Flying an Eclipse
The cockpit of the Eclipse was surprisingly comfortable, in part because it's so well laid out. The idea behind the jet was single-pilot operation, so that was a must. And Eclipse has largely succeeded in the design of the pilot interface in reducing pilot workload tremendously. Even though the integrated airplane control and monitoring system is a bit of a hodgepodge of technologies at this point — you still have tacked-on GPS navigators instead of integrated units and there are a few hardware circuit breakers scattered here and there — the end result is that the interface is easy to use and you can do most everything you want to with it. You've got moving map, charts, traffic, TAWS, radar, XM and more. The integrated cockpit concept cost Eclipse untold dollars and precious time, and in the end, it still never got exactly what it envisioned. Look for news of a new integrated cockpit soon.
Start-up couldn't have been easier. We started the No. 2 engine from ground power — we just reached up and turned the start switch to, well, "start," and the fadec system took care of the rest. With the Bose on, if it hadn't been for the display indications, I never would have been able to tell the engine was running. It is that quiet. Even with the headset off, I had to strain to hear.
Taxiing out to the runway, monitoring our progress on the geo-referenced airport taxiway diagram, it was clear that the Eclipse is a jet and that it's a small jet. It is very easy to taxi, and there's plenty of braking power to slow the slight residual thrust of the small Pratts.
On rotation, you get an idea right away of how the Eclipse feels. I hand-flew the vectors Departure gave us. The airplane felt heavier on the controls than it seemed a 6,000-pound airplane should, and the trim was too slow to be able to keep up with my requests of it, though I'm guessing that with more experience I'd get better at anticipating the need for trim as we flew.
The airplane climbs well. Leaving from nearly mile-high Albuquerque on a cool day, we were seeing a rate of climb approaching 3,000 fpm, and our climb to 28,000 feet that day took just 12 minutes. Eclipse claims a 22-minute climb from sea level to 41,000 feet.
At Flight Level 280, we were truing out at better than 360 knots. Best true airspeed, 370 knots, comes at 37,000, according to the book — we did not fly higher than 280 that day, since the airplane wasn't RVSM-certified — though every airplane that Eclipse delivers is RVSM-ready.
Back down at 16,500 and VFR, I flew the airplane through a series of steep turns and stalls. The airplane handles very honestly, though hand-flying it is a bit of a workout, in part because the sidesticks don't give you as much leverage as conventional yokes do.
The autopilot performed well, even on a gusty day, as we flew an ILS to a low approach to a nearby airport with a huge quartering tailwind and wind shear galore into a blinding sinking sun. It was a tough test and it handled it well.
Heading back into ABQ, I hand-flew the arrival and an ILS to Runway 3 with a sidestep to Runway 30, since the winds were better aligned with it. The book VREF speed for the 500 is around 85 knots, but for training the manual adds 10 knots, so we came down the pike at 97, according to book. The flare, touchdown and rollout were all very easy to manage, and the brakes got us stopped just fine, though my right seatmate was clearly nervous that I might be a bit heavy-footed on them. I knew to tread lightly, and in truth, there's little reason not to. Getting a 6,000-pound airplane that touches down in the 70s stopped is not a huge feat, and we were turned off the runway in a few thousand feet, despite it being my first landing in the airplane.
When my flight was done, I got it. The EA500 is an airplane that speaks to me. Does it have a few rough spots? Yes, it does. But what airplane doesn't? What it will do is take the family and me 1,000 miles in less than three hours in pressurized comfort, while a King Air B200 will still have an hour's flying to do.
Eclipse is selling its FIKI-certified, like-new Total Eclipse refurbished airplanes with service plan and fresh inspections, Pratt & Whitney ESP engine service plan and RVSM certification for $2.15 million. That's a price at which the company will make money.
For more information, visit eclipseaerospace.net. Check out extended coverage for the iPad by visiting the App Store, where you can purchase the iPad edition of Flying, with extended coverage of the Eclipse saga.