August 2008 Issue
Eclipse 500: Still a Work in Progress
Itís fast, efficient and fun to fly. But its avionics are a mixed bag of cutting edge system displays hobbled by lack of area navigation and no moving map. (Theyíre working on that.)
Vern Rayburn announced at Oshkosh in 1998 that a new little airplane would change all the rules about flying and, especially, about building airplanes. The Eclipse 500 was to define a new class called the VLJ or very light jet. It was to be fuel efficient, fast and would embrace the latest technologies so it could be built inexpensively. It would also be easier and cheaper to fly than a light twin. A full decade and a billion-plus in developmental dollars later, the Eclipse 500 is trickling if not pouring off the production line in Albuquerque; about 200 have been built. The overarching question is: Does the Eclipse really change the rules? And if it doesnít, why not? Further, whatís the thing like to fly? Is the cutting-edge glass cockpit really as advanced as Eclipse said it would be? Answering these questions isnít easy. Eclipse has steadfastly refused to offer press demonstrations of the airplane and some owners just wonít talk about their impressions of the airplane, giving the inquisitive person the notion that somethingís not quite right here. For this report, a cooperative owner allowed us a brief turn at the controls of an Eclipse 500 so we could find out for ourselves.
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