Many people, myself included, were attracted by the siren call of a very light jet. The concept seem to offer a beguiling combination of speed, low cost of ownership and ability to get into may fields a larger aircraft would have problems with. In the 'age of Google' it's very easy to research almost any subject with a few mouse clicks, so pretty quickly I found myself orbiting the Eclipse Aviation web site, and associated stories. One caught my attention. It was of course, the original critic site, run by Stan Blankenship. Read his first headline post, which made many correct observations/predictions.
In April, 2006....
From the middle of 2007, I started to participate, having been a reader for many months. Stan 'kept house' with regular headline posts and his own comments, and a range of fascinating individuals (and Ken Meyer) kept the pot stirring. For reasons already explained by Stan, he decided in early 2008 to pull up his own drawbridge. Yours truly stepped up with 'this' blog, and we had a very 'clubby' atmosphere, which still managed to keep a critical view of the peculiar behavior in ABQ. One of the very first comments, from Gadfly, summed up what the blog was about during early 2008:-
"Put on the kettle, and this will seem like home in no time."
We also covered the 'Russian' factory, various suppliers disputes and FAA rumblings about the Production Certificate. Almost all material that reached me during this period was from suppliers, staff, customers or officials who had genuine concerns and felt that our blog was the only place remotely interested in what they had to say. I also took the opportunity to say why I'd gotten involved, by finishing one headline post with a favorite motto:-
"Only make promises you can keep. And keep the promises you make"
And then IT happened. On Friday the 18th of April 2008, an email hit my BlackBerry which began:-
"Google has received a civil subpoena that demands information regarding the source of anonymous comments posted on your blog eclipsecriticng.blogspot.com"
Things got very 'interesting', very quickly. Vern Raburn saw fit to go after 29 bloggers, alleging they were employees who'd violated a Non Disclosure Agreement or NDA. We were very fortunate that a civic minded publisher, Rich Lucibella, decided to head Vern Raburn off at the pass. And proved successful.
So successful that Vern himself was ejected from his own company exactly 100 days after I got that infamous notice. He was even forced to make the announcement himself, on the opening day of Oshkosh in July 2008. In typical style he said he was taking up an 'advisory' role in the company only to break all ties a few weeks later. He did, however, manage to hold onto an E500, for a limited period. I wonder if he's still flying it....
During this period we also saw contributions from many more parts of the world. The blog became more 'international', which was clearly a new experience for some of our longer serving American readers. A steep rise in the cost of oil, continuing doubts about the reality of the '2,700' orders and a very clear 'failure to launch' at DayJet cast a cloud over the future of Eclipse.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing on the 17th of September, 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 result was a 'victory' for EAC, in that nothing came out of the woodwork to question the original grant. However, in the fashion of 'don't get mad, get even', I learned that a very strict view would be taken of any future Production Certificate reviews.
Things looked up, at least for a short while, when Ken Meyer broke his (self imposed) exile from the blog and returned with a bang. I 'gave' him a headline post which he used in describing his many flights, the capabilities of the E500 and generally promoting the aircraft. The nicest part was his own description of himself as The Cardinal, which was a reference to his leading position with The Faithful. This was the name given by 'us critics' to those who supported the E500 through thick and thin.
However, this is not a month I look back to with any joy. My father passed away, suddenly, leaving us all shocked and saddened. The day before I buried him, one of the very few truly bad people I interacted with on the blog, sent me the following:-
"See you in court, thief.
Jim Campbell, Editor-In-Chief/CEO
Rocket Racing League X-Racer Mk 1 Rocket Pilot"
Have you noticed, in life, how the really small minded people always have the longest job descriptions? Captain Zoom is a prime example. All through his mindless support of Vern Raburn he parroted whatever EAC released as 'fact', without bothering to engage even the tiniest part of his brain in the most basic question which faces everyone in business, all the time.
Will I get paid?
Thankfully, there is a 'higher justice', and Zoom later got hit for $80,000 when EAC went bankrupt. Is it too much to hope that someone, who is a prime example of what we Irish call a gobshite, will make the same mistake again?
This month was generally a 'bad' one for EAC. The premise behind the vast order book was air taxi, the most prominent of which was of course DayJet based in Florida. On the 19th of September, without any notice, they closed their doors. They blamed the inability to raise further finance and difficulties they had had with the Eclipse 500.
During this period I was also allowed access to the customer conference calls given by Mike McConnell, with input from Roel Pieper. Both came across as dismissive of the depositors in particular and made very light of in service problems with the aircraft. There were lots of promises to 'get back to people' but (surprise, surprise) nothing happened.
