Eclipse Plays With a Concept

Tiny four-seat jet may be the fastest and highest flying of any, if it's ever built.

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Borrowing a play from the automakers' book to create buzz around a show, Eclipse unveiled its Eclipse Concept Jet (ECJ) on the first day of Oshkosh. The little single-engine jet was built in great secrecy in Virginia by a firm specializing in one-off creations. Eclipse managed almost total surprise except for a number of people at Oshkosh who saw the little jet with its enormous V-tail land at sundown on Sunday evening and spread the word.

Eclipse says it has no plans to actually build the ECJ, and notes correctly that a very tiny number of the dozens of concept cars shown each year ever reach production. However, Eclipse was free with some pretty amazing performance projections for the ECJ, including a ceiling of 41,000 feet, range greater than 1,000 nm and speeds above 340 knots. When it came to discussing price, Eclipse founder Vern Raburn danced around the topic, but ladled out broad hints that his target was $1 million.

The ECJ uses the wing of the Eclipse 500 twinjet, sans tip tanks. The landing gear, nose section, most systems, and engine and nacelle are also directly adapted from the 500. The ECJ lacks any form of pressurization so its altitude will be restricted to probably no more than 25,000 feet. The single cabin door has none of the structural integrity it would need to hold the 8 psi differential pressure necessary to actually fly at 41,000 feet.

Raburn compared the ECJ to a BMW 3 series automobile, stressing that performance is the goal and four seats are enough. The comparison, at least in apparent cabin space and outside view for passengers, is very unfair to the BMW. What was interesting is that the exterior workmanship and care of details was better on the ECJ than on the production Eclipse 500s that surrounded it at the show.

Raburn denies the existence of any future plans for the ECJ other than to use it to explore the possibilities of a single-engine jet. Clearly the interest in the category created by Diamond, Piper, Cirrus and Epic, which have all announced jet singles they plan to produce, has not been lost on Eclipse. However, the ECJ goals are very problematic. The 41,000-foot ceiling would be very difficult to achieve with the thrust of only a single engine, along with the fact that the entire pressurization system depends on a single engine and its bleed air plumbing. A failure of any single component would leave pilot and passengers in an extremely hostile environment and would probably never be allowed by certification rules.

Meanwhile, back to the original Eclipse 500, the company announced that all was on track to quickly remove an AD on the pitot-static system that has prevented it from flying IFR. Also, Raburn said design changes to deliver the promised performance will be certified and delivered soon, along with a complete avionics system that includes navigation and moving map capabilities. Stay tuned.