Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A new era looms

Folks, my time as custodian of the Eclipse Critic blog has come to an end. I thought it would be fun to provide you all with a photograph of myself in a genuine Irish pub, complete with pint of Guinness. It's the tall, dark and handsome one on the left. The more astute will have noticed the E500 model, a gift from Black Tulip, who in turn won it by correctly estimating the 'output' of Eclipse Aviation in 2007.

This is, I'm happy to say, the closest I'm ever likely to come to an Eclipse EA500....

Now it's my pleasure to introduce you to the new blog, which will offer a wider scope than this one ever could. I hope it will pick up on all that is good in GA, while keeping a wary eye out for anything 'fishy'. Phil Bell, with a background in aviation, has been working up to this since I put out my original announcement a few months ago. I wish him every success, and will contribute when the spirit moves me. Here's the new address:-

Enjoy it as much as I have this one, and you won't go far wrong.

From me, it's a heartfelt 'So long, and thanks for all the fish'.


Monday, June 22, 2009


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.”
 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.
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 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.
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.
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.”
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. 
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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?”
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.
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.


Friday, June 12, 2009

A few lessons learned

As I move from custodian of this blog back to an interested observer of VLJ's, I thought I'd put together a short essay highlighting what I've learned. Where appropriate I'd included comments from others and of course provided links to other web sites. There were many 'themes' on the blog during the past 18 months, which I'll try to interweave with my own opinions. So, with that short introduction, here goes...

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

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...


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

We live in interesting times

How times change. This time last year there were loads of E500's on Controller, and even some E400 'positions'. Mustangs were in shorter supply, but there were plenty of people seeking a profit in the earlier production slots. Now, sadly, there are only 12 of our favorite toy jets on the site, the 'most affordable' at just under one million dollars. Meanwhile, Cessna's entry level offering continues to enjoy a following, with 35 jet/positions for sale, the 'best value' at just under $2.3 million for one of the earliest made.

Not that anyone is actually paying this sort of money, it's just what's been asked....

The Trustee of the Chapter 7 process has sought an extension, through the 1st of July, to provide extra time in the search for a buyer. This is positive as it indicates some interest may be (finally) brewing from a 'serious' party. Whispers reach me about one firm in particular, of which more anon.

More Court documents come into my possession, where a detail therefrom caught my beady eye. It appears that EAC values its 'Work in Process' at $22,554,491 and zero cents, alongside 'Finished Goods' at $3,610,235 (and zero cents, for accuracy). Bear with me for a while, as I might be stretching things a little here, but the last time I looked there were 29 E500's in various states of build. Quite a few were (I'm told) brought fairly close to the finishing line, between November and March. Lets take a stab at it and say that 15 (roughly half) were 'almost' finished and the remaining 14 were partially complete. Take that $26 million dollars as the cost for 15 pretty complete and 14 (say, 50% ready) and I'm computing the cost of an E500 was $1.35 million.  I fully understand that these numbers can be messed toyed with all year, but we finally have an internal number that places a direct value on what we know was the work in progress and finished goods. Anyone with a better handle on the numbers is invited to participate in the blog....

And another thing. The whole of GA is under a variety of attacks, to which several of you have reacted by drawing my attention to Greenjets, a company who paid for a well placed ad (copy above) to draw President Obamas' attention to the benefits of private jet travel. After all, he has not one, but several at his disposal, without which his job would be impossible. What is actually wrong with using the right tools for any job?

Some positive news reaches me from Gainesville, the (former) hub of all things E500 down there in sunny Florida. Seems a viable service business in E500's has grown up, almost organically, with regular arrivals and, more important, subsequent departures. In the dim and distant past, when DayJet was the future, I had several glowing reports of the skills employed on keeping the early aircraft flying, based on this very field. I'm sure others are, like me, intrigued and would love to learn more. I would welcome contact with any owners or pilots who've experienced this facility recently, to the blog email eclipsecriticng@gmail.com

The same email address applies to anyone looking for a 'tail cone' repair for the damage highlighted in my last headline post. It appears that a repair procedure has been successfully developed, and is ready for prime time. Congratulations to the shop concerned, which is currently working out pricing and more accurate timescales for those of you requiring such a service. I'm delighted to support this example of the classical American 'can do' approach when faced with adversity, which also encourages me that a way forward will be found to support the E500.

