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Eclipse 500 - jet on the cheap?

I happened to see a pic of the two Eclipse 500’s stuck in Holland on some ramp. It seems EASA revoked the type certificate for the Eclipse 500, if I recall correctly. But it’s still valid in FAA land. And these being N-regs, they should be able to fly again. Below is an explanation from owner Ken Meyer from a US forum about the problems with these older 500’s and how to resurrect them. If you’re willing to give up some of the design features, integrated avionics and deicing, keep them on the N-reg, they can be useful machines. There’s plenty of them on Controller. Where else could you get a modern jet for $500-600K?

Link

Fascinating.

I met the then chief pilot Kent Ewing of Eclipse at a Eurocontrol conference c. 2008, around the time the Russians were playing around with it. He gave me his card with his details on the back of it in Russian. A great character, and I never knew he did all that stuff in the US military.

I like this bit: "That early Eclipse was delivered with two very nice GPS sensors that do absolutely nothing but generate synthetic DME. The FMS “frontend” that was supposed to integrate them (so you could navigate by them) was never finished. " That’s an interesting way to install an off the shelf FMS… but was that what they were going to do? I thought they did all their own avionics.

Last Edited by Peter at 05 Feb 22:21
Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Agree the Eclipse is interesting but I think resale and maintenance are likely to be “challenging”

EGTK Oxford

Adam,

The Eclipse has a rather mixed history and while the new company is now up and running, the key to the existing pre-owned jets is what they are equipped with in order to be useful or not. I’ve been reading into them a bit in recent times, this is roughly what I reckon is out there.

I have no idea what the 2 airplanes in Holland are like, how they are equipped and what configuration they have. And that is the key to know if they are useful or just fun jets without much practical use.

The first delivered planes without any mods would be those with the first Avidyne 1.0 or 1.0ETT avionics package. They are not FIKI approved, not RVSM which means they can go to FL280 maximum (which severely shortens their range). The autopilot is not coupled to the navigation, primarily because there IS no navigation system in the avionics other than 2 GPS sensors which run some of the DME functions (basically they simulate a DME which is not there) and so on. To update them to the current IFMS avionic (see below), a 2012 doc is talking of roughly $1 million for those who CAN be upgraded, some can not. Many of the planes offered around $500k are such airplanes.

The 2nd version is the one called “Avio v 1.3”. They usually fly with 2 Garmin 400 systems which are not coupled to the AP, nor do they have FIKI and RVSM. The upgrade price of those versions to IFMS is quoted at $700 k. The 1.3’s value was quoted in the 2012 doc as anywhere around $1 million.

The “Avio v 1.5”. version is finally FIKI certified and has a coupled AP, SOME are RVSM certified others not. IMHO the 1.5 with RVSM is the first version worth even looking at. It is traded at around $1.4 million and is about the lowest avionic standard I’d even look at. Again Garmin 400’s are the main nav source, there is no moving map outside the Garmin’s screens however.

The “Avio v 1.7” is already much more like a useable system. Basically, it is the first version which features all of FIKI, coupled AP and Moving map, TAWS, Radar, ETC which most of the 1.5 or prior versions do not have, as well as RVSM on a broad base. That is important, because the advertized range of abour 1100 NM is achieved only at FL410, but not in the non RVSM levels of around 280. Consequently, the 1.7 equipped airplans are in a much higher ballpark, around $1.5 million or so. Most Eclipse 500 airplanes which are today in use are 1.7 airplanes. It is my understanding that the 1.7 can also be certified in EASA land. Some also have auto throttle systems.

The current version of the Eclipse 500 is the ifms version, to which a 1.7 Version can be upgraded to for around $ 350k. It is more or less identical to the “Total Eclipse”, which are 500 airframes upgraded by the new owner of Eclipse to a higher standard but lacks some of the features the total Eclipse has such as the upgraded cabin interior. They go for around $1.8 to 2.2 million. And then of course comes the new Eclipse 550, which is the current production model.

Very important is to check that any of these airplanes have the so called FL410 engine combustion liners installed, which allows them to reach FL410 at all. airplanes which do not have them, need to be upgraded.

So the real bargain planes are the ones which have serious issues and often enough are not upgradable at all or only at a massive cost of up to $1 million or more. Some of them can’t be upgraded at all, or can not get all the upgrades such as FIKI.

I recently had an interesting conversation with someone who had the same idea, pick up a cheap and almost new Eclipse to replace his piston cabin twin. After much deliberation (and it was he who pointed me to the sources I tried to take the data i posted above) he decided that he could do much better with a Citation 501 SP, which had multiple upgrades in fuel capacity, long wing, garmins 530/430, RVSM e.t.c. which he acquired for around the price range of a pre-1.5 Eclipse and which came ready to fly with recent phase 1-5 as well as engines with large potential. Have not heard since but he seems to be flying happily. Said he can use the money saved for the upgrades the Eclipse should have gotten to fly the Citation for quite some time.

Last Edited by Mooney_Driver at 05 Feb 23:08
LSZH, Switzerland

Yeah, that seems about what he was saying too.

