Monday, June 22, 2009

REFLECTIONS ON THE ECLIPSE SAGA

July 2019
Ten years have passed since Shane Price relinquished the controls at Eclipse Aviation Critic NG.  Much has happened in the last decade but some things never change – Eclipse is again for sale.  The type certificate and intellectual property are up for auction next month.  This time the assets are being bundled with those of Aerostar, Ercoupe and Lake Aircraft.
 
Colonel Mike Press leads a buyer’s syndicate and is enthusiastic about prospects for the new aircraft.  “By combining the best qualities of these classic designs we expect to produce an airplane that will perform like no other.  You can own a 350-knot twin-turbofan mid-wing amphibian with French doors and no rudder pedals.”
 
“We respect and appreciate the patience shown by Eclipse depositors,” continued Press.  “We are allowing full credit for deposits made on the Eclipse 500.”  The Colonel acknowledged that many of the original depositors have passed away, or no longer held airman’s medical certificates.  But he pointed out that deposit certificates are family heirlooms, and have been passed down with reverence to grandchildren in some cases.
 
Press expects his group to prevail at the auction and requires only a modest advance from each participant.  “Two hundred thousand Euros from each depositor and/or aircraft owner should guarantee a place at the table,” he said.  “For owners, we offer a chance to finally standardize the fleet.  In the years since the Eclipse was produced, many aircraft have been upgraded … but it is a mish-mash of field approvals and hardly any two aircraft are alike.”
 
“We located an old-timer in New Mexico who claims to have the complete code for Avio NG and promises we can get it up and running again,” Press added, catching his breath.  “He says we can get rid of the ‘flight engineer’s panel’ with all the switches and circuit breakers and go back to electronic controls.  This will be one more step in fulfilling the ultimate destiny of Eclipse Avio NG.”
 
A DECADE OF CHANGE
 Looking back from 2019 over the last ten years… where do we start?  President Barack Obama is mid-way through his third term of office and is campaigning for the 2020 election.  Franklin Roosevelt is the only other President to have served four terms.  Few would have anticipated the manner in which the U. S. Constitution has been amended.
 
Many of the changes in business and aviation occurred after the adoption of the Euro as the official currency of the United States.  President Obama moved this easily through the Democratic-controlled legislature during his first term in order to “enhance our status as a citizen-in-good-standing in the global marketplace, and earn perpetual prestige with other peoples populating our plentiful planet.”
 
During the President’s second term, U.S. airlines were re-regulated and the nation’s aircraft industry was nationalized.  “President Chavez of Venezuela has shown us the way and we will follow,” President Obama read from the Teleprompter.
 
Airbus and Boeing merged in 2014 to form AirBoeing.  In spite of massive subsidies from both continents, the giant AirBoeing 797 continues to lag behind schedule.  The aircraft has promised to be the ‘greenest’ airliner in history – made almost entirely of recycled composite materials.  All manufacturing is outsourced, mostly to small countries in Asia with names ending in ‘…stan’.  Initially the pilot slated for first flight expressed concern over the all-composite landing gear, fly-by-fiberoptic controls, single pilot operation and the carbon capture system.  AirBoeing has reassured its customers and the pilot is no longer available for comment.
 
GENERAL AVIATION
No corner of aviation has been untouched in the last decade.  Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) sponsored the Air Equity Act of 2012 saying, “As demonstrated during the last century, it was unfair that some people could own homes but others could not.  Not everyone can own an airplane but at least we can make the experience more equitable.  Flying an aircraft that is pressurized and that can fly in icing conditions is a luxury that has been abused by the idle rich.  The Air Equity Act levels the playing field once and for all, and will employ thousands in good jobs.”
 
However government-mandated aircraft designs have met with mixed reviews.  The PelosiPussMoth can be rented at most airports but an older pilot offered, “It flies like a Luscombe without the power margin or handling ease.”  But thanks to the PelosiPussMoth’s novel propulsion system there is an electrical outlet installed at virtually every tiedown at all U.S. airports.  This multi-billion dollar, shovel-ready project was part of the Stimulus Two Package.
 
Several imported aircraft are available in the United States.  The RiceRider III from China is available in tandem and side-by-side configurations.   The RedDotRocket from India has just been introduced.
 
The single and twin-jet designs of the late twentieth century seem a distant memory.  The field is littered with companies that tried, failed or partially succeeded:  Morane-Saulnier, Bede, Gulfstream, Leopard, Fox, Century, Adam, Aviation Technology, Diamond, Epic, Cirrus, Piper, and of course Eclipse.  Larger jets continue to be produced by Embraer, Cessna, Hawker, Gulfstream and Bombardier but those are only used for the carriage of elected officials and government employees.  Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank have agreed to share their Gulfstream 550 in acknowledgement of the continued economic decline.
 
