"When she is good, she is very, very good. But when she is bad, she is horrid"
So, with that in mind, herewith a mixture of quotations (in red) and my own contributions which remain in good old fashioned black. It's a very underrated colour in my humble opinion, but I digress.
Most of us have never flown an FPJ, and it's probably fair to say that few of us critics would embrace the opportunity were it ever to present itself. Across the range of replies I've had, the common theme is that the bird flies very well, and meets (or exceeds) it's performance numbers. A typical comment:-
"Aerodynamicly they got the airframe design and engines right, they are a well blended match producing the performance numbers that were advertised. So Eclipse actually did meet that promise. The jet is very simple to fly, and the Avio NG system, although full of bugs, has a great display presentation and very logical interface to all of the aircrafts' systems."
Avio, both versions
It has some fans. Pilots like the presentation of everything in one style and they like the Crew Alerting System (CAS) popping up in plain view. They like the fact that you select one 'TO Configuration' and pretty much avoid the simpler ways to kill yourself on takeoff.
"The Avio NG system, although full of bugs, has a great display presentation and very logical interface to all the aircraft systems. For most this will be their first exposure to a crew alerting system. The CAS really reduces the workload and keeps you well informed on the health and status of the jet."
What drives everyone mad is due to the level of integration which tends to alert you a lot. Most pilots report that the audibles are too loud, to the point where they can interfere with ATC. The problem here is that there is no way to 'save' your preferred volume so that each time you fly you end up adjusting it again.
Startup, taxi and takeoff
A common thread with the FPJ is the GPU 'requirement'. It seems that any sort of hot weather at all makes the cockpit too uncomfortable to work in, so a number of pilots insist on starting the aircon first, which naturally ties you to the GPU. After doing the normal checklist, which is straightforward enough for a twin jet, it's time to taxi away. The size of the tires is blamed by several for what's claimed to be a rough ride, and the turning circle means you need to stay on top of your game out to the runway.
"Acceleration is fairly quick, inside is amazingly quiet. There is a nuisance alarm that can occur at warm ambient temps giving the occassional engine Warning message but other then that its APR armed, Airspeed alive, and at VR hands off the thottles and pull back on the stick. I wasn't sure if I would like the side stick, but after using it, I love the fact that you're wide open in front of you, perfect if you want to use your laptop or read something. At 400 feet flaps up, set max continuous thrust, and yaw damp on, 1000 feet auto pilot on, heading select, and the next check is 10k for recognition lights off and look for a delta P on the pressuization. To date all delivered E500'a are raw data, VOR DME aircraft. Autopilot is only good for pitch and roll. I have yet to fly an Eclipse that doesn't roll left and right 3 to 5 degrees when in heading mode."
So far, so good. The bird starts, taxi's and takes off without huge drama and in commendably short order. The takeoff distances are praised and the 'feel' of the aircraft also gets high marks.
Climb, cruise and descent
The Autopilot has its' limits, which many pilots have observed. While good in calm air, it tends to bug out in anything other than light turbulence. Range and payload are better than you would think, in large part due to the very low specific fuel consumption. This is clearly a tribute to the basic design, as well as the job P&W did on a 'clean sheet' engine. But there are 'real world' issues that you don't expect.
"Another downside to the autopilot is when commanding pitch changes in an NG aircraft. It sometimes takes up to 20 seconds or so before the input gets processed by the computers. My technique is to dial in 4 to 5 clicks of the wheel and resist the temptation to dial more if there is no initial response. Wait it out, eventually it will happen. In pitch mode the autopilot does a terrible job of maintaining a steady rate of descent, and it requires constant attention. I actuallly think it would be less work load to hand fly the descents."
ATC still don't quite know what to make of the FPJ. Over time this will probably go away, but only if the FPJ stays alive long enough, in numbers, so that the slower speed becomes more familiar to the controllers. To mix it with the jets at higher FL's also requires range limiting 'max thrust' settings, and there are issues with static interference on the radios cause by ice crystals. So, the comfortable range flight of about 850nm is coming to a end. What happens next?
Final approach and landing
Distractions from the 'high volume' audibles during final are a pain, as are the speed expectations from ATC. Our old friend of tyre wear makes a welcome reappearance on the blog. Remember when all we really talked about were simple things like that? Anyway, a concluding quote from an owner/pilot.
"Descents and landings are straight forward, although you will soon find that the slow speeds on approach used in the Sims create road blocks in the real world. Because a lot of ATC controllers aren't familiar with the Eclipse, they know you are a jet and sequence you into traffic accordingly and are expecting jet speeds. I usually fly the approach around 120 to 115, and slow as I approach 200 feet AGL. The jet lands easy, and as long as you touch down close to VTD, braking or tire blowouts should not be a problem. The tires do not wear well at all, and it is not the landings that take the toll. Any time the jet rolls on the ground, you can see black marks on the pavement, proof that the tires are leaving behind lots of rubber. And they wear on the outside near the sidewalls, not in the center."
So thats a pretty nice summary of the general performance of the aircraft, with details supplied by those who fly it. Naturally, there is more.
Living with the 'issues'
Naturally people are reluctant to be identified when there is still a remaining chance the original service centers will be around. They don't want to be scapegoated for drawing attention to the problems they've experienced so I'll have to be a bit vague in collating this section and avoid direct quotations.
The CAS system does exactly that. It keeps the crew alert by streaming plenty of false messages into the cockpit. All pilots who've contacted me report the same 'heading disagree', 'attitude disagree' and 'stick pusher fail' messages which come and go at a whim. The general experience with the earlier birds is worse, but even the Avio NG craft deliver master cautions and warnings of a spurious nature about one flight in four.
Mechanical failures abound, sadly, with door seals, air conditioning, rudder and elevator trim 'issues' very common. All owners report difficulties with water getting into places it shouldn't, which is bound to happen when you're away from your home base with it's nice dry hanger. Most people also report interior trim falling off or not being fitted properly in the first place. There is a thread running through most of the report I have about difficulty communicating problems to the service centers. The staff themselves generally perform trojan work, but parts can take a long time to arrive from suppliers (I wonder why...) and often take several attempts to fix the underlying problem. At least one of my correspondents thinks this is due to the high level of integration within the aircraft, which means software problems with Avio are confusing the mechanics and (to some extent) vice versa.
So, there you have it. An up to date report, complied from many sources, on the current state of the FPJ, as an aircraft. As mentioned on the top of this post, we await news on the Chapter 11 outcome for the company, both from Moscow/ETIRC and the Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, where an appeal was lodged yesterday.
Spring approaches, as does the anniversary of the NG version of this blog. I'm just beginning to wonder if company (any version) will survive to help us celebrate the event, which takes place on Monday!