Today, August 26, 2022, marks 20 years since the Eclipse Aviation EA500 made its maiden flight. At the time, the six-seat American business jet was the first of a new class of very light jet aircraft powered by two lightweight Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F turbofan engines.
The EA500 was based on the Williams V-Jet II built by now Northrop Grumman-owned Scaled Composites. Owned by Aerospace engineer and entrepreneur Elbert Leander “Burt” Rutan, the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, the California-based company was founded to develop experimental aircraft built using non-metal composites.
The plane was first built using all composite material
Intended to demonstrate the new lightweight Williams FJX-2 turbofan engine, the V-Jet II debuted at the 1997 Oshkosh, Wisconsin Air Show. Constructed using all composite materials, the aircraft attracted the attention of former Microsoft executive Vern Raburn who founded Eclipse Aviation to develop the plane further.
Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Raburn brought Microsoft founder Bill Gates onboard as an investor and set about redesigning the aircraft with a metal airframe, straight wing, and T-tail. Not happy with the aircraft’s performance, Eclipse approached Pratt & Whitney Canada, who agreed to modify the design of its PW615 engine for the Eclipse 500.
The redesign of the new engines delayed the program, with the first Eclipse 500 with the new engines first taking to the skies on December 31, 2004.
The plane did not have a toilet
By the time the plane was ready to be sold to the public, the Eclipse 500 was the only business jet on the market that did not have a toilet. With many business executives and wealthy owners used to having a lavatory, in an article published on August 29, 2006, the New York Times posed the question, “Will having a lavatory onboard be the key factor in short flight success?” In response to this, Vern Raburn said most customers would be using the VLJ for short 40–80 minutes flights and that the lavatory issue would not be a problem.
On July 27, 2006, the Eclipse 500 received its provisional type certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Because the aircraft wingtip fuel tanks were made of composite materials, the plane did not receive full certification until they were replaced with aluminum fuel tanks .
In the summer of 2008, the FAA issued Emergency Airworthiness Directive grounding the Eclipse 500 following an incident at Chicago’s Midway Airport (MDW). According to the subsequent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation, the plane was landing at Midway when the pilot suddenly As was usual in these circumstances, he increased the power, but when he decreased it after the plane had touched down, the engines began accelerating to maximum capacity. one of the engines before successfully landing.
In October 2008, production of the Eclipse 500 ceased, with the company citing a lack of funds to continue or refund customers’ deposits. At the time, 260 Eclipse 500s had been built.
Eclipse Aviation entered chapter 11 bankruptcy on November 25, 2008, and then Chapter 7 liquidation three months later. A new company called Eclipse Aerospace bought the former planemaker’s assets and built a new version of the plane called the “Eclipse 550.”
In the spring of 2015, Eclipse Aerospace merged with Kestrel Aircraft to form One Aviation. Six years later, it, too, went bankrupt and was liquidated. In total, 293 Eclipse 500 and 550s were built.
Specifications and general characteristics
- Crew: one or two pilots
- Capacity: Four to Five passengers or 2,400 lbs
- Length: 33 feet 1 inch
- Wingspan: 37 feet 3 inches
- Height: 11 feet
- Empty weight: 3,550lbs
- Gross weight: 5,520lbs
- Max takeoff weight: 6,000lbs
- Powerplant: 2 x Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F turbofan engines, 900 lbf each
- Maximum speed: 370 knots (425 mph)
- Stall speed: 69 knots (79 mph)
- Never exceed speed: 285 knots (328 mph)
- Range: 1,125 nmi (1,295 miles)
- Service ceiling: 41,000 feet
- Rate of climb: 3,424 ft/min
- Takeoff distance: 2,345 feet
- Landing distance: 2,250 feet