Saturday, April 11, 2009
A Birthday Post, by Stan Blankenship
Credit where credit is due, the Eclipse critic's blog wasn't the first to take exception to the outrageous claims made by the cocksure Vern Raburn and his minions. That honor goes to Richard Aboulafia from the Teal Group whose blog and interviews with the national media provided at least one voice of caution and sanity. When I started the blog three years ago it was intended as a technical extension to support Aboulafia's views.
After the first post went up, links were sent to Aboulafia, Mac McClellan, and the two main slobbering cheerleaders for Eclipse, Zoom and Rich Karlgaard. Aboulafia's response was that I "was doing God's work". Mac ignored my msg (after all, a lowly blogger hardly deserves recognition by mainstream media).
After a few e-mails, Zoom went ballistic, threatened to report me to the authorities for threats to he and his family...told my son he would own our company and eventually claimed I owed him tens of thousands of dollars for reproducing his copyrighted material. What a nut case!
Karlgaard concluded that I was "always looking for the dark side" and when I asked, "What advice will you have for your rich aunt when she calls and tells you she wants to invest your inheritance in the hot new Eclipse Aviation IPO?" His response:
"I always cheer for the bold entrpreneur (his spelling). Doesn't mean I'll buy their stock. But without bold players -- and Vern is one -- the industry stagnates. Maybe you're too skeptical."
Turns out, not skeptical enough.
While the original intent was to only write a single post, a second one soon emerged then a third and eventually nearly 200. Somewhere along the line, the blog gained a following and more important, reader participation by some well informed individuals, experts in their fields as well as others who just added a point here and there to help fill in the mosaic. Eventually, a few supporters weighed in which led to some lively discussions; but the supporters had their points and often made them.
The collective wisdom of the blog was really evident during the 2007 contest to predict the number of deliveries. The average of all the guesses nailed the actual number. The blogger coming the closest to predicting 2007 deliveries just happened to be the blog’s resident satirist, black tulip.
As a prize, I had pledged an Eclipse model which I could pick up on ebay. Instead, I was contacted by an Eclipse buyer who had cancelled his Eclipse and ordered a Phenom 100 in its place. So he offered his brand new Eclipse model still in the box which was sent directly to black tulip.
In turn, I sent the former buyer a brand new boxed gold-filled Cross pen and pencil set that Learjet used back in the 70's for formal signings when a customer took delivery of a new Model 35. The pen and pencil set went with a request that it be used to sign the acceptance when the former Eclipse buyer takes delivery of his new Phenom 100. Not to be outdone, the former Eclipse buyer sent me a lucite paperweight containing metal chips that were represented to be the first ones cut for the Eclipse program. Nice and thanks again. It is on display in a prominent place in my lobby.
Then I learned black tulip had a special occasion scheduled. So he too received a gold filled Cross pen and pencil with a request he use the pen at the appropriate time. Those were fun days on the blog.
Just as Shane has alluded to many times, there was and is a fair amount of activity that goes on behind the scene. Most of mine was just congenial e-mail traffic but some of the material sent was downright radioactive. At one point I contacted Gordon Kirsten, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property. When I told him my name he said, "I know who you are, I’ve read your blog." Seems his best bud is a Cessna test pilot. That was my first clue that the blog must be pretty well read.
Anyway, Gordon told me that the documents that I had received were proprietary and in no way could I publish any of the content in any form without risking legal action from Eclipse. In a subsequent meeting on some additional material, Gordon brought in a trial lawyer to discuss his six figure estimate on what it might cost to defend an Eclipse lawsuit.
If the truth be know, had I received as much as a demand letter from an Eclipse attorney, I would have shut down the blog in a New York minute. But I always felt that since blogs were a part of the computer age, Vern probably considered it a badge of honor to have he and his company a blog target. Often wondered how many man-hours were spent each day at Eclipse checking the blog. The numbers from Cessna would be interesting as well.
I always felt it fortuitous that Shane picked up the torch after I laid mine down. While subject to some of the same legal constraints as someone in the U.S., Shane’s Irish location would make it quite a bit more difficult for Eclipse to take legal action had they chosen to do so. And IMHO, Shane uses his offshore status to good advantage. He has been able to solicit information from all sources though he has used the information very judiciously.
When someone would send me incendiary information, I would simply tell them if they want the world to know that kind of information, they should post it on the blog anonymously. Few did. But even with two sources, there was no way for me to post that information with no other proof in hand.
