up, delivery dates are missed, aviation's self-anointed Messiah has turned into a false prophet.

This is a failed project, it just hasn't failed yet! Money, not a successful design is keeping it alive.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Watching the Eclipse - The Air Taxi Market

This the fourth in a series of topics that will be revisited now that the Eclipse is certified and deliveries are about to commence.

When the VLJ's were first conceived several years ago and 50 cent per mile operating costs were projected, the air taxi idea caught on and a handful of operators ordered hundreds of airplanes.

With costs now widely understood to be three dollars per mile, the would be taxi companies still cling to the belief they have a viable business model for the Eclipse Air Taxi. Others doubt the vision of hundreds and hundreds of Eclipse aircraft blanketing the country providing low cost transportation.

For both sides of this argument, click on the following link which was provided courtesy of Adam Webster's web site:

Apart from the commercial viability, another wrinkle has surfaced with the publication of the FAA Type Data Sheet. Weight and balance limitations will be a factor in flying John Q Public.

The Eclipse has an extremely narrow range for CG travel that will severely limit the utility for an air taxi operation.

Imagine Happy Jet parked at an FBO waiting for passengers, a Chevy Suburban pulls up and out steps three 220 lb guys, their briefcases and overnight bags. The flight crew will take one look and realize they are outside the forward CG limits!

Far fetched? Maybe, maybe not.

It is more far fetched to envision a Volvo pulling up with three 170 lb guys carrying a shaving kit in one hand and a clean pair of skivvies in their other hand.

Scheduling will have to ask the tough questions when booking charters: "Yes Mr. Fatcat, and how much does Mrs. Fatcat weigh?"

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Watching the Eclipse - Production

This is the third in a series of topics that will be revisited now that the Eclipse is certified and deliveries are about to commence.

At the beginning of 2006, deliveries were projected to be 100 units by the end of the year. In April the number had been reduced to 86.

On October 1, on the occasion of full certification, Andrew Broom was quoted in the Albuquerque Journal as saying the company would deliver 30-40 by year end.

At NBAA, Vern forecast that deliveries would total 525 by the end of 2007 and that a two per day production would be achieved.

Where do these people get these numbers?

a.) They are naive and don't know any better.

b.) Just enjoy saying something that sounds good and people will forget the statement anyway.

c.) Just make statements to calm apprehensions of investors, supplies and buyers...if they are picked up by the media, they must be true.

d.) All of the above.

At times the company has acknowledged this is a difficult task:

Difficult for an established company to start up a new line.

More difficult for a brand new company to start a line with a new product just out of the box.

Even more difficult for a new company with a new airplane and a very long and very wide. international supply chain.

Can it be done? Yes. Will it be done? Time will tell, but this company has a long history of promising more than it can deliver.

Plus there was a recent name change on the door of the head of manufacturing. According to the September 8 press release, Ron Holter left the company for "family reasons". While he may have left for family reasons, Holter is back at Cessna and heading up efforts in Independence, Kansas to set up the Mustang production line.

The interesting twist is that Cessna management now has pretty intimate knowledge of the inner workings and problems within Eclipse. So next time you hear Vern say certain information is proprietary for competitive reasons, it is likely Cessna already has the information.

Holter was replaced by Paul Schumacher. The press release said he came from Raytheon and was responsible for "all manufacturing and facility operations." My sources say he was a Beech VP in manufacturing, one of several, not the "Head Dog" in manufacturing.

It doesn't matter if it was an embellished resume or public relations puffery, the guy can either do the job or he can't. But starting up a production line at a new company is not the same as turning the crank on an existing line.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Watching the Eclipse - Weights

This is the second in a series of topics that will be revisited now that the Eclipse is certified and deliveries are about to commence.

The Eclipse web site is still showing the numbers released July 27th:

Max T.O. Weight 5,920 lbs
Fuel 1,686 lbs

The Type Data Sheet lists:

Max T.O. Weight 5,760 lbs
Fuel 1,524 lbs

These reductions shift the range-payload curve to the left and almost certainly reduce the published range figure to under 1,000 nm.

Until the company starts delivering airplanes, the true empty weight will remain a closely guarded secret. Somehow we will need to get Duke a leave from Bush's Bean Factory and have him infiltrate the Albuquerque airplane company. I am confident Duke could get us the actual numbers.
(editors note: Imagine the off-shore readers trying to figure out the Duke business!)

Back on subject, the range is predicated on empty weight and current numbers reflect a 3,550 lb airframe, a number I suspect is still not based on reality.