But if you’re willing to handfly all approaches, forego FIKI and install a few Garmin GPS’s it seems everything else is doable. RSVM paperwork approved for all models and the AD that upgrades the fan liner can be done. It’s been done on this aircraft:

Link

Last Edited by AdamFrisch at 06 Feb 00:17

Adam,

this is one of the original planes with the ETT mod but with the old first avionic fit. More importantly, it is no longer supported by Eclipse as of March 31, 2013. The engine layer is a relatively small mod all the older versions can get for about $80k.

In order to make this worthwile, you’d have to find a way (and the money) to upgrade it to at least 1.5 standard. This airplane, as it stands, is a “bargain” which may well end up being more expensive than a properly upgraded 1.5 or 1.7 version.

As it stands now, it has the navigation capability of an unmodified DC9-30 or similar age airplane, just 2 VOR’s and ILS but NO RNAV, NO GPS nothing. Means you’d end up flying with a Garmin 296 or similar tied to the central post, which is how the first Eclipse deliveries happened… At the very least, it should get the Garmin 400’s later version have. Without them, also ADS-B won’t be possible realistically.

I spent some time yesterday to research this and find that before even thinking about a plane like that, you’d have to talk to Eclipse themselves to find out what can be done with it. Personally, I think it would be a prime candidate for them to pick up and convert to the Total Eclipse program, but it will take a replacement of ALL the avionics to do that.

Ken Meyer seems to be one owner who knows his way around this. If you really are interested, talk to him. I found several posts of his in other places too where he makes it perfectly clear that the airplanes with first generation avionics are a major problem.

you might want to read this thread, Ken gives a bit of more information in it.
http://www.beechtalk.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=72251

One interesting bit is, that apparently all the airplanes have the full de-icing boots installed and their CB is blocked with a plastic sleeve. If you take it away, you can theoretically activate the boots, but on your own risk and outside the POH instructions… The real question is, if there is a halfways practicable way to at least get the Garmins installed and coupled to the Avio suite as well as the transponder upgraded to incorporate ADS-B.

I see quite a few 1.5 or 1.7 versions on controller for 1.2-1.2 million $ which, if you calculate that a full upgrade is in excess of $1 million for an original one, are definitly better value.

Another aspect you need to take into account is that the Eclipse needs a type rating as well as a yearly recurrency check. The TR is apparently around $16k and the recurrency check $5000 p.a.

Having said all this: The Eclipse is today probably one of the most efficient airplanes in existence, with 370 kts @ 52gph this will bring the cost down to below $2 per NM, which is less than several piston twins. Ken positively raves about his. And he had the original ETT Version (like the one which is for sale here) and had it upgraded to I believe Avio 1.7 over the years. He’s done quite a lot of flying on his plane and may well be one of the most experienced folks to talk to.

Last Edited by Mooney_Driver at 06 Feb 16:08
LSZH, Switzerland

Looking at the adds, some of the sellers of the Avio 1.0 versions seem to try to hide the fact that it has the old avionics. I find that it’s fairly easy to tell by the cockpit pics.

A 1.7 and the 1.5 Version will have one button labled inop on the AP panel in the center. That is the autothrottle function which never got realized on the 500, but will be on the 550.

Also, the GNS400’s are visible below the PFD’s, but also some 1.3’s have those, yet they can’t be coupled.

The older versions without the coupling have 3 buttons labled and also have no GPS’s in evidence.

These are the ones to be wary off, as apparently they need the whole avionics changed for the upgrade. Even though the screens look the same, they are not.

LSZH, Switzerland

I never cease to be amazed how much money was sunk into this project, which in any other branch of human life would be called a Ponzi scheme.

According to one of the best ever aviation writers – Mac McClellan – it was over $ 1 billion.

The biggest joke was shipping them with a Garmin 296.

But, as Gordon Gekko rightly said, greed is good, greed works. My sister lost a chunk of money with a scammer who was paying 8%/month interest (has to be a great deal, right?) and what happened with Eclipse was much the same kind of thing.

Eclipse got quite a long way on getting the basic airframe right and with a high build quality, which is probably how their successors have managed to pick them up and end up producing a very nice refurbished aircraft by “only” ripping out the stuff inside it.

I can completely understand why they wanted to make their own avionics, if they wanted to get under the then going rate for light jets. The stuff currently on the market is grotesquely overpriced relative what is inside it – something like 20x the cost of making it – with the usual “certification costs” and “product liability insurance” cover stories.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Peter,

I have not really followed the whole sordid saga about the Eclipse, but there is ONE massive difference from most of the other similar projects including some by reputable companies.

The Eclipse flies, it is in its current incarnation a jet without equal in terms of cost per NM and efficiency. in short, a great airplane with a very good concept which had pretty “usual” production issues in the beginning which the company that built it could not overcome. In that, it was certainly not alone in recent years.

In fact, almost ALL new concepts and products went through at least one or several “near death” experiences, almost all of them are no longer in the original hands, quite some went bancrupt. Columbia got bought by Cessna, Cirrus by the Chinese and some others disappeared.

