Sunday, September 28, 2008


Albuquerque, New Mexico - September 28, 2008 – Last week Eclipse Aviation announced financing by the Russian State Bank to build a factory in Ulyanovsk, Russia to assemble the Eclipse 500 Jet. CEO Roel Pieper said, “Today we are pleased to provide details on our new and exciting Russian venture.”

The plant manager for this state-of-the-art facility is newly-hired Vladimir Kochoff, a retired Russian Navy Admiral. “There has been some little confusion about the relationship between Albuquerque and Ulyanovsk and I would like to mostly clarify this here, now today,” said Kochoff.

“Eclipse has described how the components of the jet will be packaged in a ‘kit’ and sent to Russia for final assembly. Our crack team of Russian specialists travelled to remote Northern New Mexico to somewhat finalize the details. They found that the reusable shipping container and shipping costs to transfer the kit halfway around the world were very expensive.” stated Kochoff.

“We eliminate those costs by spending a few more hours, completing the aircraft and we fly the ‘kit’ to Russia,” he continued. “The sky will finally be darkened by the Eclipse. If you step outside your house in Bangor, Maine at six o’clock every evening, you will see two or three contrails – those are Eklipse-Kits on their way to the homeland.”

“At the Ulyanovsk factory is where the real work begins,” said Admiral Kochoff. “Russians read news that aircraft had problem with fasteners so we took action. First the little plane does not look very Russian with too many flush rivets so we drill all those out and replace them with button head rivets. Now it look beautiful. Also no global airplane should have English fasteners so we replace with metric screws and bolts. We pick the closest size and you just have to turn the screwdriver or wrench harder.”

“We also read about many, many problems with Avio avionics. This does not surprise us if you would know the meaning of the word ‘avio’ in the Russian language. We replace all of this with tried and proven Russian electronics. This also improves the operation in known icing in cold Russian winter as the vacuum tubes provide useful heat.”

Kochoff continued, “We tinkered with the engine controls to expand the range for fuel usage for economical operation. Since trans-fats have been banned in many United States cities we see Eclipse operating costs coming way down, but it also is difficult to find good French fries in States. I set the FADEC myself and, if it is a liquid composed mostly of carbon and hydrogen we can go.”

“Finally, Russian government has asked us to add hard points under the wing so external stores can be carried. They are sending some Eclipse jets to Georgia but we do not know why.” concluded Kochoff.

As some of you will no doubt have realized, Black Tulip has been writing again. I really like the bit about 'vacuum tubes', as I've done quite a lot of work myself with 'valves' and can attest the heating benefits they bring to a cold workshop.

Can I also thank you all for your kind words over the past week. My next post will now benefit from a lighter touch, as my mood this week was a bit dark....


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Where was Perry Mason?

The hearing lacked the sharp edge of a Perry Mason trial. The transcript for DOT's Inspector General Calvin Scovel's findings (and presumably the other witnesses as well) was available days in advance of the hearing. This allowed the FAA to be prepared to respond to the charges being leveled at them which in fairness, kept the hearing focused on the issues at hand.

For instance, when Ron Wojnar, the FAA manager who gave the go ahead to grant Eclipse the Production Certificate was asked about the 13 open items at the time of the issuance of the PC, he was able to blunt the inquiry by saying, "well a couple of the items were related to FAA action items, things that the FAA needed to do, like schedule an 18 month quality audit."

But where was Perry Mason to ask, "What about the other 11 items? How many of those were flight safety critical?"

Or John Hickey, Director, FAA Certification, justifying the date set for the Eclipse type certificate on September 30 because an agency goal was to certify a Very Light Jet during that fiscal year.

Where was Perry Mason to ask, "John, at the end of September your agency goal was to have a Very Light Jet certified. Why push the Eclipse program? You already had a Very Light Jet certified, and probably with no IOU's, the Cessna Mustang three weeks earlier."