The Eclipse Aviation web site has not been, how shall I put this, a hive of activity recently. The most recent bit I could find makes sorry reading, especially since it's out of date. I was tempted to try the phone number listed, but decided it wasn't worth the cost of a trans Atlantic call.

Especially to listen to Mike McConnell....

Several of you have been kind enough to contact me with words of encouragement and offers of assistance in moving this blog forward. Suggestions have included conversion to a 'forum' format, continuing in traditional blog style but with a wider remit. To be perfectly clear, I intend closing this particular site on (or shortly after) the end of June. This won't of course be the end of the discussions we've all enjoyed, which I'm confident will find a new home, under other 'management'. I also have another few headline posts before I pass the baton, so I'm not quite finished yet!

In the meantime, enjoy the summer sun, as I did over the Bank Holiday weekend just past. The people were in good form, the beer was nicely chilled and family and friends were kind enough to grace me with their companionship. Keep your chins up and look forward in a positive manner.

That's what works for me....


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Eclipse Aerospace, the 'new' EAC?

Clearly efforts to attract funds continue apace, since any investor in this troubled sector requires proof (in the form of cash) that the owners will support the 'new' company. So, Mike Press is asking, politely, for $100,000 as evidence that his effort merits more funding than that of say, the EOG. Several parts of the communiqué below intrigue me, in particular the offer to purchase existing aircraft. If, as I suspect, this refers to the ex DayJet fleet I'm surprised that attention is being drawn to it in this way. After all, one of the key issues in restarting anything is how much revenue is possible from the current fleet. And we all have our opinions as to how many E500's are actually flying...

Anyway, read it, in full, and try and work out what Mike and his merry crew are up to. Whatever happens on the 24th of June, I wish each and every one of the bidders the very best.



Our last communiqué was on April 24, 2009. We would like to take this opportunity to give you an update on the status of our progress since that date. We have a lot of exciting news to cover in this document.

We would also like to present our offer to owners of current aircraft serial numbers 1-260, as well as our process for performing upgrades beginning on or about July 1, 2009. (Note: This communiqué discusses the service, support and modifications to be performed in the United States. We are still in discussions with our European partners and will provide an update on Europe in the near future.)

Current Status of Asset Acquisition
We are pleased to announce that we are now in the process of finalizing the legal documents required for the acquisition of the assets of Eclipse Aviation Corporation. Many of you have heard that there is a proposed sale date of the Eclipse assets on June 24, 2009. This sale assumes that a qualified bidder (such as ourselves) submits a properly drafted Asset Purchase Agreement (APA) and it is accepted through a short auction process managed by the bankruptcy trustee.

Based on our current estimates, we have the investment funds committed not only for the purchase of the assets but also for working capital to get the company restarted. Of course this is an estimate depending on whether there are any other bidders and how high the bid for the assets goes. We believe that it is in the owners’ best interests that only the strongest bidder is at the table so the balance of the investment raise that is not used for the acquisition could be applied to working capital. Therefore, by the June 24th closing date, we feel confident that if we are awarded the assets, we will be fully funded and ready to resume operations of the company.

In going through the legal paperwork, we have settled on a permanent name for our company moving forward. From this point forward, we will now be known as Eclipse Aerospace. Eclipse Aerospace will have two primary divisions, which include the production arm of Eclipse Aviation and a separate and distinct division, Eclipse Service Network, which will operate and manage the network of company owned and third-party service centers.

Progress On Modifications
FIKI Modification- We are excited to announce that we have received FAA approval to begin FIKI modifications immediately, regardless of whether we obtain the assets of Eclipse Aviation Corporation. Therefore, we are ready to start performing these modifications immediately in our Chicago ESN Service Center.

