Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

No doubt there are some happy folks down in Albuquerque as 'eclipseblogger' informed us earlier this evening that the company had received a Certificate of Airworthiness for the first production aircraft.

This paved the way for the first delivery as well.

Congratulations are certainly in order for both achievements.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy Holidays

Christmas is just a couple of days away, time for one more chorus of kaptain kool-aid's rendition of the twelve days of Christmas:

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
Vern Raburn sent to me
Twelve mentors crying
Eleven vendors griping,
Ten service bulletins,
Nine loosened bushings,
Eight lame excuses,
Seven cracking windshields,
Six owners bitching,
Five cramped seats,
Four more delays,
Three blank screens,
Two larger tanks,
AND A SCAM FROM ALBUQUERQUE!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Guest Contribution - Eclipse Correspondence

yenolo provided the following, I guess it means we won't be seeing 50 units delivered by the end of the year, or ah make that 10, or ah maybe just 3 or 4...just wait until next year, were gonna do 500:

Dear Eclipse customers:

As we anticipate the end of 2006 we can reflect upon a year of great strides, frequent challenges and significant progress. As the year ends, I and all of the Eclipse Aviation employees wish to extend to all of you a peaceful and joyous holiday season. We want to wish you a happy New Year.

Prior to the end of the year, I want to update you on the manufacturing progress and recent developments at Eclipse Aviation.

We are making steady but slow progress toward delivering the first aircraft and obtaining our production certificate. The FAA has been very good about staying over weekends and is working diligently with our team to evaluate our manufacturing and quality processes. The 37th aircraft has now started friction stir welding and there are 11 aircraft in final assembly positions resting on their own landing gear. Production aircraft three has completed production flight test and recently emerged from our new Sunport 3 paint facility with a black and red striped LX-3 paint scheme. Two additional aircraft are in production flight test and should fly sometime this week depending on the Albuquerque winter weather.

I am also happy to report that the pre-production flight test fleet is progressing as expected through the fleet wide modification period. N505EA has been flying for more than two weeks and has been performing exceptionally well. This aircraft has been flown by the FAA and is being used to validate the training program. N502EA will be back in the air by the end of this week with the larger tip tanks. In January, N503EA and N504EA will also be back online. So, overall, you should feel confident that the flight test fleet will be completely up and running at the beginning of 2007 with the goal to certify the remaining performance modifications as soon as possible.

On an organizational note, I also want to let you know that our CFO, Peter Reed, has decided to retire at the end of this month. Peter will turn 62 next year and wants to transition from the hectic 80 plus hour work week that he has done for 35+ years to a lifestyle where he can afford the time to travel with his wife. While we are sad to lose a great and long-time team member, we wish Peter the best of luck in his much deserved retirement. I must emphasize that this is in no way whatsoever related to the health of Eclipse Aviation. Peter will be the first to tell you that his past seven plus years at Eclipse have been both rewarding and challenging. He is proud to have participated in our growth from two employees (Peter was the second Eclipse employee) with only a concept to almost 1,000 employees and a certified aircraft. A search for Peter's replacement is underway.

As I promised in an earlier communication, we will continue to give you regular updates on the progress at Eclipse Aviation. The next communication will come in January, following the holiday break.

Your Customer Care team will be available for routine business December 27th, 28th and 29th. In January routine business will commence on Tuesday, January 2nd. In the event of a serious problem during the holiday period, please call the Eclipse Aviation main number at 505-724-1140 and customer care will be notified to return your call.

Once again, thank you for your continued support and contributing to a great and monumental 2006.

Sincerely,

Vern Raburn

President & CEO

Saturday, December 16, 2006





Friction Stir Welding

The Wichita morning paper did a story on the Advanced Joining Laboratory which is part of the National Institute for Aviation Research which is part of the Wichita State University.

The article quoted Cessna CEO Jack Pelton as follows:

"We have spent time in research and development learning and understanding the process to see what the applicability may be for use. We did not come to the conclusion that it was viable for our products."

The article further stated, Cessna would consider it only for a new airplane that would have a long production run or large quantities of orders. That's because the change in process would require a large investment on the company's part.


The FSW images and the following paragraphs were added Sunday afternoon. To give credit where credit is due, some of the comments against this post may appear to parrot what is written here, but in fact, the comments were written first, therefore, the post parrots the comments.

Setting the corrosion issue aside, one can make a case for FSW only in very high production situations. Capital costs for the equipment is high and it takes a dedicated holding fixture for nearly every FSW joint. Notice in the image how close the clamps are to the work area, and a roller precedes the spinning mandrel to ensure the materials to be joined have a zero gap.