Both sides made their points largely unchallenged. Nicholas Sabatini, FAA Associate Administrator for Safety under oath could say:

"I believe the Aircraft was properly certified. I believe that the aircraft meets FAA safety standards and I have the results of a Special Certification Review Team to back me up on that."

Of course the Special Review Team did not review the complete certification, they only spot checked certain areas during their 30-day rush to judgment but nobody reminded Sabatini of that fact.

Or when John Hickey testified:

"On the date of September 30, the FAA team made two determinations. They determined the Eclipse 500 had complied to all appropriate regulations and it was in a condition for safe operation."

Nobody asked him about IOU's that even Vern Raburn acknowledged existed at the time of the original TC.

OK, so it wasn't a trial - it was a hearing. Both sides made their case with little or no cross examination and it matters little as to what was said in the hearing. It was only a small window as to the discovery obtained during the months of investigation by Scovel.

Only a few witnesses testified. Scovel talked to many more as did the staff from Oberstar's committee. And what they heard painted a very ugly picture, not only of the FAA's transgressions but of the operation of Eclipse which was not part of the inquiry.

It was little wonder then when the presiding chairman of the subcommittee Congressman Jerry Costello opened the hearing with a serious indictment:

"I am extremely disappointed that the FAA again lacks the ability to oversee its programs, in this case its certification programs. Unfortunately, this hearing will expose an agency that is as interested in promoting aviation and befriending manufacturers as it is in carrying out its number one responsibility of protecting safety and the flying public.

It is inexcusable and unacceptable to ignore rules, regulations and standard practices to accommodate those you have a responsibility to regulate -- when you have people's lives in your hands! This Subcommittee, the Congress and the American people entrust the FAA to uphold the highest level of safety. Unfortunately, the FAA conduct regarding the certification of the EA-500 makes one lose confidence in the agency."

Or Chairman Oberstar's written transcript:

"In the Eclipse case, it appears that when design deficiencies were identified that appeared to be non-compliant with FAA certification requirements, senior FAA management became personally involved, overruled lower-level engineers and inspectors, worked diligently to find "work-arounds," to find "alternative approvals and rationales and techniques." and to accept IOU's for later compliance. In many ways, the certification process in this case was conducted "backwards" from the clear intent and requirements of FAA certification regulations. Instead of certifying on the basis of safety alone, FAA senior management appeared to be highly motivated to find ways to explain why design deficiencies identified by FAA engineers and inspectors as "unsafe" were indeed "flawed" but they were still "acceptable for certification" by simply changing the approval criteria."

Both chairs had heard enough in advance to convince them to hold the hearing and get the evidence into a public forum. The written statements by the Inspector General, DiPaola and the four safety inspectors from Ft Worth contain far more detail and disturbing accusations then what they could state in their brief oral summaries. Fortunately, their written transcripts are on record for everyone to see.

Since there was no trial, there was no verdict. Had there been one, John Hickey would have been terminated on the spot and Nicholas Sabatini certainly sent on to early retirement. But that is not the way Washington works. Congressman Oberstar has been around Washington a few years. He knows where all the levers are, how to pull them and when. As one who controls the FAA's budget his influence is enormous.

Sabatini too, has been around long enough to read the tea leaves and will probably depart on his own. When? Soon, but not too soon to look guilty. Shortly thereafter, Hickey might feel that fatherly arm of Congressman Oberstar around his shoulder and hear Oberstar's soothing words, all while being escorted to the door. "Goodbye John, you did a heck of a job."

A good friend put this together for me, this past week. Clearly, DayJet's effective closure is another matter which merits a full headline, but this is the Eclipse Aviation Critic blog, so I thought the DOT IG hearing merited more focus.

I was otherwise engaged. I have been in very brief contact with some of you, who know why. My father, Brian Price, died suddenly while on holiday in France last Monday morning, the 15th of September. To quote the final paragraph of what I said at his funeral yesterday:-

"Let us all remember Brian in our hearts and our prayers. He was a rare individual, a loving husband, a kind and caring father, an intelligent and skilful lawyer and a great friend to us all.

