Final assembly of the first Eclipse 500 six-seat jet has begun at the company's new facilities in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Assembly was assured after two successful rounds of fund raising secured more than $120 million in private investment.

Eclipse president and chief executive Vern Raburn says that the company is starting with the pressure vessel first. Assembly started early this month after 123 company engineers relocated from Detroit, Michigan to Albuquerque.

A key element of the low-cost, twin-engined jet is the use of advanced manufacturing techniques such as friction stir welding, which replaces riveting in most of the structure and is up to 10 times faster than manual riveting and five times faster than automated riveting. "We're starting at 22in [560mm] per minute welding speed, but we believe it will go to 1.5m [5ft]," says Raburn. US Federal Aviation Administration approval is expected for fatigue and static tests now underway on both damaged and undamaged test panels.

The first aircraft is due to roll out in May, with first flight anticipated in July 2003.

FAA type certification is expected in December 2003, with deliveries starting in January 2004. Raburn says Eclipse holds a $1.5 billion order backlog for the 500, which the company believes can be operated for $500/h.

Williams International, which is developing the 770lb (3.5kN) thrust EJ22 for Eclipse, is expanding the number of engines on test from six to 10 as it aims to complete 1,000h of testbed running.

Source: Flight International