General aviation pilots are hopeful that Pratt & Whitney and Williams may re-start production of small turbofan engines when the old inventory runs out.  Their optimism has an interesting background.  President Obama’s Climate Equity Act was passed during his first term of office – with far-reaching consequences.  This edict made it illegal for government funds to be used in “any university or industry research intended to prove non-anthropogenic climate change”.  If caught, violators are sent to Denier’s Prison, in the Gore Wing of the Guantanamo complex.
 
Although officially suppressed, word has leaked of research at a university in Iceland suggesting some climate change may not be manmade after all.  This has raised the tantalizing possibility that petroleum fuels may again be utilized in general aviation.  NAOPA (Nationalized Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association) has refused comment.
 
The U.S. pilot population continues to decline, a trend underway for fifty years.  Government officials acknowledge that regulations may play a role… for instance a two-hour TSA security briefing, inspection and de-briefing are required now for every flight – even a Saturday hundred-dollar hamburger run. The Obama administration hopes to encourage an increase the number of active airman’s certificates by reducing ATC user fees.  The day VFR rate of €0.10 per nautical mile travelled would be dropped on weekends but the IFR rates would remain the same.
 
The airlines are so desperate to fill crew seats that they have coordinated a new industry/government program.  Qualified inmates of federal penitentiaries are allowed early release if they agree to fly for the airlines.  Starting copilot pay is €10,000 per year along with paid-up union dues and free housing at a local half-way house.
 
THE LAST TWO VORs
The GPS system was completed several years ago with redundant constellations of satellites.  This brought an end for the VOR navigation system in the United States.  Over a half-century old, the network is being closed as an economic measure.  Hardly any pilot tuned VORs on airways anymore.
 
This brought about a crisis for Eclipse operations as the avionics are only approved for flight from VOR to VOR.  The owners pooled resources, petitioned the government and have taken over the last two VOR stations in the country – Laredo (LRD) and Mc Allen (MFE) both in Texas.  Located a hundred miles apart these transmitters are a living aviation museum for future generations.  They are also rallying points for the last few Eclipses flying.  On clear days they can be seen shuttling back and forth, just below RVSM airspace.
 
These stations were chosen because of their semi-arid climate.  Forecast icing is seldom an issue.  Eclipse pilots are noted for their weather forecasting ability and aeronautical decision making.  There has never been a pilot report of in-flight ice buildup submitted by an Eclipse operator.
 
THE TRIAL
Vern Raburn suffered for the sins of Eclipse.  The United States is now under the jurisdiction of the World Court.  This has allowed our country to be judged by ‘a more consistent standard, in tune with a global society and a one-world standard’.  Raburn was brought before a Spanish magistrate and accused of ‘crimes against aviation’.  After the tribunal Raburn was imprisoned briefly and forced to listen repeatedly to a recording of the 2008 Congressional hearing on Eclipse.
 
PEANUT POWER
Ken and Shari Meyer remain High Priest and Priestess of Everything Eclipse.  Their hangar is essentially an Eclipse museum and includes the Eclipse 400 Concept Jet.  Ken is still sending Mexican vacation pictures and Eclipse panel shots to anyone that cares and some that don’t.
 
Many have marveled that the Meyers are able to keep their airplane running.  When questioned about his three trailer loads of red-tagged Eclipse parts, Ken bristles, “That’s just plain wrong.  All the components in our plane have been overhauled and green-tagged.  I don’t deal with ‘paint-it-black, ship-it-back’ overhaul shops.” 
 
“And I want you to know,” Ken added, “we still have the best fuel specifics around.  We’re burning bio-fuel (peanut oil) in our Eclipse.  It works out to about 2,000 raw peanuts per nautical mile, and has brought new meaning to the phrase, ‘I love the smell of jet fuel in the morning.”
 
ALBUQUERQUE
The State of New Mexico ‘invested’ €14,000,000 in Eclipse Aviation and for its trouble ended up with three large empty hangars on the airport.  After much debate the buildings were used for:  a vast and plush casino for the Sandia Pueblo, the Bill Richardson Memorial Library, and the largest adult book and mature video store in the Southwest.  The latter is owned and operated by Martin Chavez, former mayor of the city. 
 
