Eclipse, Cessna race to VLJ certification

 - September 12, 2006, 8:01 AM

Not to rain on Eclipse’s parade, but…the July 27 waving of the checkered flag in the very light jet (VLJ) race might have been premature. While Albuquerque, N.M.-based Eclipse did announce FAA provisional certification of its Eclipse 500 that day
at the Oshkosh show, it had yet to receive “initial” FAA type certification almost a month later at press time for this issue of AIN. The FAA said provisional certification merely implies its “intent to certify soon,” and the agency was unable to provide official paperwork showing the limitations for such approval of the Eclipse 500, despite AIN’s numerous inquiries.

Meanwhile, on August 16 Cessna completed the 150-hour function and reliability testing of its Citation Mustang, clearing the last major hurdle before FAA type certification. At press time the Wichita manufacturer was trying to complete
a 45-minute icing test so the Mustang would
be certified for flight into known icing from
the outset, but finding natural icing conditions is difficult during the summer.

Cessna still officially maintains that Mustang type certification is scheduled for the fourth quarter, but given the completion of all major flight tests, this approval is most certainly imminent, with or without the flight-into-known-icing requirement. It is not unusual for OEMs to certify an aircraft without the icing approval and then later conduct the required tests to allow such operations as the icing season arrives. In fact, flight-into-known-icing approval for the Eclipse 500 isn’t expected until later this year.

At press time, Eclipse was still hoping to edge out competitor Cessna by receiving type certification for the Eclipse 500 by August 30, a little more than a month after receiving provisional certification. According to the start-up company, the initial TC will include day/night, VFR/ IFR, single-pilot and RVSM operations, though–unlike the Garmin G1000-equipped Mustang–the Eclipse’s initial avionics functionality will be limited.

Eclipse said the FMS, moving map, weather radar and GPS WAAS functions for its Avio avionics system are expected to be available next month, while autothrottle, e-checklists, TCAS, TAWS and satellite weather software won’t be ready for another six to 12 months. Company CEO Vern Raburn named Avidyne, as well as Meggitt, as the cause of the avionics functionality setbacks.

Additionally, Eclipse is changing its VLJ’s tip tanks from composite construction to aluminum, increasing their fuel capacity from seven gallons to 19.5 gallons per side. The composite tanks had failed lightning-strike tests, prompting the switch. Testing of the new metal tanks was ongoing at press time.

The NBAA IFR range at high-speed cruise with the original tip tanks is 1,055 nm, but increases to 1,125 nm with the new tanks. However, Raburn said, “We guaranteed 1,280 nautical miles and we’re not going to meet that.” On the plus side, the small jet’s high-speed cruise is now 370 knots, and Eclipse says it holds orders for more than 2,500 of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F-powered twinjets.

Eclipse’s P&WC PW610F and Mustang’s PW615F engines received full Transport Canada approval in July. FAA certification of both turbofans was still pending at press time.