1.5 Modification- Immediately upon obtaining the assets of Eclipse Aviation Corporation, we will also be able to begin the 1.5 upgrade. Our ESN team has sourced all the necessary parts and FAA approvals were already obtained by the manufacturer prior to the bankruptcy. Therefore, we are confident that these upgrades can begin shortly after the assets are acquired.

AvioNG Modification- Immediately upon obtaining the assets of Eclipse, we will also be able to begin the NG upgrade. Our ESN team has sourced all the necessary parts and FAA approvals were already obtained by the manufacturer prior to the bankruptcy. Therefore, we are confident that these upgrades can begin shortly after the assets are acquired.

ETT Modification- We are in negotiations with third party vendors who will be able to perform the major airframe modifications for these aircraft. This will allow our company resources to focus on other modifications and aircraft refurbishments. It will also allow us to begin the ETT modifications earlier, and in parallel, with the other modifications.

Aircraft Buy Back and Refurbishment Program
We have a number of owners who wish to sell their airplanes to our new company. We are negotiating terms with each of these owners on an individual basis. As we take possession of these aircraft, we will update the aircraft to full functionality, refurbish the paint and interior as needed, perform a full inspection, and make them available as Eclipse pre-owned aircraft complete with a warranty from the factory. These highly desirable aircraft will be offered first to deposit holders of the past company at substantial savings over a new production aircraft.

Offer presented to Owners of serial numbers 1-260
We have been in discussions with the Eclipse Owners Group Steering Committee (EOG), and proposed numerous ways we could work together in a future endeavor. Unfortunately, all of our suggestions have been rejected, and there have been no counter proposals from the EOG. Therefore, we would like to reach out to each owner and extend the following offer:

We are now taking deposits for modifications of aircraft. For each aircraft owner that submits a
refundable deposit to our escrow account prior to the deadline, (to be used solely as a credit towards the completion of modifications and service), the owner will receive:

• Priority Service – We will schedule upgrades for FIKI, AVIO NG, and NG 1.5,
beginning immediately, in the order in which the forms and deposits are received.
FIKI modifications will begin at ESN’s Chicago facility on June 1, 2009.

• Discount – Each aircraft owner who places a deposit prior to the deadline will receive
a 20% discount off of the retail price of all parts for the modifications. We have not
established a retail price for the upgrades yet, but we have stated in previous
communications that we will set a reasonable retail price based on industry standard

• License to Assets – Each aircraft owner who places a deposit prior to the deadline
will receive a royalty-free, perpetual license for the components of the type certificate
and intellectual property needed to provide service and upgrades to their aircraft on
an ongoing basis should our effort fail in the future. This license will remain in full
force and effect at the cost of our company until such time as the fleet reaches a total
size of 750 aircraft, at which time the license will expire.

The deposit amount is $100,000 regardless of what upgrade is needed. All deposits will be placed in a third party escrow account and are fully refundable until and unless we win the Eclipse assets. The deposits will be used to secure your place in line for modifications only. Once we have established the final price for the modification, you will be presented with a quote, and upon your acceptance of the quote and no more than 60 days prior to your scheduled modification date, your deposit will become nonrefundable and used to order parts as well as provide working capital for the modification effort. This offer is open up to May 31, 2009, which is the deposit deadline.

If you would like to place your deposit and be placed in the scheduling queue, please contact Ken Ross or Cary Winter of our ESN team to request the deposit form. The contact information is listed below.

Our Eclipse Aerospace team stands committed from day one to provide a “Customer First” experience in restarting Eclipse Aviation, immediately offering service and upgrades, and eventually restarting production of the Eclipse 500 over the course of the next several years. Our business plan has been very clearly defined, our financials are in order, and members of our team are receiving great acceptance and co-operational spirit in dealing with the appropriate departments within the FAA and other regulatory bodies.