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
What became of Our Founder, Stan Blankenship?  He relinquished U.S. citizenship years ago, moved to the South Pacific, and tends to a beautiful archipelago of islands.  He has worked tirelessly to undo bad habits taught by early missionaries to the natives – habits such as reading the Bible and wearing clothes.  He and his wife promise to be scuba diving at age one hundred.
 
And what of Shane Price?  His exact whereabouts are unknown.  Five years ago the English reasserted Protestant rule in Ireland resulting in the marginalization of the Catholic majority (again).  Shane was not a man to take sides in a religious debate, but is an Irish patriot unable to tolerate English domination.  With broad support he formed a guerilla band and is thought to be in the Maumturks Hills, Connemara in the west of Ireland.  A natural leader, Shane is viewed as the Michael Collins of this century - hopefully with a happier ending.
 
Rich Lucibella, who so valiantly defended the Eclipse assault on the blog, is back in the forefront.  He is thought to be providing the Irish rebels with technical advice and his office at SWAT Magazine is the seat of the government-in-exile.
 
It was investigative journalism by Karen Di Piazza that provided the first media look at the troubles of Eclipse Aviation.  This was not easy for Karen, as aviation magazine editorial content was directly tied to advertising revenue.  ‘Objective flying magazine’ is on the list of oxymorons along with colossal olives, jumbo shrimp and civil war.  But Karen persisted, and now runs her fashion media empire in New York.  She can be seen striding purposefully across Central Park in her trademark tiger stripe pants.
 
WEDGE AND ZOOM
After a long courtship Vern Raburn and Jim Campbell were married.  The ceremony was held in the Green Mountains of Vermont, one of the first states to permit gay marriage.  Vern offered an olive branch of reconciliation to the ‘Honor Roll’ by inviting them to the wedding.  Few of the twenty-nine bloggers named in the 2008 lawsuit were able to attend.  But a report came back that the newlyweds have acquired a bed-and-breakfast in a quaint Vermont village and produce the best blueberry pancakes in the state.  “Our disruptive recipe represents a paradigm shift in early morning nutrition for the fair state of Vermont,” said Raburn.  “The other bed-and-breakfasts just don’t get it.  What would you expect of dinosaurs?”
 
Vern is still smarting over the handle assigned by the blog – ‘Wedge’, the simplest of tools.  After all these years he is hoping to upgrade a step or two, to say… ‘Lever’ or ‘Pulley’.  ‘Screw’ is available but he is not interested. 
 
A used Collier Trophy recently showed up for sale on eBay.  The nameplate has been removed and it carries a high auction reserve.  It hasn’t sold yet.
 
CALL A TAXI
Ed Iacobucci fulfilled his dream, if not his original vision.  Ed founded DayJet and planned to dominate the ‘Per-Seat, On-Demand’ air taxi business.   The company lasted less than a year.  Iacobucci blamed its demise on the credit crisis, not strategy.  Financial reverses and the longest running economic slump in U.S. history have not treated Edwell.  However he sees the bright side of Obama’s policies, “The lousy economy has stopped the influx of immigrants - I’ve found it easier to find work.  I’m driving a taxi now in Sanford, Florida… I guess you could say I’m in the per-seat, on-demand business.  My proudest legacy is introducing the term ‘ant farmer’ to the lexicon.”
 
THE ODD COUPLE
Peg Bilson, formerly at Eclipse, and Nicholas Sabatini, retired from the FAA, have teamed up.  Both gained minor notoriety with their testimony before Congress in 2008, as credibility was in short supply.   Their skill sets are brought together in a new venture called MediJet.  Bilson explains, “This is a harmonic convergence between two great needs.  The former Eclipse 500 production line should be restarted and our nationalized healthcare system would benefit.  ObamaCare has been criticized for consuming thirty percent of GDP.  Why shouldn’t some of this be spent on aviation?”
 
She lays out the plan, “There is nothing wrong with socialized medicine that can’t be remedied with a good air ambulance system.  With thousands of airports and thousands of MediJets (formerly known as Eclipse 500s), affordable healthcare can be in easy reach.  The current version of ObamaCare Two has an earmark for production of two thousand MediJets.  The mayor of Albuquerque and governor of New Mexico have provided a hundred million dollars in industrial revenue bonds.”
 
Peg sighed, “We’ve got one couple that shows up at McDonalds occasionally, ranting and raving that this is not going to work.   Their next Big Mac Meals will include ObamaCare Gold Certificates.  That should take care of the gadflies.”
 
Asked for comment, Nicholas Sabatini said, “I am responsible for certification and I know the boys in Fort Worth won’t let me down.  I still know how to work the system.”
 