Those of you who followed the original blog know that when Roel Pieper brought in the Russians, I decided plutonium laced tea was not for me so I brought down the curtain on the original blog. It did cause me some concern when Shane decided to soldier on. Ireland is a whole lot closer to Russia and 500 euros paid to an ex-KGB thug could lead to a bad thing. My sense of paranoia increased when Putin’s picture appeared with the Eclipse and then there was that goon Pieper put on the Eclipse board.
The Russian connection was actually only one of three reasons why I wanted to escape the burden of tending a blog. A second reason was the ever growing difficulty in writing new posts. What I could contribute paled in comparison to some of the expert commentary that was being provided by some on a regular basis.
The third and perhaps most important reason for bowing out is that in late’07, my wife and I (then ages 65 & 67 respectively) took up scuba diving. Ever since, we have been on a 10 week schedule to leave the mainland to explore new places. I was able to manage the blog from Hawaii and Cozumel, but when one gets to these places, there are better things to do then moderate a blog. We’re still on the 10 week schedule. Was in Fiji in February, this time next month will be in Belize and mid-July diving the Red Sea off the Sinai Peninsula (Egypt). We’ve penciled in our dance card for Indonesia and Tahiti this fall.
The reason I bring this up is that Vern, AlexA and mirageOO (the idiot who was always so "amused" and was oh so confident that he would be serving me crow on a silver platter at Oshkosh), anyway the three of them liked to claim that the bloggers (mostly me) did not have a life, have never accomplished anything, got left at the station when the Eclipse train pulled out, that I was bitter because we could not cut it as an Eclipse supplier, blah, blah, blah, they sure liked to dish it out.
For the record, I would like those three to know that during the time they were spouting off, my company was helping Gulfstream sort out pre-design issues on the 650. While we were never told that our work related to a new airplane, after a 10 minute look at the first electronic file they sent, I replied with an e-mail that I had been in the business for 45 years and could read the tea leaves. While I have never asked, the first chips cut on the 650 were probably cut in our shop. Should have bottled some up and cast them in lucite.
In some respects, the blog succeeded way beyond my expectations. My biggest regret is that the blog was not able to convince more people sooner to be more cautious of the program. A document from the bankruptcy court shows 10,851 creditors from all over the world. The largest creditor being of course Al Mann. It’s just a pity that somebody could not reach Mann and his fellow board members to put a stop to this madness at a much earlier date..
Everybody lost in this program, even those who purchased and took delivery of a sub-million dollar jet and are now faced with an uncertain future. It’s been a Ponzi scheme from day two if not day one. Insiders have told us component costing was done on a "make the numbers work basis" to keep the projected cost below a million. Vern himself told us the rest of his plan...take orders for a few thousand...get the airplane certified...start deliveries...issue the IPO...then walk away and you know the rest. Unfortunately, as predicted by the blog, the cost to build far exceeded the selling price.
Vern’s problem was that he knew about as much about what it would take to float an IPO as he did starting an airplane company, getting a TC or the PC. Even while the blog’s resident securities expert whytech carefully explained to all of us why an IPO was not remotely possible for Eclipse, the company was still using stock options as the incentive for recruiting new employees and motivating staff. Can’t figure out if Vern was blind, stupid or criminal?
Speaking of criminal. Bernie Madoff sits in and 8' x 8' jail cell for committing a Ponzi scheme. That is using new money to deliver a product (high interest payments) to early customers (investors). Any familiarities to our friend who is probably at home tying flies in preparation for his next excursion to fish the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
Again Vern, 10,851 creditors and you have shown less remorse than Bernie. Thanks to your efforts, thousands of lives have taken significant financial hits, dreams shattered and in some cases lives ruined. While you may claim your motives were altruistic, perhaps they were for a short time but you should have been able to draw the conclusion much earlier that the situation was hopeless. You let the Ponzi scheme run, hoping for a miracle, all the while people and companies were getting deeper and deeper in the hole. I will ask again, were you blind, stupid or criminal?
Some on the blog are hopeful and suggest we wait to see who ends up with the company (note the reluctance to call them a winner).
Others on the blog with experience in these matters have detailed specific difficulties the new owner will face in providing support for the fleet, specific difficulties the new owner will face restarting production.
I will go with the view of the "experienced" and that the difficulties will outweigh the hopes and dreams.