There are not many sheet metal parts that lend themselves to FSW. A conventional rib with the upper and lower flanges going the same way cannot be FSW. You gotta have clear blue sky above the joint. We envision Fuji FSW the wings. That ain't happening!

I can see some spanwise stringers or stiffeners being FSW, and ribs maybe on one wing skin if the the upper and lower flanges point in different directions. Otherwise, I suspect Fuji does like every other manufacturer, find the guy with the longest and skinniest arm, and introduce him to a bucking bar.

Another requirement for FSW, parts must be made very accurately for a good fit for welding. For years Vern has boasted of the precision parts going in the Eclipse. I can attest to the tight tolerances, tight enough that it adds to the difficulty in building the parts, tight enough that it is difficult for QC to check the parts.

Vern's argument is that his precision parts will speed assembly. Absolutely true! I think that what he failed to realize was that it would mean more non-conforming parts that add to costs and add to the paper work in trying to get them bought off to use in production.
I suspect one delay in getting an Airworthiness Certificate on the first production airplane and ultimately the Production Certificate will relate to the decision to set the bar high for themselves with such tight tolerances for all of their parts.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Guest Contribution - Eclipse Correspondence

bambazonke posted the following three messages from Eclipse. They were a bit off the radar screen and deserve higher visibility:

Of utmost importance to Eclipse is the trust that you, our customer community, has placed in us. More specifically, we are sensitive to your concerns that our production schedule will not be met and that the additional payment (to bring your cumulative deposit up to sixty percent) is therefore premature.

To address your concerns Eclipse is announcing that for customers with a scheduled delivery date on or before September 30, 2007, we will reduce your final payment due at delivery by 0.5% per month (6% annual interest rate) of the additional payment we are asking you to pay now.

Attached is an Aircraft Purchase Agreement Addendum that will be added to all Aircraft Purchase Agreements where aircraft delivery is scheduled on or before September 30, 2007. Please note that Eclipse has a one-month grace period before the interest calculation takes affect.

Sincerely,
Vern RaburnPresident & CEO

and another one;

Earlier this year, we announced that the Eclipse 500 had fallen short of our guaranteed performance numbers and we declared a refund event. At the same time we committed to a plan to improve those performance numbers. We also told you that there would be two different configurations of the airplane based on our implementation plan for the performance improvements.

The following Customer Technical Communication outlines the final Eclipse 500 Performance Improvement Program and I am pleased to report that the performance improvement program has met our expectations. Through engineering re-design and flight testing, Eclipse has identified and tested improvements that enable the Eclipse 500 to achieve the promised speed of 370 knots (TAS) and 1,125 nm range (NBAA IFR with 100 nm alternate).

In addition, contrary to our previously announced plans, Eclipse is now committing to go beyond our initial pledge. We will retrofit all aircraft with these performance modifications, ensuring that there is a singular aircraft fleet with the above mentioned performance numbers.

I, and the entire Eclipse team, are listening to you, our customers and working diligently to deliver your Eclipse 500.

Sincerely,
Vern RaburnPresident & CEO

Customer Technical Communication Item No.: 2006-12-004
Title: Eclipse 500 Performance Improvement ProgramOverview:

This past summer, Eclipse Aviation revealed the performance numbers for the Eclipse 500 and the plans to improve those numbers. We are pleased to report that the performance improvement program is progressing quite well. Through engineering re-design and flight testing, Eclipse has identified and tested improvements that enable the Eclipse 500 to achieve the promised speed of 370 knots (TAS) and 1,125 nm range (NBAA IFR with 100 nm alternate). In addition, contrary to our previously announced plans, Eclipse has now decided to retrofit all aircraft with these performance modifications (paying for labor and parts), ensuring that there is a singular aircraft fleet.

Background:

The initially-certified Eclipse 500 has fallen short of its performance guarantees in speed and range. Eclipse embarked on a performance improvement program one year ago to improve this situation and committed to meeting the speed guarantee of 375 knots (TAS) +/- 2.5%, but would not meet the range guarantee of 1280 nm +/- 5%. This work resulted in a plan that would yield a speed of 370 knots (TAS) and a 1,125 nm range (NBAA IFR with 100 nm alternate).

Based on that fact that the Eclipse 500 would not meet the published range, Eclipse declared a refund event for our customers. During this event, Eclipse announced a performance improvement plan that included different modifications for the first 100 aircraft versus subsequent aircraft. The first 100 aircraft would only see a speed of 360 knots and a range of 1,055 nm. Additionally, Eclipse committed to its customers that the company would continue to explore the possibility of retrofitting additional improvements to these aircraft. We realized that the best and most expeditious solution is to have one fleet; therefore, we will be retrofitting all aircraft with the performance improvements that yield a speed of 370 knots (TAS) and 1,125 nm range (NBAA IFR with 100 nm alternate).

