U. of N. Dakota will help train Eclipse 500 pilots

 - May 8, 2008, 11:09 AM

Eclipse Aviation introduced an in-house mandatory training program for customers of its Eclipse 500 very light twinjet, which includes pilot qualification and supplemental training by the University of North Dakota’s aerospace department. Jet-transition and type-rating courses will be provided free of charge with each Eclipse 500 purchased. A mandatory type-training admission evaluation, conducted by UND, will cost between $500 and $750. The jet-transition course is slated to begin next summer and the UND-conducted third-party evaluation will be available starting in the fourth quarter of next year. The type-rating course and (for a fee) a mentor program will start at first customer delivery, scheduled for January 2004.

Training will take place at Eclipse headquarters in Albuquerque, N.M. In addition to the required initial training, Eclipse said that annual recurrency training is also mandatory. Failure to obtain recurrent training may void insurance coverage or increase insurance premiums, according to Eclipse. (Insurance is being provided by Short Hills, N.J.-based Global Aerospace, the firm that resulted from the merger last year of British Aviation Insurance Group [BAIG] and Associated Aviation Underwriters [AAU] in the U.S.).

The training program will be divided into four phases: a jet transition pre-course, a type training admissions evaluation (by UND), a type rating course and a “final qualifier” mentor program (also by UND). The jet transition pre-course is a home study program that a customer can do at his own pace. Five modules, all of which the customer will be tested on, include introduction to jet engines, high-altitude physiology, high-speed and high-altitude aerodynamics, high-altitude weather and high-altitude flight planning. Eclipse said that experienced jet pilots have the option to “test out” of these modules.

UND will conduct the admission evaluation and preparation phase. Depending on the experience level of the pilot, this phase may include an evaluation flight, supplemental training, upset training in an Eclipse-owned aircraft and hypoxia training in an FAA-approved altitude chamber. This is the phase the customer must pay for out-of-pocket. All pilots entering the Eclipse 500 training program must have at least a private pilot certificate, and multi-engine and instrument ratings. The company is “still ironing out the details” of offering factory maintenance training as part of the aircraft’s selling price.

Once approved by UND, the customer may enroll in a seven-day type-rating course conducted in a classroom and an FAA level-7 flight training device (to be built by Mechtronix of Montreal).

The course culminates in a check ride in an Eclipse 500. But even after the customer completes the check ride, the type rating is not immediately awarded, under Eclipse’s training program.

Following completion of the type-rating check flight, the customer will be teamed with an experienced “mentor” pilot to “act as a guide and final qualifier.” Eclipse believes pilots with no previous jet experience will be the main beneficiaries of this segment of the training program. In this phase, the company said, new Eclipse 500 pilots will have the benefit of a mentor for whatever time is needed to reach proficiency.

There is a fee for the mentor program–the pilot will pay the mentor directly by the hour or day, depending on the amount of time the mentor spends with the pilot. Eclipse clarified, though, that the mentor phase “may not be required for some pilots. Those deemed to need the mentor will be required to gain a mentor sign-off or they will not qualify for our good insurance program.”

Next fall, UND plans to open its Eclipse customer evaluation and preparation center in Albuquerque, adjacent to the main Eclipse Aviation facility.

Unlike most other turbine airframe manufacturers, Eclipse has taken the unusual step of assuming responsibility for pilot training. The company promises that its program “will do more than teach a pilot to operate our aircraft. We will ensure that graduates of our training school are highly trained, skilled aviators,” said Eclipse Aviation president Vern Raburn. “We feel so strongly about this that if someone is unable to meet the requirements of our training program, we will refund their deposit.”     

Eclipse’s order book for the Eclipse 500 totals 2,072 aircraft, of which at least 530 will be delivered to owner-pilots.