In addition, our team is in communication with all the major suppliers, and we are planning a supplier summit to be held in early June in Albuquerque. At that time we will begin a major effort to reestablish parts inventory and make parts available to owners on the most cost effective basis possible.

This cooperative effort of our investment group, the current owners of Eclipse Aircraft, suppliers, and future owners of Eclipse aircraft has been fantastic. We appreciate everyone’s participation, and we hope that within the next several weeks, we will be able to see a positive end to this part of the process that will keep your aircraft in service and ultimately bring the Eclipse back into production.

Should you have any questions about how the upgrades will be performed and in what order, or if you wish to secure your position for upgrades, please do not hesitate to contact members of our ESN team, Ken Ross and Cary Winter, using the following contact information. If you have any questions about investment opportunities, the structure of our company, or the escrow account for the deposits, please feel free to contact Mason Holland or Mike Press using the contact information below.

We look forward to working with you.

In order to schedule your modification and request a deposit form please contact:
Ken Ross: phone- (847) 325-1180 or e mail- ross@eclipseservicenetwork.com
Cary Winter: phone- (847) 325-1177 or e mail- winter@eclipseservicenetwork.com

For all other questions or comments please contact:
Mason Holland: mason.holland@eclipseaerospace.net
Mike Press: mike.press@eclipseaerospace.net

Questions and Answers about this Communiqué

How safe is my money if it is not in escrow and you're using it for
day-to-day operations?

The dollars on deposit for modifications will remain in an escrow account until the official sale of the company. If Eclipse Aerospace wins the bid, these deposits (only with your approval of the quoted price and in no event prior to 60 days before your scheduled modification) will then be released in order to obtain parts from suppliers and to staff and re tool the Service Centers. In the alternative, you may request a refund.

Isn't this what happened with Eclipse? What's to stop you from using the deposit money and never providing my upgrade?
No, old Eclipse did not use escrow accounts and did use deposits for working capital as they were collected. We are funding an escrow account and will not release your funds from the account until you have approved the final price for the upgrades and have a scheduled date for your modifications no more than 60 days out.

Why even collect the deposits now if they are refundable?
It is important to our investor group to ascertain the true need for establishing a separate holding company which will provide the perpetual license for the TC and IP on an individual basis. Therefore, we are making this offer as part of the purchase of the assets of Eclipse. Those who feel this is an important value point for them should strongly consider this offer and participate.

In addition, we are also trying to quantify the demand for the upgrades and plan accordingly for them during our first 6-12 months of operations. One of our main goals from day one is to get aircraft 1- 260 fully conforming including all modifications as soon as possible.

What are the details of the license to the assets?
Simultaneously with or shortly after the purchase of the assets from the Trustee, Eclipse Aerospace intends to place the Type Certificate and certain intellectual property into a separate holding company (separate and distinct from the assets of Eclipse Aerospace). Each aircraft owner who has made the deposit for modifications prior to May 31, 2009 will be issued a royalty-free, perpetual license for the components of the type certificate and intellectual property needed to provide service and upgrades to their aircraft on an ongoing basis should our effort fail in the future. In addition, this license will transferable with the aircraft when and if it is ever sold.

What if I do not send in a deposit by May 31?
You will still receive service and we have no intent of charging service access fees. You will simply be charged our retail pricing (not eligible for the discounts above), your place in line for modifications will be scheduled after those who had placed deposits for the deadline, and you would not receive the royalty free perpetual license for your aircraft.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Villains, Victims and an Honorable Crew

Since in the future the blog may be used by historians researching the Eclipse saga, we thought it might be appropriate to highlight those most responsible for the dastardly deeds and some who suffered the consequences, as well as 'the few' who tried to point out what was going astray. Stan and I co-operated to put this together (isn't the interweb a wonderful thingy) and we both trust you'll enjoy discussing our logic.

If, that is, there is any logic in this convoluted story!

The Villains

1. Easy one this. Vern Raburn, who wanted to make his mark on aviation. He did, as the biggest scam artist in its' history, with a self confessed more than '$1 billion' burned!

