Eclipse Aviation pulled off the most dramatic surprise at this year’s EAA AirVenture, introducing its v-tail, single-engine Concept Jet which, until that moment, had been a carefully-guarded secret.
As the company’s Chief Operating Officer, Peg Bilson, introduced the Concept, a curtain dropped revealing a cloud of mist, flashing lights and a mockup.
The press corps audience was suitably astonished, but the surprise wasn’t over.
Moments later, a jet was heard whining outside the Eclipse tent. Bilson said “Here’s Vern Raburn,” the tent sides were pulled away, and the prototype Concept Jet taxied up. The door opened and out hopped Raburn, to a somewhat stunned but enthusiastic greeting.
When the murmur of amazement died down, Raburn – the company’s CEO – explained that the Concept Jet had been built in secrecy at the very secure NASA Wallops Island facility in Virginia, by contractors Swift Engineering and Basis, from a design by Dr. Oliver Masefield, chief designer at Eclipse. The work took the two contractors just 200 days from start to finish, with outstanding FAA support, Raburn said. The jet had logged “about 27 hours, so far,” Raburn told the AirVenture crowd.
“This is not a product announcement,” he made clear. “It’s more like the concept cars at automobile shows.”
Its purpose is to determine whether there is a market for a four-seat, very light, single-engine jet; if so, the size market that can be expected; and what its customers would want, Raburn said.
He described the four-place airplane as “a sweet spot in the marketplace,” pointing out that most of the airplanes owned and flown by general aviation pilots are four-seaters.
“This is our concept of what a single-engine jet should be,” he said, using analogies from the automotive and electronics industries to describe its simplicity. As an example of simple operating characteristics, he compared a throttle to the volume control on audio equipment.
The Concept Jet shares about 60% of its parts with the Eclipse 500, Bilson said, including its pod-mounted Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F engine and the Eclipse-developed Avio NG avionics, which took “about 30 minutes to drop in.” Like the Eclipse 500, it is all aluminum. “The certification system favors aluminum,” she noted.
While the Concept is designed for 345 knots TAS at 41,000 feet, it has been flying at up to 250 knots and 25,000 feet so far, she said. The prototype is not pressurized. Planned NBAA IFR range is 1,250 nautical miles with 1,261 pounds of fuel and 2,000 pounds of useful load, she stated.
Raburn commented on the large v-tail, answering questions about flutter and the “hunting” typical of other v-tail aircraft such as the early Bonanzas. He said that modern structural analysis assured the designers that “we’ve got it right,” and that stability augmentation eliminates the hunting tendency.
Raburn said that Eclipse expects to decide within the next year whether to produce a single-engine, four-place jet based on the Concept. Currently it doesn’t even have a model number, he said. As no production decision has been made, no pricing has been announced and there is no current plan to accept deposits. He suggested, however, that a production version should cost “about $1 million.”
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