May he rest in peace."


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Hearing on FAA's Rush to OK Eclipse 500 Jet: Will the Committee Hold the FAA's Feet to the Fire?

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing on Sept. 17, at 10 a.m. EDT, regarding the Federal Aviation Administration's issuance of its type certificate (TC) granted to Eclipse Aviation Corp. for its Eclipse 500 very light jet (VLJ). The event can be viewed live at

The committee, chaired by Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., ordered the Department of Transportation’s inspector general’s office to investigate whether the FAA should’ve issued the TC on Sept. 30, 2006, after an unprecedented grievance was filed on behalf of FAA-employed engineers and test pilots, who were responsible for validating compliance of the Eclipse VLJ. According to the grievance, FAA management awarded Eclipse Aviation with the TC for its airplane without allowing aircraft certification engineers and flight test pilots to properly complete their assigned certification/safety responsibilities. According to media reports, former Eclipse personnel will testify before the committee, validating that the VLJ was not safe to fly at the time of certification.

The engineers and test pilots’ concerns were partially vindicated on June 5, 2008, when an Eclipse 500 landing at Chicago's Midway Airport experienced uncontrollable, maximum power on both engines during the approach to land. Skillful piloting saved the lives of the four on board, after the plane’s computer that controls the engines experienced a condition it was not programmed to handle—uncontrolled maximum engine thrust on landing, and one engine rolling back to idle position, after the pilot-in-command and copilot got the plane back up in the air, as they were running out of runway.

In a move to obscure the thrust of Oberstar's investigation, the FAA last month initiated a 30-day review of the Eclipse 500. While a complete investigation of the Eclipse certification process would take a year, this investigation was limited to specific areas related to known problems brought forth by Eclipse operators since the aircraft entered service. The team looked at whether these issues were raised during the certification process, and if any of the issues are currently a safety threat.

Despite the narrow scope and brief time allocated for this investigation, on Sept. 12, Robert A. Sturgell, acting FAA administrator, issued a statement: "The team found that the airplane was certificated in accordance with safety regulations…” Further, her said, “This review tells us that while we made the right call in certifying this aircraft, the process we used could and should have been better coordinated."

However, the DOT’s IG’s office began its investigation after the FAA refused to hear the grievance formally, choosing to ignore documented safety issues.

In a related effort to influence the hearing, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson traveled to Washington on Sept. 3 to meet with Oberstar. Richardson's office issued the following statement: "We will emphasize the state of New Mexico's commitment to Eclipse Aviation and highlight the pivotal role that Eclipse has played in our efforts to create high-wage jobs. As a former congressman, I know how important it is to hear directly from communities that benefit from the presence of companies like Eclipse."

Richardson failed to address the safety issues. He failed to mention the alleged breakdown of protocols within the FAA of allowing unfettered hands-on experienced professionals to determine whether a new design was safe or met the intent of FAA regulations. He also failed to mention whether he had a hand in influencing the FAA to accelerate its issuance of the TC to Eclipse.

Meanwhile, Eclipse has admitted to being a cash-strapped company that recently laid off nearly 40 percent of its work force, halted aircraft production, refuses to return position holders' deposits, albeit lawsuits mounting, and is betting on the recent "FAA special review team audit" to clear its name, so it can continue its 10-year history of broken promises—delivering non-completed aircraft. Currently, the company is seeking additional funding to continue operation and open an additional production facility in Russia. Eclipse has burned through more than $1 billion; however, the company is seeking an additional $200 million to $300 million so it can produce aircraft.


Eclipse Aviation Critic NG

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

'Our' FPJ and the mysterious world of owning one

Many times over the course of hosting this blog I've pondered what motivated people who've purchased their very own Fisher Price Jet. The more I 'see' inside the aircraft, or hear from staff and suppliers to the company, the deeper my confusion. After reading all those excellent comments in the last thread it prompted me to try a trusted method when seeking clarity on a subject.

