““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
The 500's Smaller Sibling
Last summer, Eclipse shocked aviation watchers by displaying a single-engine variant of its Model 500 twinjet VLJ. The Eclipse "concept jet," or ECJ, featured seating for four (including the pilot) and borrowed key elements from the 500, including the nose, wing, avionics and engine. Even more unusual, the ECJ was developed and built by an outside engineering firm and in secret at a NASA test facility.
Cynics branded the ECJ a publicity stunt designed to deflect attention from development problems--most now resolved--on the twin-engine Model 500. But those of us with a sense of VLJ history couldn't help but notice the similarities between the ECJ and the demonstration aircraft that started the modern VLJ craze--the Williams V-JETII. So, as prices of both fuel and the 500 continued to rise, it came as no surprise when Eclipse announced in late May that it would proceed with the ECJ, now re-badged the Model 400. Eclipse says the $1.35 million Model 400 should be ready for customers by late 2011. It will cruise at 330 knots and have a ceiling of 41,000 feet and an unrefueled range of 1,250 nautical miles.
Several other companies--including Cirrus, Diamond and Piper--are betting on the emergence of the single-engine "personal" jet market. Prototypes of all three of those airplanes should be flying by the time you read this. The Diamond D-JET, while not certified, already has been flying for several years. However, although those other companies are experienced airplane manufacturers, Eclipse has its jet production line up and running now. And despite the program delays it has had with the 500, by using many components from its twinjet, Eclipse should be able to fast-track development, certification and manufacturing of the 400. In time, its sales could actually surpass those of the 500. "People just love this [Model 400] airplane," said Eclipse CEO Vern Raburn.