Now I will go out on some thin ice. Using the information I have available, the Type Data Sheet and a 3-view diagram from Jane's, I did some quick and dirty center of gravity calculations.

If the empty aircraft CG is at station 208, a single 170 lb pilot with minimum (300 lbs) fuel on board will push the aft CG limit.

If the same airplane is loaded with full fuel and 4 - 170 lb occupants in the four front seats, the airplane will be at gross and outside the forward limit.

The Eclipse does not have a large CG envelope. It is a short coupled airplane - the distance between the horizontal tail and wing, which ultimately limits CG travel.

The four front seats are all forward of the approved envelope. Occupants in the pilot seats weighing more than 170 lbs will really shift the CG location due to the long moment arm. Since most adults weigh more than 170 lbs, in addition to providing the hand held GPS with each delivery, Vern may also want to provide a bathroom scale with each airplane to ensure the weights and CG limits are not exceeded.

So Duke, while you are at it, get us a CG location as well.

Watching the Eclipse - Performance

This is the first in a series of topics that will be revisited now that the Eclipse is certified and deliveries are about to commence.

Actual performance for the Eclipse is not what was claimed a year ago and is misrepresented as it is being portrayed today.

For most of owner-operators, they could probably care less. They are purchasing a jet for a million dollars, give or take some change; a very good buy, in fact a steal when you consider it will cost the company probably closer to $1.5 mil to build.

Most trips will be under 500 miles. The trip to Orlando next summer will require an extra stop, so what? The kids will want to stretch their legs a bit and strut their stuff around pop's new jet!

These guys have been telling everyone for years about the jet they have on order. Every success of Vern's, was their success as well. So it flies 50 knots slower, cruises in the low 30's and the range is several hundred miles less than expected. So what?

It is still a jet and for many it will fulfill their dreams of being jet pilots. "Next year our team has games at Ole Miss and Tennessee. Our biggest customer is a fellow alumni so we can pick he and his wife up and head for the games. We're going to have some fun and the airplane will make our business travel easier as well."

More power to you future Eclipse owners, go and enjoy it!

Why then is performance important? It is a matter of credibility for the company. For instance, statements continue to the effect, "you can cruise at 41,000 ft and top speed is 370 kts." This statement does not mean cruise 370 kts at 41,000 ft.

Eclipse says you can climb to 35,000 ft in 19 minutes. At gross weight or with one pilot and minimum fuel?

Sooner of later the true numbers are going to surface. Better the company be known for producing a low performing jet than a company that tried to conceal the fact the airplane is a low performer.

If you take issue with this conclusion, just recall Vern's, Sept 28 statement before the Senate Subcommittee, "the Eclipse is more than capable of getting out of the way of faster airplanes."

Friday, October 20, 2006

FAA Type Data Sheet

The FAA has posted the Eclipse Data Sheet to their web site.$FILE/A00002AC.pdf

This TDS was issued out of the Fort Worth Aircraft Certification Office and therefore differs slightly from what comes out of the Wichita office which handles Cessna and Beech certification. One difference was the inclusion of the following Note 9. I would like to ask for comments on whether this statement gives Eclipse more control over individuals flying the 500 than what Cessna has over pilots flying the CJ3?

Note 9. All pilots operating the Eclipse Aviation EA-500 must be trained and qualified in accordance with the FAA Accepted/Approved Eclipse Aviation training program or other FAA Approved training program.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Eclipse Training

On September 28, 2006, Vern Raburn appeared before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation. The full transcript of his message is online:

His statements detail a very thorough training program for his Eclipse buyers.

What I don't understand is how the company can exert so much control over a purchaser. A buyer who wants to duck all the screening measures Vern described, can send a qualified professional pilot in to pass the tests, take delivery of the airplane, then fly home and operate as the owner pleases.

And assuming Eclipse can exert almost absolute control over the initial buyer, does this long arm of control extend to the resale market?

The hearing was not about training but rather the potential impact of a swarm of low performance VLJ's on the Nation's air traffic control system. In front of the Committee he claimed most flights would take place between 20,000 and 30,000 ft. Further he stated, "the Eclipse is more than capable of getting out of the way of faster airplanes."

One would think that an important event like Vern appearing before a Senate Subcommittee would be reported on the Eclipse web site. Now it seems they are only reporting upside stories and this may become a downside issue.
Potentially, minimum speeds and minimum rates of climb could be imposed in the upper airspace which could adversely affect Eclipse flight operations..