I write things down. It's really simple, focuses me, helps me to analyze what's important and generally clears my mind.

So here goes.

As always when I do this, I start at the beginning. For me this was some two years ago, when I spent time researching an idea. In part it was a personal quest for an aircraft to fulfill a specific mission (Ireland to North America, owner flown) and grew into a business idea. After a few weeks it became clear that the aircraft required to 'do' the mission was beyond my budget, so I looked really hard at the business case to see if that would help stand up a purchase on it's own. That's when I first discovered Stan's blog, read my way into the discussion and the rest (as they say) is history.

What have I learned? Well, pretty soon after I took over as custodian, I found out the hard way that 'free speech' only stays that way if people driven by principles (take a bow, Gunner) are prepared to spend their hard earned cash defending the First Amendment. It also displayed for a much wider audience the moral background at EAC and made me very determined to expose them to detailed scrutiny.

Speaking directly with people and through the blog email ( I've discovered that there were many more strange things 'lurking' in this whole story. The more I heard, the more I became convinced that there was a lot more to this than a business plan gone a little off track.

Pilots, usually those working for a living, have been very helpful in filling in the blanks left by the absence of reporting by the traditional media, who themselves were hamstrung by Vern. Suppliers also have illuminated some of the darker corners of the business ethics (or lack thereof) at EAC.

Many, many members of staff, current and former were kind enough to contact me. This has been most helpful in rounding out the full picture.

And then there are the real 'stars'.

You are.

Each and every one one of you, who has chosen to post a comment on the blog. It's not easy to engage with the story of EAC, without becoming awed by the scale. Breaking it down into manageable bits is as good a way as any to try to make sense of it.

Most recently we've enjoyed refreshing input from owners. I am really glad they decided to join in and hope they continue to provide insight. In many ways I think the blog has a better future as a platform for them than for 'us'. After all, in the almost inevitable end game we all can see, who has a right to be more critical of Eclipse than the people who paid money, but never got what they ordered?

So, let's take a shot at a summary of 'Reasons to buy an FPJ'

1. Low cost, especially for those who got into the program early. Even now (8 years later) there really is nothing new available, for less money.

2. The running costs are very impressive, if you are prepared to ignore depreciation. 

3. It's performance 'package' including range, takeoff and landing distances and the ability to climb to the higher flight levels makes it appealing to a wide group.

However (putting my critic hat back on) these basic 'facts' have been distorted into a marketing mantra at EAC which endlessly promotes the huge numbers of orders, in turn justifying the low price. Of course such a vast market is difficult to see in the current, owner flown arena, so we have the creation of 'air taxi' companies that offer EAC orders into the dim and distant future.

Lots of people bought into the dream. Not as many as EAC claimed, but far more than many thought possible. More than enough to make the project viable with any sort of halfway decent execution or proper management of the available resources. These people had an expectation based on promises made. They have been let down, badly, by EAC. Why do they continue to defy the logic of where the company is at? As I see it, the best thing would be to sell now, before the bottom falls out of the market. But they seem to resist this option.

What is really scary is that some of these owners and/or position holders have parted with money for multiple aircraft. This last bit I fail to understand in any process dictated by logic. It's like playing Russian roulette with 5 live bullets and one empty chamber instead of the other way round.

I think that's a pretty fair summary of where we are now. Yes we can add an endless number of pro's and con's to the discussion (and probably will, knowing you lot) but we must also remember that real people are getting hurt out there. I'll finish with a passage from the inbox, which reached me last week. I've edited it, but only lightly, as it has a certain power of its' own, coming as it does from a parent concerned for a beloved child.

"It was immediately apparent to me that they were not serious about producing planes. You can’t hire contractors at $30 an hour and have them stand around talking all day and expect to run a successful company – even I know that. You can’t hire your friends to “supervise” and have them spend the day with their heads in the computer and not pay any attention to what people are doing on the floor and expect to run a successful company. You can’t let people steal you blind and expect to run a successful company. This whole thing was obviously a scam from the beginning – anyone who actually worked in production saw that immediately. But they duped not only their investors but the people who worked for them and believed in them. It’s not just the investors and suppliers and purchasers who got screwed, it’s the people who put their time and energy and faith in this company and are now looking for jobs. I am angry. I am angry at the politicians and that lying piece of s*#t Vern Raburn for deceiving and using all these people who gave them their trust and time and energy."

