Eclipse 500 makes first flight with P&W engines

 - January 30, 2007, 3:38 AM

Keeping its promise, Albuquerque, N.M.-based Eclipse Aviation flew the first Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F-powered Eclipse 500 certification flight-test aircraft at 10:16 a.m. MST on December 31. The milestone marked the beginning of a 15-month testing program that will involve seven test airframes and culminate with planned FAA certification in March next year.

The very light jet (N503EA) successfully completed two sorties on its first day of flight-testing. Flown by test pilots Bill Bubb and Brian Mathy, the production-conforming Eclipse 500 took off from Albuquerque International Sunport for its maiden flight, which lasted one hour 29 minutes. After a thorough inspection by engineers, N503EA was cleared and departed again at 3:59 p.m. for a second flight, which lasted 54 minutes.

During the trials, the aircraft climbed to 16,800 feet and reached 200 knots, while completing all scheduled test points to evaluate basic maneuverability and various aircraft systems. N503EA is fully equipped with mechanical systems, including pressurization, climate control, ice protection and the Avio Total Aircraft Integration system. According to Eclipse, the performance of the P&WC engines was “excellent.”

Poor flying weather in Albuquerque and a battery of ground tests kept Eclipse’s test aircraft from flying early last month, though by mid-month the very light twinjet was back in the air. On January 13 the test pilots received the OK to cycle the gear for the first time, a big milestone before basic systems testing and envelope expansion.

The second Eclipse 500 (N502EA), the aerodynamics and structures test aircraft, is due to roll out on February 9, with the avionics platform (N504EA) to follow suit in mid-April. Two extended F&R test aircraft are expected to join the fleet by mid-June. Somewhere in between, the static and fatigue test articles will come online.

In August 2002 Eclipse made one flight of a twinjet with Williams EJ22 engines before deciding to switch to P&WC PW610Fs. To mark the resumption of flight-testing, Eclipse will give customers who placed an order between December 31 and the end of this month the deluxe (LX) interior upgrade, valued at about $28,000, at no charge.

According to Eclipse, the current backlog extends to the first quarter of 2008. The company said it plans to deliver about 260 aircraft next year, 880 in 2007 and then produce four aircraft per day. A six-aircraft-per-day rate could be sustained, Eclipse noted, if it opens a “campus” at Albuquerque Double Eagle II Airport.