MYSTERY
Of Roel Pieper, little is known.  Al Mann, investor and director in Eclipse Aviation, won a ten-million dollar judgment (plus interest) against Pieper in New York court.  It was viewed as uncollectable, even with The New World Global Order.  We have learned that Mann travelled secretly to the Netherlands two years ago.  One year ago, Roel Pieper was called before a Dutch magistrate.  His testimony has only been roughly translated into English, but seems to involve the phrase, “Your Honour, I was repeatedly assured by the subject of this case, Else, that she had attained the age of majority, specifically the age of eighteen years.”
 
Some have questioned how Roel Pieper could have met such an inglorious end to his career.  After his disappearance one observer noted, “Well, he put over a hundred million bucks into Eclipse didn’t he?”
 
TOYLAND
The Fisher-Price Toy Company was founded in 1930.  Beginning with sixteen wooden toys, the company shaped children’s toy boxes for generations by producing timeless designs.  In 1993 Fisher-Price was acquired by Mattel.  Sadly the company became collateral damage after the failure of Eclipse Aviation.  The Eclipse 500 was coined ‘Fisher-Price Jet’ by the blog and the stigma was just too much.  Mattel quietly pulled the brand last year.
 
LINGERING LEGACY
In this ‘kinder-gentler world’ Vern Raburn might be viewed with sympathy.  The business school case studies have come and gone.  The ‘glass-half-full’ acolytes admire the spirit of entrepreneurship evident in the rise of Eclipse Aviation… the big tents at Oshkosh… taunting the dinosaurs with WCSYS buttons… raising a billion bucks to build a new airplane.
 
Others have listened to the CVR tape, read the FDR data and believe Vern Raburn personally commanded the biggest smoking crater in general aviation history.  Many innocents were led to destruction.   The taking of deposits, given the conditions of the first flight, was widely viewed as unethical.  Burning through hundreds of millions of non-escrowed deposits to fund operations, not build airplanes, left a bad taste.  Many buyers, who expected an airplane, became unwitting investors in the company.
 
Even in the heady times of the late 1990s, the Eclipse business plan didn’t make sense.  The company was supposed to become the dominant global supplier of jet aircraft selling them at a price that would not cover direct costs.  Then there were the bad bets and poor technical risks taken by Eclipse.  Engines, avionics… a man only gets so many chances.
 
Later Vern unveiled the Eclipse 400 Concept Jet… a desperate and cruel stunt.  Eclipse bragged about 60% parts commonality between the 400 single jet and 500 twin jet.  Future aircraft startups should be able to avoid at least 60% of the reasons for the Eclipse demise.  Some have speculated that the enormity of the failure will hamper aviation ventures for years to come.  So much capital was wasted with little to show for it. 
 
Evolution by natural selection has long been a factor in aircraft, like any business.  Nothing is more normal than for a company to produce some planes and then go out of business or be acquired.  Many of these companies are remembered with fondness and their products are viewed as collectible classics.  Take the Weaver Aircraft Company of Troy, Ohio – better known as WACO.  Hundreds are still flying, seventy to eighty years after they were built.  They have such value that even basket cases are rebuilt.  How will the Eclipse fleet fare in comparison? 
 
The controversial approach taken by Eclipse Aviation resulted in the formation of this blog.  Stan’s original four-part post of April 11, 2006 remains a timeless classic.  He brought smart people with broad experience together to exchange ideas.  Shane picked up the baton and took it to the next level.  Let’s hope this interchange continues - here or elsewhere with a broader aviation mandate.  The Eclipse story has about played out but there will be others.
 
Probably no blogger here wanted the Eclipse story to end this way.  Many of us love aviation and actively participate.  The fact that an aircraft company name followed by the word ‘Critic’ emerged as an Internet Web Log, and gained influence is a story all its own…
 
Black Tulip

Words, as usual, fail me. Black Tulip has done himself, and all of us, proud. Thank you, kind sir, for your time, effort and unfailing support for the past 17 months.

This is my penultimate headline post. My final one, due at the end of the month, will be unlike any of the proceeding 105 in that it will be short.

And just a little bit special.

One last time (for me, anyway) I'd remind everyone that the tulip mania peaked in the Netherlands during the 1630s. The black tulip was the most sought after, until found to be biologically impossible.

Shane

211 comments:

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airsafetyman said...