Vern did testify that owners who failed his screening tests would have their purchase agreements terminated and their deposits returned. Elsewhere, we have heard that even with future performance shortfalls the buyers are locked in their contracts and obligated to take delivery of the airplane or forfeit their deposit.

Now if I am a buyer and want to cancel my position, all I have to do is show up for training, flunk the tests and walk away with my deposit refunded. "Don't throw me into the briar patch Brer Bear!"

Now for your believe it or not moment and those die hard Eclipse followers who want to track every twist and turn of the program, check out this report from a Russian news organization:

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Trip Report - Quest Aircraft

For new visitors to this blog, please read the comments that typically follow each post. We are fortunate to have some very knowledgeable and thoughtful individuals sharing their views. Often, there is more meaningful content in the comments than in the original post. Check them out.

My wife and I flew United to Spokane and rented a car for the two hour drive to Sandpoint, Idaho. Our timing was fortuitous, the Aspen trees were at their peak. In full sun, the gold-orange colors were so brilliant, one almost needed sunglasses to look at them. We bought a bag of freshly picked apples from the back of a pickup truck, sure didn't taste like the ones they sell at Krogers.

What does all this have to do with Eclipse?

Quest Aircraft ( is a start-up company. They are developing the Kodiak, a turboprop bush plane, a bit smaller than the Cessna Caravan. The Caravan grosses 8,000 lbs, the Kodiak, 6,750 lbs. The Caravan has a 675 hp engine, the Kodiak 750 hp for takeoff. Quest is looking for takeoff performance, specifically takeoff performance on floats. - Performance always sells! -

We were in Sandpoint September 29th, the day Quest received their TIA. They expect full certification by the end of the year. The company has slightly over 100 employees, only about a dozen engineers. They have a new building, new NC mills, Unigraphics CAD/CAM system, Faro laser tracker, all state-of-the -art equipment that Eclipse and the rest of the industry (including myself) is using.

When the Eclipse program started, Vern liked to boast he was the first to apply this high end equipment in a small company environment. He was wrong of course, but what he really does not understand is how this equipment increases the productivity and allows a small group of people to do a really big job. Quest's dozen engineers proves the point. I don't know how many engineers Eclipse has on staff, but their help wanted section on the web has often listed 20-30 engineering positions open at any one time.

Quest has kept the airplane simple and light without losing sight of their most important goal, keep the airplane field reparable. With the exception of the usual purchased items, the company intends to manufacture everything it can in-house.

Quest could have had their wings built in Japan or the nose section built in Chile. These suppliers will burden each sub-assembly with a 30% profit margin. This burdened cost, plus packaging, plus shipping will be carried forward to the Eclipse bill-of-material and get marked up another 30%. Costs for coordination, purchasing, receiving inspection and travel within the supply chain, all adds to a company's overhead. - A lot of blue sky for the buyer or red ink for the company. -

But you say, Eclipse is just following the Boeing model for outsourcing. Boeing has very good reasons for outsourcing not shared by Eclipse. Union work rules (here in Wichita, get a job at Boeing and you are going to work at the Lazy-B Ranch) and union driven wage rates make outsourcing a pretty easy decision for Boeing. Then there is the matter of offset trade agreements. Boeing's 787 wing will be built in Japan, not coincidentally, All Nippon Airways 50 airplane order with an option for 50 more, launched the Dreamliner.

When Quest production has a problem with a design issue, they can drag an engineer down to the shop floor and get a quick fix. It is not that easy when production and engineering is a few hundred or few thousand miles apart.

Quest engineers designed their own spring gear and will build it in house. While the design may be borrowed from some other airplane, I have never seen anything similar and it is quite clever. They built their own drop test rig for the gear, did all their airframe static testing, machined all their own tooling to form the sheet metal parts and even built their own hydropress to squeeze their parts, which is why I was there.

We had quoted a new $200,000 hydropress to Quest, so my wife and I traveled to Idaho to finalize the details. I took one look at their press and asked, why do you want a new one, yours is perfectly suited for your needs? As it turned out, they need some new cylinders but not a new press.

Overall, it was heart warming. Quest is staffed by straight shooting airplane people who have clearly defined objectives and are quietly achieving realistic goals, one at a time.

With the first design out of the box, they have mastered the art of building a light and strong sheet metal structure. The Kodiak's empty weight fraction is coming in at 51% vs Caravan's 50% and Cessna has perfected the art of building light weight sheet metal airplanes. Quest's production is sold out for the next three years; they are concentrating their resources on internal efforts and minimizing outside activities.