Looking at the development history of the Eclipse, it appears to me that those behind it were primarly visionaries who thought a project like this could be concluded out of sheer willpower and wishful thinking, yet there were quite a few people who initially bought into the idea with a lot of cash and ran when the going got tough. Looking at the actual sequence of events, while it is easy to point fingers at the Eclipse developers themselfs, most things which happened were not so uncommon.

The Eclipse was originally derived from a Rutan design by former Microsoft Manager Vern Raburn, who then brought on board Bill Gates and other very wealthy investors. It was conceived at the height of the VLJ hype and one of maybe a dozen equally aimed products. Of these, only the Cessna Mustang came into the market, while most others either failed or are still in development or, as the saying in this forum goes, vapourware such as the Grob Jet, Diamond, Cirrus and some others.

Raburn’s concept was one which Gates and others could understand and imagine easily: Create a superior product in massive numbers and get cost and return through these massive numbers. That this concept did not work out had several reasons, one being the economic crisis of 2008, the other being a very optimistic planning on the part of Eclipse and some rather massive shortcomings by external OEM manufacturers.

The first major change came with the late swap of Williams engines for P&W 615’s after the first prototype proved to heavy for the Williams product. The second major setback happened when the Avio cockpit turned out to have massive issues which eventually forced a redesign to the Avio NG used today, practically a new product even if they look similar. Looking at the tremendous problems current FMS/GNS systems have (King/Avidyne) that is not really a surprise, but was nevertheless a massive problem, primarily it caused a massive cost runaway, nearly doubling the price of the individual airplane.

Concequently, Eclipse, cash starved and rather in a tight spot, decided to deliver the first set of completed airframes with the avionic configuration they had ready, which was the Avio 1.0 cockpit. They did manage to get it certified and those owners who managed to get a plane actually got it for a much too low price. The reason they did was that they had paid substantial up front deposit money which, had they refused the airplane, would have been lost. Some owners, such as Ken Meyer, got their planes in this version and got it upgraded to the current 1.7 status eventually. A lot of other deposit holders lost out totally when the company went bancrupt in 2008. The bancruptcy had a lot to do with the default of the main customer, Day Jet, who had ordered 1400 airplanes plus the fact that due to the existing contracts and deposits paid by the clients, each airplane lost money when sold. Eclipse stopped production after 260 planes had been delivered in 2008 and went bancrupt shortly afterwards.

The owners of the delivered fleet organized themselves into an association and tried to find a solution to keep the airworthiness certificate alive and find a new owner who could take over the whole company’s assets. This happened in 2010, when a new company bought the airplane and all assets of Eclipse and started trading as Eclipse Aerospace. Their core business was to upgrade the existing fleet to what they call the “Total Eclipse” (or rather an airplane which had what the Eclipse was supposed to be from the beginning), plus developed the next incarnation of new planes called the Eclipse 550, the first of which was delivered in 2013. Of the 260 delivered 500’s, only about 30 have not been upgraded to at least version Avio 1.5 which is FIKI certified and features a coupled AP and most other items enabled, followed by the 1.7 version which is pretty much the originally designed airframe with the Garmin 400’s as nav source. The major difference between these jets and the new ones is the IFMS integrated avionics suite, completing the Avio cockpit finally. The 1.5 and 1.7 equipped planes can however be flown pretty much without any significant restrictions the original planes had.

So what went wrong? Primarily, the original Eclipse crew had way too optimistic, if not naive, ideas of how development and implementation of a completely new airplane works. They did glance at Cirrus, which in the mean time had become a major success in the single engine piston market, and decided that also in the jet world, a new and revolutionary concept would have a chance. Which it did, just not at the price and the timeframe they imagined. The 2nd major mistake was to set their existence on one equally optimistic and agressive company called Day Jet. This proved to be a major risk factor indeed as their numbers of 1400 airframes were rising eyebrows throughout the industry. Add to that the downfall of the US economy in 2008, and the recipe for disaster was set.

Nevertheless, the actual product is not bad at all, on the contrary. I’d say the Eclipse is in the jet market quite comparable to the Cirrus line in the prop market in several regards. Once the airplane reached the state it is in today, it has become a true alternative to the current small jet fleet, which is dominated by Cessna’s Citation line. An Eclipse 500 will do most of what a Citation Mustang does but at a lot less cost in daily operation. Ken Meyer writes, that his 1.7 Eclipse 500 will operate at less than $2 per mile, down to about $1.7 per NM if flown high and mid size range. It will run up to 1100 NM at 370 kts and, at FL410, will use a mere 52 GPH. As a 4-5 seater, this makes it a remarkable airplane.

The question is, can a new airplane really be developed from scratch today without the original producer going bancrupt in the process? Seeing the development in recent years one might think so. Or should the development of such airplanes really be left to some huge companies like Cessna or Embraer? Looking at the Eclipse as it stands today, it certainly has it’s place in the market.

LSZH, Switzerland

I’m not in the market myself and it’s way above my pay grade, but I can see how this could be an interesting choice for the right buyer or as an alternative to a turboprop upgrade. You basically get a jet for twin turboprop money. Or compared to a used TBM or a PC12, you could have fleet of these.

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