Training, pitot, Avio spell more delays for Eclipse

 - July 3, 2007, 5:47 AM

Eclipse Aviation president and CEO Vern Raburn acknowledged in a customer/investor update dated June 10 that there is a lengthy wait between delivery of new Eclipse 500 VLJs and pilot training. “Unfortunately,” he wrote, “we did not adequately plan our staffing levels and have thus fallen behind schedule.”

The staffing miscalculation, he added, was due to the requirement to provide type-rating training to many more FAA and Eclipse pilots than originally anticipated.
Eclipse is hiring more instructors and has contracted with Global Jet Services to provide ground training for pilots to free up additional Eclipse ground instructors. The manufacturer expects to catch up with the training backlog by the end of the third quarter.

On the technical front, Eclipse’s new Avio NG avionics suite is behind schedule, according to Raburn. Avio NG was recently switched on in one test airplane and installed in a second, and flight testing was scheduled to begin late last month. A third test airplane will also be equipped with Avio NG and be used for the FAA certification program. Certification of the aerodynamic and engine performance improvements should occur soon, Raburn wrote, and the first production airplane with the mods will be S/N 39.

An Eclipse spokeswoman told AIN that from now on the company plans to release its latest delivery information on a quarterly basis, so it is not known when number 39 is scheduled for delivery. She said the next release of quarterly numbers was expected to take place in June or July.

The problem with the Eclipse 500’s pitot tube is near resolution. The freezing of moisture in the pitot tube caused loss of airspeed information on primary flight displays. Eclipse has submitted a new design for the pitot tube to the FAA and expects certification this month.

While Eclipse operators were limited to flying in VMC but could still file IFR as long they avoided flying through clouds, the FAA imposed a stricter limitation by issuing an Airworthiness Directive that limits Eclipse 500s to day VFR operations until the pitot fix is installed. Eclipse expects to complete retrofitting the fleet by early September.

The pitot system freezing problem has occurred only three times, according to Eclipse, twice during normal flight tests and then once in an attempt to replicate the problem with test instrumentation installed.

The test revealed that after the airplane departed from an airport at high humidity, condensation inside the pitot tube froze, trapping pressure to the air data computers and causing loss of airspeed indication on the primary flight displays. The freezing occurred even though the pitot tube is heated and is the same design used on many other aircraft.

Eclipse spent 60 hours flight testing the new configuration, which includes, according to Eclipse, “a drain in the tip of the pitot probe, insulation between the outer surface and cavity where the tubes are routed, new heat conductive material to keep the tubes warm within the probe and a new interior heater added to the cavity to increase the heat transmitted to the tube.”

The new configuration has been successfully flight tested, and Eclipse expected the pitot tube supplier to submit TSO documentation to the FAA by the end of last month.

Eclipse has completed coupon testing on a new design for prematurely cracking cockpit windshields and side windows made by Nordam. Retrofits begin this month. Eclipse’s first service center away from company headquarters opened in Gainesville, Fla., on June 15.