At the NBAA convention in October, I got to be on hand to witness one of the most significant events in the 20 years I’ve been an aviation journalist: the official rebirth of the Eclipse jet. Eclipse Aerospace — the company that bought the remnants of the original Eclipse out of bankruptcy — announced that it was going to resume production of the Eclipse jet beginning in 2013. While the news is hardly surprising, since the company has said all along that its eventual goal was to begin building Eclipse jets again when the time was right, it was nevertheless very satisfying while underscoring the difficulties present in bringing all-new airplanes to market in this day and age.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the moves that Eclipse has made since restarting limited operations shortly after the curtains closed on the opening act. The new team’s conservative approach to the product stands in stark contrast to the way the original manufacturer did business.
The new jet, which the company is calling the Eclipse 550 to distinguish it from the original, is, as far as the FAA is concerned, still the same model as before.
Even so, Eclipse has improved it in numerous ways, including updating the avionics to resemble something you’d expect to see in a modern jet. Buyers of new Eclipses will get as standard or optional equipment synthetic and enhanced vision systems, dual digital FMSes, WAAS navigation and autothrottles. That latter still sounds a bit like science fiction to me: autothrottles in an airplane little bigger than a Baron, an airplane around 40,000 pounds lighter than the next model we know of to be outfitted with automatic thrust levers.
Now that Pratt & Whitney and Eclipse have solved the carbon buildup issue on the jet’s small engines, the airplane is cleared to fly to the limits of its impressive normal operating envelope — 370 knots and FL 410 — allowing it to do what it was designed to do from the start, provide economical and swift jet travel to pilots looking to lose the props and fly space-age style. That might sound a bit silly in this jaded data-is-everything age, but the allure of the truly personal jet is real.