You can take it as read that the 'child' was one of the 800 odd who were fired recently, and that this parent was worked up enough to send me a (much) longer email, of which the above is a mere extract. Consider, carefully, this paragraph before you buy yourself an FPJ....

So, that's what I think.

What about you?


Thursday, September 4, 2008

A 'visit' from an old friend...

Recently Ken Meyer contacted me to offer an owners view and promised to provide 500 words. I was naturally delighted to hear from him, and encouraged him to get to work. He sent me this earlier, which I reproduce faithfully below.

A blast from the past…the Cardinal Returns!

Nine months ago, tired of the acrimony, I signed off from the Eclipse Critic Blog with these words: “Maybe I'll drop in and say hello after I've been flying the plane a while to let you know how I like it :)”

So, nine months later, I’m offering a very warm, heartfelt hello to all of you. And here is my report…

In a nutshell, while you can say any number of things about Eclipse Aviation and its many missteps, the plane is a great plane. It is folks. And whether you like the manufacturer or not, the plane will be around for a very long time to come because it’s a very good, very efficient, very fast design.

You see, by the numbers alone, the plane is everything it was advertised to be; more on that later. But what I didn’t anticipate was how much raw fun the Eclipse would be to fly. Sure, every airplane is fun to fly, but the Eclipse makes you feel like a fighter pilot. It handles like a Mooney with jet engines. Tight and crisp, a sports car of the air.

Aha! Ken says it’s cramped! No, that’s not it at all. It handles like a sports car, but with a seat removed, it is downright spacious inside. 

Take a peek at this photo

A ton of junk stored in the back, but still plenty of room for the kids to stretch out.

Is there space enough for luggage? Well, here’s the luggage for three that we carried for our Alaska cruise last week. 

Performance? Does the plane really do what they say it will? It does indeed. It gets book numbers and then some. Here’s a screen shot that tells the story.

361 knots, cruising in jet comfort above the weather at 37,000 feet while burning just 209 pounds per hour per side, a total of less than 62 gph. Fuel efficiency: 6.7 statute MPG. Know any other jets that can do that? That’s better fuel efficiency than I was getting in my old piston plane!

Range? Some on this blog have said the Eclipse has a 500 nm range. Well, nope; that’s just not right. I flew KHNR to KWMC on 8/8/08:

That’s over a thousand nautical miles westbound, against headwinds! A few days earlier, it was 1172 nm eastbound O05 to KHNR.

Reliability? I’ve got over 40,000 miles on my plane since taking delivery in April. It’s had maintenance—there were several delivery squawks that had to be fixed—but not a single flight has been cancelled due to a maintenance issue. I flew to Mexico in July with an author and photographer onboard. In my previous plane, I’d have worried that the story and photos would be about our breakdown in a foreign country. In the Eclipse, I had no doubt whatsoever the flight would go well. And sure enough it did.

The Eclipse 500 is a really good design that will live on no matter what happens to Eclipse Aviation, Inc. I have a high level of optimism that the new Eclipse management can and will fix the problems the company has had in the past. But even if they don’t, the Eclipse 500 will live on precisely because it is a good design, there is a type certificate, a production certificate, a proven production line, FIKI, and a growing support network.

Thanks to all of you for reading this! I’ll drop in again in 6 months or so and say hello. Meanwhile, I’m flying my jet and loving it :)

Ken Meyer

Many thanks Ken, and may you enjoy loads more happy hours in your very own jet. You chose your own caption, and I like your sense of humor!

Finally I think I can safely say, on behalf of the blog:-

Don't be a stranger and drop in whenever you like.