The Eclipse 500, a VLJ (Very Light Jet), is in many ways equal to larger, more expensive light jets: it can fly at 41,000 feet and complete a 600 nm trip with four passengers and reserves in 1 hour and 48 minutes. It uses Pratt & Whitney Canada jet engines and trailing link landing gear. The Eclipse 500 outstrips the aircraft of the light jet category in runway performance, fuel burn, acquisition cost, and boasts an avionics system more advanced than those found in larger jet aircraft.
The Eclipse 500’s cabin volume totals 160 cubic feet, including 16 cubic feet available for baggage –large enough to fit 4 or 5 passengers with overnight bags. The Eclipse 500 has separate cabin and cockpit temperature control, a feature which passengers and pilots alike should appreciate. The cabin’s interior is lit by LEDs, which emit minimal heat and almost never require maintenance.
The engines are one of many parts of this VLJ which are new to the private jet marketplace. The Eclipse 500 uses two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F engines, a model developed specifically for the very light jet market. These engines produce 900 pounds of thrust and have an overhaul interval of 3,500 hours.
The PW610F engines provide enough power for the Eclipse 500 to climb to 37,000 feet in 24 minutes and to take off from short runways. At sea level and standard temperature of 59º F, the Eclipse 500 fully loaded requires 2,342 feet of runway to take off. At an altitude of 5,000 feet and a temperature of 79º F, the Eclipse 500 requires 4,160 feet. The flexibility that the Eclipse 500’s runway performance provides is perhaps one of its best assets: most light jets require more runway.
The Eclipse 500 is quite fast for a jet of its size: its high speed cruise is 370 ktas and its long range cruise is 330 ktas. The light, small body of the Eclipse 500 allows it to almost catch up to some of the larger light jets. For example, on a 600 nm trip with four passengers, crew, and required reserves, the Eclipse 500 would reach its destination in 1 hour an 48 minutes, about 8 minutes later than other light jets (such as the CJ1+) would arrive. The similarities end when fuel burn is compared: on the 600 nm trip, the Eclipse 500 would burn just 885 pounds of fuel, whereas the CJ1+ would burn 1,375 pounds and the Premier IA would burn 1,432 pounds on an identical trip at 35,000 feet cruise altitude.
Another ground-breaking feature of the Eclipse 500 is its avionics system and accompanying pilot training program. Eclipse Aviation chose an avionics system called Avio NG for the Eclipse 500. Although it is common for avionics systems to manage multiple functions through an FMS or FADEC, Avio NG promises to deliver “total aircraft integration” on a scale not yet seen in private aviation. Avio NG promises to combine all tasks and functions — engines, fuel system, landing gear, environmental and electrical systems, navigation, and communication — into a single central management system. Avio NG could best be compared to a computer’s operating system: a single management interface which gives control over every system without overloading the user with unnecessary tasks.
The training program to receive an Eclipse 500 type rating differs from other jet training programs: aspiring Eclipse 500 pilots must hold instrument and multiengine ratings before attending a one-week training program. Pilots who receive their type rating but who do not have previous experience flying jets will be required to fly with a mentor until reaching an acceptable level of experience. Recurrent training will be required every six months for pilots flying with mentors, and annually for more experienced pilots.
One of the inevitable and necessary aspects of owning a private aircraft which falls into the “jet” category is the required maintenance. Routine inspections can be costly and time-consuming, grounding aircraft for days or even weeks at a time. Eclipse Aviation worked particularly hard to resolve this issue and designed several maintenance programs to fit differing owner needs. One option, the high-utilization program, requires only one single 8-hour shift to complete all required maintenance for every 75 hours of flight time.
The Eclipse 500’s economical fuel burn and maintenance costs, combined with its low acquisition cost of $1.595 million (June 2006), make it vastly cheaper to fly than a typical light jet. So far the concept of cheap jet air travel has been extremely popular. Despite Eclipse Aviation’s highly accelerated production rate of at least 3 aircraft per day (unusual in an industry where “normal” production rates hover at 2 or 3 aircraft per month), buyers interested in purchasing an Eclipse 500 will have to wait much longer than an Eclipse 500’s 10-day production cycle to receive their aircraft. More than 2,600 aircraft have been sold already.