Eclipse training program aims to allay safety fears

 - October 20, 2006, 8:49 AM

The prospect of marginally qualified pilots hurtling through the rarefied atmosphere of the flight levels in very light jets and promoting fear and loathing in the heavy-metal professionals–which is how some people view the imminent advent of the “Volksjet” era–has been a topic of lively debate of late, and no surprise to Eclipse Aviation founder, president and CEO Vern Raburn.

Raburn is out to scuttle such concerns and recently detailed how Eclipse plans to ensure that its customers are up to the task of flying an Eclipse 500 safely. “We’ve been working on this for four years now, and we think we’re setting a really high standard,” Raburn told AIN.

Raburn’s commitment to creating a sound training environment took concrete form in 1999 with the hiring of Don Taylor as vice president of safety. Taylor, who has experience flying aircraft as diverse as a Ford Trimotor and the Boeing 747-400s he flew for United Airlines, owns a Beech Baron–just the sort of airplane many Eclipse 500 customers could be moving up from.

His role at Eclipse is paying off now in the form of the company’s training curriculum or, as the company calls it, the Eclipse Safety System. To Eclipse, safety is an ecosystem of related parts encompassing the aircraft, the pilot and aircraft operations, and the company is emphasizing that, apart from hiring Taylor to oversee the training curriculum, it has demonstrated its commitment to safety from the outset by designing safety and reliability into the aircraft.

Last December the company bought an Aero Vodochody L-39 that it will use to introduce budding Eclipse pilots to upset-recovery training.

The designing-in of safety includes an engine/airframe configuration that, Raburn said, makes an engine failure on takeoff a both-feet-on-the-floor exercise in applying a little bank into the live engine; low stall and approach speeds (67 knots and 87 knots respectively at present, but with the goal of a 65-knot stall in the conforming airplane due to fly before year-end); an autothrottle; and a birdstrike-resistant windshield.

On the reliability front, the airplane has high-MTBF proximity switches and brushless electric motors, no hydraulics (other than the master brake cylinder), stepper motors to eliminate runaway trim, an autothrottle and an avionics suite that also occupies its spare time by monitoring the entire aircraft as a system and reducing pilot workload in all phases of flight, but particularly the statistically riskiest segments of takeoff, approach and landing.

Raburn also emphasized the nimbleness of the Eclipse 500, by relating his experience flying his Commander 690 turboprop twin in the chaseplane role alongside prototype number 100, which has been flying on the power of two Teledyne drone engines since the divorce from Williams. “Bill [Bubb, Eclipse test pilot] had only to shove the thrust levers forward and I had a real hard time keeping up in the Commander. Same thing when decelerating–I had a hard time staying with Bill when he pulled the power off.”

The landing-gear operating speed is 250 knots (well above the indicated cruise speed of around 200 knots at 31,000 feet) and the limit speed once the gear is down is 285 knots. “The gear will be a very effective speed brake–more so, in fact, than the split-tail brake on number 100, which has proved to be pretty much useless below 200 knots,” said Raburn. The Eclipse’s quick acceleration and deceleration will help keep pilots out of trouble, he predicts.

There was speculation in recent years about whether FlightSafety, CAE SimuFlite or SimCom would provide Eclipse training, but in the end Eclipse is undertaking the task itself. “It will be structured more like the way it is done in the military and at the airlines,” said Raburn, and any pilot who fails to make the grade will be refused delivery of an Eclipse 500 and refunded any money he has paid for the airplane.

The emphasis will be on judgment and situational awareness, and pilots will be challenged to perform. The training program will comprise six phases.

Eclipse aims to fly the first Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610-powered Eclipse 500 by December 31 this year and earn FAA type certification in the first quarter of 2006, followed immediately by first deliveries. JAA/EASA certification will follow in the fourth quarter of 2006, Raburn predicts.