Eclipse Aviation is to pioneer an advanced manufacturing technique in its drive to achieve a target price of $837,500 for the Eclipse 500 personal jet.

The all-metal six-seater will have a traditional 'stringer and rib' construction, says vice-president of engineering Oliver Masefield. But instead of being riveted together, the structure will be assembled using friction stir welding.

Developed by the UK's Welding Institute, and used by Boeing in Delta rocket construction, robotic friction stir welding will allow Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Eclipse to reduce the manpower cost of assembling an otherwise conventional metal structure.

Eclipse will be the first to certificate friction stir welding for use in an aircraft. "We have to be on the fast track as we plan to fly a conforming aircraft in 20 months," Masefield says. US certification and first deliveries of the Eclipse 500 are scheduled for 2003.

In other light jet news at NBAA, Century Aerospace says Taiwan General Aviation Consortium will be a major risk-sharing partner in the CA-100 Century Jet programme. Led by AIDC, it will provide funding, assist in design and supply components for the twinjet.

Century, meanwhile, is close to acquiring an aerostructures business in the "southeast USA" which will provide cashflow and an assembly site for the Century Jet. First flight is planned for the second half of 2002, leading to certification in early 2004.

Also setting up in the southeast USA is Italy's Piaggio Aero Industries, which has formed Greenville, South Carolina-based Piaggio America to sell and support the revived P180 Avanti twin-turboprop. Piaggio plans to produce 15 Avantis next year, 24 in 2002 and 30 in 2003, mostly for the US market.

Source: Flight International