All in all, probably the 'busiest' month during my time here.
October 2008 was not a good month for EAC, publicity wise. Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group published his much anticipated report on the VLJ market. Basically, he rubbished the Eclipse 500 and predicted that EAC would not produce any aircraft in 2009, as he thought they'd be bankrupt. How right he was....
November was interesting, for several reasons. First, there was a temporary delay in payment for the staff, quickly corrected. EASA certification was granted, with conditions. Then Vern Raburn made a speech, fully reported only on the blog, at the VLJ Forum in West Palm Beach, FL, on Tuesday 11th November. He made several remarks that bear reviewing, but his venom for 'us' was clear, as was the denial that he had made any mistakes. This thread didn't last very long, as 4 days after I put it up we got this:-
Eclipse Aviation Seeks Court Approval for Restructuring under 363 Sale
Procedures and Debtor in Possession Financing
Procedures and Debtor in Possession Financing
The 25th of November 2008 was the (long predicted) first step to bankruptcy and clearly a 'pre cooked' event. In a effort to control every aspect, Roel had a) valued the assets and set the price, and b) arranged the DIP finance with Al Mann. We all know now that he a) didn't have the money to buy the company and b) the didn't have the DIP either. He 'borrowed' it off Al, who's now suing him personally to recover it.
Oh, and another thing. This was the month that America elected it's first president called Obama. Michelle will clearly be the second....
December 2008 was a time of 'Notices', a number of which first appeared here. Various groups formed, some to purchase the company, others to pursue lost deposits, still others to represent owners. The inbox became a job on it's own, almost to the point that I needed assistance. Thankfully it never came to that, but it was a very busy month 'behind the scenes'. What rapidly became clear was the 'false' feeling around Roel's bid. I became convinced that he either didn't care or had alternative motives. I still think there was a background to his activities which would not bear close scrutiny. Remember the background at this time was of increasing disorder in the financial markets, with banks being rescued and the capital markets in free fall.
2009 opened, as always, with January. Initially there was optimism for the staff at EAC, since Roel was on a clear run to purchase the assets and move forward. But I began to get informal hints that all was not as it seemed, especially from people 'close' to the process.
During February I posted an in depth headline written with help from several Eclipse 500 owners. It's worthwhile going over it, if you're ever tempted to buy one! However, this was also the month when the wheels and the wagon finally parted company. On the 18th almost all the remaining staff were furloughed and on the 25th the 'Senior Note Holders' filed a Chapter 7 motion, which the company didn't oppose. Again, the inbox filled rapidly, especially with notices from prospective purchasers. I talked to several, none of whom seemed to have access to enough money to a) satisfy the Note Holders and/or b) restart production.
March began with the formal notice from the Court, and proceeded with a 'beauty pageant' of various entities who were preparing bids. Of note was one from our very own ColdWetMakeralofReality, who's professional background in aviation and interesting 'take' on what should be done with the airframe is worth looking at. I was also filled in on the whole 'Russian' thing, some of which is so hot it's radioactive. My lawyers will publish the book, if I ever come to an untimely end.
The EOG (Eclipse Owners Group) scored a notable success early in April, when they persuaded Hawker Beechcraft to become involved with servicing the Eclipse 500. Mike Press got his bid going, initially with Roel Pieper, but then (wisely) dumped him. Stan Blankenship contributed a 'Birthday Post' which illuminated some of the background to his own blog experiences. I began the process of seeking 'another' to move the blog forward, and several interested parties contacted me.
The 'tail cone' issue came to the blog in May. I can't convey how much email I had around this single issue, all of it most helpful in reaching a successful conclusion. We also had our 'official' list of the good, the bad and the ugly. Finally, another update from Mike Press reminded us all how little had changed since the Chapter 7 motion was granted. Nobody bid enough to satisfy the Note Holders. Talented people continue to leave ABQ, and the whole sad affair seems destined to end with an orphan aircraft. I hope I'm wrong, but it sure looks that way.
I don't think Vern Raburn started Eclipse Aviation Corporation as a Ponzi scheme, but I pretty sure he ended up that way. Roel Pieper was probably the worst possible 'investor' at the time, but by Vern's own admission there was no option. Those worst affected by all of this sorry mess were, in this order, the staff of EAC, the suppliers to EAC, depositors who didn't get an aircraft and finally the owners of what will almost certainly be 'orphans'.
So there you have it. I can't include everything I've 'learned' as the inbox is vast and some of the correspondence is (still) too hot for a more general audience. We have a couple more headline posts before I sign off, at least one of which will be worth reading.
I know, I've seen the drafts...