Eclipse Owners Flock to Oshkosh

 - August 13, 2010, 6:23 AM

In a forum at this year’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis., Eclipse Aerospace chairman and president Mason Holland pulled no punches with the crowd of some 40 owners who’d gathered to hear the latest details about the company and its progress to complete the list of items necessary to upgrade every Eclipse 500 to Version 1.7. “This airplane has been the soap opera of aviation for the past 10 years,” said Holland. “We’re starting to plan for the future. We’re building a roadmap to the future.” Holland said in Oshkosh that progress on the 1.7 upgrades to the airplane have been successful enough that he felt confident saying, “We can get [this airplane] back into production. A part of the rebranding of the aircraft is rebuilding the supply chain. We’re going to produce this airplane again.”  Seventy-six airframes of the original 260 have been modified to 1.7 standards.

Owners in attendance at Oshkosh seemed ready to hear Holland’s message that the Eclipse is the only true twin-engine jet in the $2- to $3 million category. “There’s a lot of love and passion around this airplane,” he said.

 Owners Kenneth and Shari Meyer flew their Eclipse 500 from Chester, Calif., to Oshkosh to be a part of the luncheon seminar and network with other owners. The Meyers bought their Eclipse–S/N 151 now 1.7 modified–in April 2008. Both are Eclipse 500-rated pilots and together they have logged 420 hours in their Eclipse since they took delivery, using it primarily for pleasure flying between their homes in Chester and Phoenix. They said they’d decided against a Cessna Mustang because it was more expensive to operate, as was the TBM850.

“I think the Eclipse 500 has gotten a bad rap primarily because of previous company management,” Shari Meyer said. “Sometimes [the naysayers] make problems appear much worse than they are. I think customers are really happy with the new company.” The Meyers say they’ve had no trouble with their aircraft in the two years they’ve been operating it, although they do keep a close eye on topics of the day, such as whether Eclipse might someday offer a glass windshield to alleviate the static electricity problems on the current coated acrylic versions. The coating wears off easily if the windshield is washed. Shari Meyer added, “Our Eclipse performs right to book numbers.”

John McMurtrie was 12th in the original line to purchase a delivery slot. Thanks to some negotiations along the way, he didn’t actually take delivery of his aircraft until June 2008. Like the Meyers, McMurtrie came to the Eclipse after 1,000 hours in a Cessna 340 with an intermediate stop in a Malibu in which he escaped a total engine unharmed. He has flown the Eclipse 300 hours, most often between his base at Oshkosh Wittman Regional Airport and Naples, Fla. If the weather is good, he usually makes KAPF non-stop. His original aircraft was a 1.3 version of the Eclipse, which had de-ice boots but not certification for flight into known icing (FIKI). After the 1.7 upgrade, McMurtrie believes he has about $1.732 million invested in the airplane. New Total Eclipse aircraft sell for $2.1 million.

Considering the price, McMurtrie said, “There’s nothing even close to this aircraft. It’s an incredibly comfortable four-place jet. Some might say this airplane is too small, but it was never meant to be a six-place airplane. But neither is the TBM.” He wondered, in fact, why anyone would pass up the chance to fly a twin-engine jet for a $3 million plus turboprop like the TBM. “I can fly at almost twice the speeds of the Cessna 340 on essentially the same amount of fuel although I do wish the Eclipse carried about 40 gallons more.” In high-altitude flight, AIN found fuel flows could be calculated at 550 pounds the first hour, 350 the second and 300 the third if the flight took that long. Most don’t. McMurtrie readily acknowledged the widespread concern about customer support of the aircraft, for which Eclipse still suffers somewhat. “Eclipse Aerospace people must prove themselves to customers,” he said. “I’ve never missed a flight in 300 hours, but not everyone has had my experience.”

David Kolssak runs Turnkey IT in Wheeling, Ill., and also sits on the airport board at Chicago Executive, home base to an Eclipse Aerospace Platinum facility. Kolssak, who is not a pilot, owns an Eclipse and planned to lease his back to local operator North American Jet for charter work to help recoup some of the expense. He said his airplane flew quite a bit in the charter market until the economy tanked, but said he noted that not all of his experiences with the aircraft have been positive. “My airplane came off the line in October 2007 with a laundry list of things that needed to be fixed. It was a dogfight in the Midwest winters with no flight into known icing capability, for example.” With a newly converted 1.7 Eclipse, however, he said, “I love this airplane.” Kolssak believes “The new Eclipse Aerospace is lean and mean, and owners are ready for that. Mason is a personable guy and I think they are really trying to mend fences with owners.”