Corrective Action:

To date, two flight test aircraft have been fitted with the extended tip tanks (ETT). Additionally, one of these aircraft has also been fitted with additional prototype performance modifications. This aircraft has completed development flight testing and proven that these modifications will give the anticipated performance results. Once the wing bushing installation is completed (due to the previously communicated wing issue) on these two aircraft, we will start the certification program for these improvements. Procurement of the production parts and mod kits are well under way.

The changes to the airplane to achieve this performance include:

1. Extended tip tanks (ETT): ETT modifications are finalized and add 25 gallons of fuel.

2. Horizontal/vertical (bullet) fairing: A newly-designed tail bullet fairing has been incorporated to smooth out the flow between the interface to the horizontal and vertical stabilizers.

3. Flight controls: We have added covers over the hinges on the elevators, rudders, and ailerons. The elevator and rudders have been extended eliminating the gurney tabs that added significant drag. This change has also improved the control forces.

4. Engine pylon and nacelle: The pylon skin will be stiffened and the trailing edges modified. In addition, the lower nacelle panel has been modified to reduce the aerodynamic losses.

5. Landing gear and wheel assembly: Main landing gear fairings and more aerodynamic wheel covers have been added.

6. Engine thrust schedule adjustment: The Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) software will be changed to enable thrust preservation at cruise altitudes from 25,000 feet through the certified max altitude of 41,000 feet. This is NOT an increase in the 900-pound thrust rating of the engine, but results in more thrust at typical jet cruise altitudes.

7. Miscellaneous: Drain hole scupper and rig pin hole covers have been aerodynamically improved.

Note:

Modifications to the wing de-ice system are no longer needed to achieve these performance numbers.Aircraft

Operational Impact:

The results of the performance improvement program have been phenomenally successful. With the drag reduction fixes in place, we now have data and flight testing that give high confidence that the speed and range specifications will meet the target of 370 knots (TAS) and 1,125nm (NBAA IFR range with 100 nm alternate). These improvements will be reflected in an updated Aircraft Flight Manual (AFM) and Aircraft Maintenance Manual (AMM).

Implementation of Modifications:

* All aircraft will be modified to meet the specification of 370 knots (TAS) and 1,125 nm (NBAA IFR range with 100 nm alternate)* Aircraft modification will be conducted at an Eclipse Service Center.

* Eclipse will assume the cost of the modification (labor and parts only). The modification is estimated to take three weeks. We are working various approaches to reduce this time.

* At this time, we expect to have this configuration certified sometime between mid-March and mid-April 2007.

* We are refining a production incorporation plan that deliver aircraft with these full modifications immediately upon certification of the configuration.

* Aircraft delivered prior to certification of this configuration will be modified on an as-scheduled basis after aircraft delivery. This activity will be coordinated through Customer Care, which will be providing further information in the coming weeks to clarify specific serial number impact, and provide more detailed performance data and modification details.

THIS IS NOT AN ECLIPSE AVIATION SERVICE BULLETIN.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

TC & PC, More in Depth

I have thought about writing this post for months, but the subject is so tedious, it was easy to put off. The machinations of Vern and his double speak was far more interesting as were other diversions like Brooke Shields. BTW, lest you think I might have overstated her appearance, I added to the Extreme Views post, her photo leaving a Rome Hotel on the way to Tom's wedding. A pretty sharp chick!

Back on topic, the blog is intended to be informative and at times entertaining. But this post is just plain boring though it might help explain some of the problems facing Eclipse as they seek to obtain their Production Certificate and why the window and wing fitting problem is not related to Airworthiness Certificates for the upcoming deliveries.

TC

Type Certification is the responsibility of a regional ACO (Aircraft Certification Office). For the Eclipse, the Ft. Worth ACO. The role of this office is to ensure the applicant (Eclipse) complies with the technical requirements of 14 CFR Part 23, Part 34 and Part 36.

Every part in the airplane will have a discrete number tied to the drawing that creates the part. Also on the drawing will be a "Used On" number or the link to the next assembly drawing where the part is mated to other parts. This sub-assembly feeds a larger one and the process repeated until the major sub-assemblies like wings and fuselages feed into a single drawing, the completed airplane. Known in the industry as the "top drawing", it defines the airplane. Its number and revision level is stated in the Type Data Sheet. The important thing to remember is that each part in the airplane is linked to the "top drawing".