2. Roel Pieper, the slippery old Dutchman thought he could pull a fast one and steal an airplane company. He ended up with a tarnished image and a plane load of legal troubles.

3. Al Mann, a member of the board since day one. Should have asked more questions, demanded more answers and taken an active rather than a passive role.

4. Kent Kresa, also on the board. Like Mann another pushover who failed in his role.

5. Harold Poling, the third independent member of the board. Like Mann and Kresa, never showed any backbone, never made any attempt to pull back on the stick even though the nose was pointed straight at terra firma. These guys didn't even pull the trigger on Vern. It was Pieper, in one of his few 'good' decisions, who showed Vern the door.

6. Marion Blakey, head of the FAA. She undoubtedly compromised the integrity of the FAA with her machinations. Sadly she, proved herself to be just another one of the thousands of dirt bags in government, putting self interest above doing the right thing.

7. Nick Sabatini, now retired FAA high-level manager. Played kiss-ass politics rather than sticking up for the long standing, safety based, principles of the FAA.

8. John Hickey, career FAA mid-level manager. Sold his soul to the devil by bending if not breaking the rules at the behest of his superiors.

9. John Hickey's hand picked MIDO inspectors used to replace the Ft. Worth MIDO team. The new group of wimps, signed off on questionable manufacturing practices and overlooked problems during the inspection of new aircraft (none of which the Ft. Worth group would accept).

10. James Campbell, known on the blog and elsewhere as Capt. Zoom. Became Vern's dupe and the main conduit for the propaganda emanating from Albuquerque. Even today, Zoomie would claim it was all good journalism, despite being listed as a creditor owed $80,000. Yeh, that's real 'quid pro quo' journalism.

The Victims

1. Al Mann, again. Tops this list because he lost the most money. Just too gullible for his own good.

2. All the suppliers (except Pratt & Whitney). Got suckered into the hype with disastrous results for themselves and their employees. P & W well it's hard to feel sorry for them, they have dealt with enough start up programs. They should definitely have known better.

3. Eclipse employees who hung on until the bitter end. Not easy to find replacement jobs in the collapsing economy, not easy to sell their houses if forced to relocate.

4. The owners. The dream of owning a jet on the cheap overcame their rational thinking. Now with their dreams AOG or nearly AOG, they face an uncertain future. Well not quite uncertain, if one considers anguish as a probability.

5. The depositors. Perhaps they are the lucky ones, who only lost their deposits. They're not paying insurance or hangar rent or being recruited by the various coalitions wanting them to $ign up. This group probably sleeps a lot better than the owners, as they've taken their write-offs and can move on.

6. New Mexico taxpayers. Stuck with worthless notes paid for with million of dollars of hard earned taxpayer monies.

7. Albuquerque taxpayers. Stuck with a bunch of worthless IRB's secured by most of Eclipse's hard assets like friction stir welding machines, a gold plated flight test telemetry center, tools, assembly fixtures, furniture, buildings and whatever else Eclipse management could pawn off on the unsuspecting.

8. Brian Barents. Hoped his role on the board would pave the way to finance his dream, a supersonic business jet. The $3 billion Eclipse loss burst that bubble and serves as a reminder that starting a new aviation company is not easy especially when new technology is involved. For the record, there is a rumor floating around that he will be making a big announcement this month.

9. National Aeronautic Association committee who selected the 2005 winner of the Collier trophy. This pathetic group did not even follow the Association's ground rules for selecting a winner. The award is intended for those who have accomplished something. Not pie-in-the-sky bullshit that Vern was putting out that the committee gobbled up like contestants in Nathan's hot dog eating contest.

10. The aviation community as a whole. What was billed as a revolution that would change the aircraft industry, change the way we travel, turned into an embarrassment to us all.

The Honorable Crew

1. Stan Blankenship, who launched the original Critic Blog way back in April 2006, before blogging was popular. His very first headline posited the principle concerns about what was then the 'great white hope' for many in GA.