Since airline service began the full-fare paying coach passenger has been the airlines revenue mainstay. In my experience first class was peopled mostly by dead-heading airline types and their spouses and brats takling about when their next bankruptcy would happen. "Crap on the loyal passenger, can I have another after-dinner apertif, please?" There is no law that says this hideous a la carte menu from Ayn Rand hell has to be the next new thing. The airlines have screwed up passenger service for the last thirty years. Why do you think they have got it right this time? Especially in the face of all their customers being pi$$ed off completely?

baron95 said...

ASM said..."Crap on the loyal passenger
======================

You guys are out in the weeds by now. None of these baggage fees, etc, apply to premium freq flyer passengers and their flying companions, and we get automatic upgrades to the better seats.

You guys are totally missing the point. These fees are ONE MORE way for the airlines to treat their frequent fliers well and make them feel "appreciated".

Platinum guy can check bags for no fee, others can't.

Platinum guy gets free upgrades to coach+, business or first. Other's don't.

Conclusion - Platinum guy goes out of his/her way to book on that airline to maintain status and take advantage of the perks.

Give the people in the business some credit. They know a thing or two about retaining passengers and maximizing yield, you know.

I will go OUT OF MY WAY to book on American, and American will go out their way to come out with ways to keep it that way.

Win/Win.

Now for the occasional fliers who care about price - let them have the choice to pay for bags or not, pay for food or not, pay for space or not. Choice is good.

There is not a single amenity, save attractive flight attendants and the right to smoke up the cabin, that is not available and better now than in the past. You just have to choose it and pay for it.

Shane Price said...

Baron,

There is not a single amenity, save attractive flight attendants...

Can I direct your attention to the Ryanair Charity Calander, which may distract you from your 'premium club' mentality.

But then again, I have the distinct impression that you wouldn't be seen dead on a Ryanair flight....

Shane
PS, The girls are mostly East European, sadly...

airsafetyman said...

Baron, Frequently I have to travel on short notice. Often the only seats available are in first class, so I am very familiar with the front end of the plane. I will say American's first class service is one of the very worst, a joke really. If you think that is first class I feel sorry for you. On the other hand Air France runs a first class service thet is in another league altogether. When I have a trip to Europe and can schedule Air France First Class or Business Class I take my wife and pay the cost difference out of my own pocket.

fred said...

It never ceases to amaze me how some people want to dictate how others "should" spend their money. ...

no !

everybody is free to spend as he wish ...

ONLY one condition : do not expect any consideration because you did it from others who do not give a damn about !

On the GreyHound-airlines :

A Yemenite Airbus 310 crashed into the sea while attempting an approach in Comoros ...

The comorians gave a nickname to this plane which was 20 years old (and already forbidden to fly over France ) "Flying Coffin"

(seats broken , overcrowding of plane = sometimes 2 persons per seat , mice and rats seen on plane , toilets broken [ our dear Toilets-Traveler is going to be shocked ! ;-) ] etc... etc...)

Real Capitalism at works !!

fred said...

Monsieur Shane :

are you suggesting that Irish women are sadly "a bit less" attractive than eastern european ones ??? ;-)

it is only a question of taste ...

and a question of balance ( you know the thing you cannot miss if you keep your eyes open ...)

no need to be a platinium-bla-bla ... to get good service :

only a question of discernment !

ASM : yes , i understand well what you mean in First Class ...
have you ever tried A380

fred said...

Wrong Button ...Grrr !

A380 on Indonesian Airlines ...?

a bit pricey , but treated like a real king , every and each passenger !

that should be the standards !!!

airsafetyman said...

Fred, Haven't had the opportunity of flying Indonesian Airlines, but I will try them if the opportunity comes up, thanks! I always try to fly a good foreign airline when traveling overseas, because I am so tired of being jerked around by the US carriers on domestic flights.

Black Tulip said...

Airline News:

General Airlines is merging with Alitalia Airlines. I hesitate to write the name of the new combined carrier as impressionable children might be reading the blog.

Shane Price said...

It seems fitting that Black Tulip should be one of the last to comment here.

Even if he's being a bit 'bold' with his suggestions....

My final headline, together with a link to our new 'home' has just been posted.

A sincere thank you to all who contributed, and thanks also to the even wider circle who told their friends to read our discussions.

May all your troubles be little ones.

Shane

Floating Cloud said...

Black Tulip,

Denis Finch-Hutton says to Karen Von Blixen (Isak Denison)as he hands her a pen as a gift. "In Africa, we pay our story tellers..."

"My stories are free and your present is much too dear."

"Right them down somtime."

"Good-bye Finch-Hutton."

-Out of Africa-

Your a good story teller Tulip...

Floating Cloud

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