Any change to any drawing must be reviewed as to the significance of the change. Major changes like adding larger tip tanks will result in some level of retesting and re-certification. The new aircraft definition will be reflected by either a new "top drawing" number or a revision to the original. Minor changes can be written off (pencil whipped) by analysis.

This procedure is part of what fossilizes the aircraft industry, changes are not easy and everything is controlled.

With regards to the wing and window problem, it's the ACO's call. They are confident the windows are good for 50 hours and apparently satisfied the bushings in the wing fitting were not installed correctly. The company can fix the windows at their convenience, the operators will need to swap them out at the prescribed intervals.

Whatever spacers were needed adjacent to the bushings could be added and treated as a minor change and written off.


PC

Production Certificates are issued by an FAA MIDO (Manufacturing and Inspection District Office). A PC gives the company authority to inspect each airplane and is intended to ensure that every airplane that is given a Certificate of Airworthiness, is built exactly to the design that was certified by the ACO. To achieve this, the company drafts a Quality Control Manual that describes in detail how the manufacturing process shall operate. Here are some basics:

Let's start with that discrete part mentioned earlier and assume it is a small aluminum sheet metal bracket.

Purchasing orders a quantity of sheet aluminum of a certain thickness. Before the order is issued, QC (Quality Control) has to review and sign off on the P.O. to ensure the material is ordered to the proper specification.

The material is received on the receiving dock, QC checks the material against the P.O., verifies the markings against the material certification documents provided with the aluminum and files the "certs".

The material goes into a controlled stockroom.

Manufacturing control issues an order for let's say 20 of the discrete parts. A planning sheet which exists for the discrete part is produced. It says to go to the stockroom and obtain 20 blanks of a particular size. The operator who pulls the blanks signs his name to the planning sheet, a QC inspector verifies the blanks and signs the planning sheet.

The parts are cut to shape and deburred per instructions on the planning. The operator signs the sheet, the parts are inspected and QC signs as well.

Next the parts are formed. Two more signatures from the operator and QC inspector.

The parts may get heat treated and/or corrosion protection. Again two more signatures on the planning.

Then the batch of 20 parts is part marked with the part number, production control's job number, the date and the inspectors stamp which signifies that every interim step on the planning sheet was bought off and the parts conform to the original drawing. This completed planning sheet now becomes a permanent record for the company.

Next manufacturing control will release an order and a planning sheet to build a sub-assembly for a particular aircraft serial number. One of the first items on the planning will be a list of all the parts needed for the sub-assembly. Our discrete part will get pulled along with the others. The operator will sign off on the planning as will a QC inspector.

The planning will detail step-by-step the assembly instructions, drill out the pilot holes, add nut plates etc. At interim steps, the operator will sign off, the work inspected and signed off by QC. Upon completion, the planning sheet will go into the permanent records related to a specific serial number. And so it goes until a completed airplane rolls off the assembly line.

This process applies to all sub-contractors. Their signed off planning sheets and functional test results must accompany the item they are supplying. The records will either go into general files or files specific to a particular airplane serial number.

The process applies in one form or another to everything that is covered by the "top drawing" from rivets to the engines.

The QC manual will have the company organization chart that will show some level of independence from manufacturing.

The QC manual will identify every device used in the inspection process and provide a tracking number along with a schedule for validating the device.

If an inspector on the shop floor has a six-inch pocket scale he uses to check parts, it must have an engraved tracking number and be periodically checked for condition and accuracy back to the U.S. Bureau of Standards.

Same for pressure gages used to check tire pressure or exotic electronic devices for checking systems.

The QC manual will define how often the assembly jigs should be checked and a procedure will be written for each jig. The equipment used to check the assembly jigs will get periodic checks back to the Bureau of Standards.

Then there is the validation of functionality of systems. Take for instance the landing gear. There will be detailed instructions to place the airplane on jacks, hook up a power cart and cycle the gear so many times, and record cycle times etc. Even pressure gages to check strut and tire pressures will get validated on a regular basis.


Relating this to Vern's recent statements, in his open letter to customers, he talked about two quality escapes. The first "aircraft build instructions" which I assume means his "planning", either for detail parts or for the assemblies was not complete. The second escape was, "clarity of functional test procedure". This probably relates to incomplete system testing before various systems were installed or just after.

What I don't understand is how you go back after the fact and show everything in compliance, but I am sure there is a way. Eclipse is not the first to run into these kinds of problems with the FAA.

On the AIN report, Vern stated that because Eclipse was asking for a PC rather than just an Airworthiness Certificate on an individual airplane, that there was a "more extensive inspection process". I don't know what he is talking about. You demonstrate to the FAA that all the elements are in place in the QC Manual and that they are rigorously followed for the first few airplanes and they award the PC.