Even with their new building and new manufacturing equipment on the shop floor, I would guess that the Quest investment to be well under $50 million by the time they receive certification...about one-tenth of what Eclipse spent.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

We Did It!!!

Well, that's what I was expecting. Instead, the Eclipse press release was uncharacteristically humble.

“In spite of the hurdles we’ve encountered and those that still lie ahead, this is a day to reflect on what has been accomplished,” said Vern Raburn, president and CEO of Eclipse Aviation. “We successfully launched a new aviation company, developed and certified a truly revolutionary aircraft and created a whole new market segment that helped return relevancy and growth to general aviation.”

No claim as to how they would ramp production up to 1,000 units per year.

No claim as to building an airplane whose operating costs would compete with airline fares.

No claim for meeting or exceeding the original design goals.

Next event - The National Business Aircraft Association convention starting October 17th. All the aviation press will be there...I hope they ask some tough questions.

Eclipse Lawsuit - Guest Reporter

AJ said...

This article was on the front page of the Albuquerque Journal today.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006
Firm Sues Eclipse Over Price By Andrew Webb
Copyright © 2006 Albuquerque Journal;
Journal Staff Writer

A European company that announced plans four years ago to buy 112 Eclipse business jets claims in a lawsuit that Eclipse delayed, then canceled delivery of the planes so it could sell them for more money.

Aviace Ltd., a Swiss startup that aims to launch a jet service and charter club, was one of Eclipse's first big customers.

After Aviace announced plans to buy 112 planes over several years, the agreed-upon price per plane ultimately was set at $1.045 million— nearly half a million less than today's price of $1.5 million.

The first deliveries to Aviace were to have begun with the 31st Eclipse 500 off the production line, according to the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.

Aviace claims Eclipse breached the agreement by bumping its first delivery to No. 47, then canceling the order for failure to pay a production deposit of $634,305.

"Eclipse desires to terminate the purchase agreement so as to retain the aircraft under contract for sale to Aviace for Eclipse to resell for a profit greater than that to be obtained under the purchase agreement," Aviace claims.

Aviace contends production deposits were not required for the first few deliveries.

The lawsuit asks for Eclipse to either reinstate Aviace's delivery schedule, or pay unspecified compensatory and punitive damages to the Swiss firm. Eclipse, which received its long-awaited Federal Aviation Administration type certification Saturday, has built a handful of customer planes. But the company does not yet have production certification from the FAA and each aircraft must be inspected before delivery.

Eclipse spokesman Andrew Broom declined comment. The Albuquerque attorney representing Aviace did not return a call.

Eclipse, which is building the six-seat jets in Albuquerque, has been closely watched by the aviation industry. With a price and operating cost considerably lower than for existing business jets, many believe the Eclipse 500 and a handful of other "very light jets" will make jet travel affordable to a new class of pilots and owners.

Aviace is one of several companies that has placed large orders. Several aim to build "air taxi" services, but others, including Aviace, have explored alternatives. Aviace has said it planned to start fractional jet ownership— multiple owners sharing one plane— and charter services throughout Europe.

Originally, Eclipse was to have delivered the four aircraft to Aviace in 2004, eight in 2005, and 100 in 2006. Those dates, and those for all other Eclipse customers, were pushed back by nearly two years by a complicated engine swap in 2002.

Aviace says in the suit its "Most Favored Customer" status guaranteed its prices would not exceed the price granted to any other customer ordering equal or smaller quantities.

Aviace says it was required to pay only a $2.010 million deposit, equal to 20 percent of the cumulative list price, for the first 12 aircraft, with the balance to be paid on delivery. That payment was made in January 2005, the company said in the suit. Furthermore, Aviace says that contrary to the purchase agreement, it was asked to pay a 50 percent production deposit of $634,305 six months before delivery.

Eclipse informed Aviace last month that it was canceling the order due to nonpayment of the $634,305 invoice, according to the suit. The notice said that Eclipse reserved the right to reassign aircraft No. 47 to another customer and that Eclipse would keep $167,500 of Aviace's original deposit as damages.

Meanwhile Eclipse said Tuesday that the FAA has certified its repair and maintenance service center. The certification, approved Monday, came just two days after the FAA fully certified Eclipse's E500 "very light jet," clearing it for delivery to customers.The latest certification means the company can lead the repair and maintenance of any Eclipse 500 aircraft, the company said in a news release. The FAA also approved the company's station training manual.

Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.