2. Our very own Honor Roll, reproduced below. These guys (and gals, for all I know) were singled out by EAC lawyers, no doubt instructed by Vern Raburn, with the spurious notion that NDA's had been breeched. Thanks to our next 'good man', EAC were opposed in court, Vern got fired and EAC dropped the suit days later.

3. Rich Lucibella, aka 'Gunner', who paid for his own, very excellent lawyer Norman Malinski to defend the blog in it's hour of need. To go paraphrase Winston Churchill, never was so much, owed by so many, to so few.

4. A few journalists, including Karen DiPiazza, who's singular focus on Vern's machinations got her into trouble with a whole range of people. She stayed on it though, and wrote several telling articles, most notable about the 'Midway' throttle quadrant accident.

5. The long serving blog correspondents, many of whom are now in contact with each other. You guys (and gals) have illuminated our lives over the past three years, with wit, wisdom and more than your fair share of common humanity. Our sincere thanks to each and every one of you.

Stan Blankenship (and a few lines from Shane Price)
May 2009

The 'Honor Roll', just in case anyone forgot...


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The tail end of Eclipse?

OK that's a pretty weak play with words, which I'm sure you'll forgive me for, eventually.

Some pretty damming correspondence reaches me, from several sources, about the number of instances (16, by one report) of this problem. While investigations continue, the issue would appear to be caused by 'incorrect procedures' either with a low battery initial start or wet restart. The delamination, which can be seen on the photo (top right) of the inside at about the 6.30 position, is (according to witnesses) clearly caused by excessive heat in this one location. Note that the exterior shot makes it clear that a visual inspection from outside fails to pick up the problem.

But now things get more interesting. Not only are there multiple instances in the fleet, but there does not seem to be any quick (or low cost) way to fix it. Clearly Eclipse Aviation are no longer in a position to provide technical assistance. Third party shops stuck with the problem are concerned about the consequences of a) devising a repair themselves and b) implementing and documenting it outside the normal approval cycle. This is perfectly understandable in the circumstances.

Which leads to my salient point.

What else will cause an FPJ to go AOG? We're aware of the DayJet birds, many of which had 'history' when they were flying and are unlikely to have 'improved' during (in some cases) almost a year of storage. Any PFD or MFD failures, especially on later AvioNG (IS&S displays) will certainly give an owner or pilot the jitters and leave them will little or no recourse. I'm reminded of the discussion, many moons ago now, of how the FPJ had been designed from the outset for heavy duty use. Pity they failed to design the company the same way...

The number of aircraft currently grounded, for a variety of reasons, is salient to our discussions. Clearly, the value (whatever remains) in the brand is lowered for each one that fails to fly. I'm aware of several that are 'hidden' away, sometimes in hangers but just as often on some out of the way field. It's a situation that's been building since before the Chapter 11 announcement on the 25th of November last. I'm confident that a number of these (excluding the DayJet birds) were not technically incapable of flight, but are those who's owners have decided to await upgrades. I think we should make a serious effort to a) identify those tails that have NOT flown for (just picking a number) 100 days and b) shift out those that are 'incapable' of flight.

This is not merely an academic exercise, but has real world value for any purchaser. After all, if 10 FPJ's are AOG, it's less than 5% of the fleet, and would not be worthy of further comment. But if its 50, 60 or even close to 100, then all this talk about '260 produced' rings very hollow, very fast.

Events (or lack thereof) have limited our supply of other news. Piper Aircraft is in new ownership, Adams Aircraft (version 2.0) has closed down. Cessna (and a number of others) have announced major cutbacks and/or program cancellations. Cash, for any type of investment, is very hard to source in almost any part of the world. Until we start to see some sort of economic lift it's unlikely we'll see a purchase of the assets of our very 'own' VLJ company in ABQ, New Mexico.

But I have been wrong before, and, unlike some others associated with this saga, I'm happy to admit my failings. Let's keep our fingers crossed that the Al Mann v Roel Peiper lawsuit is not a real spanner in the works, but merely a bit of local colour.