Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC


US Engine manufacturer Williams International is developing a personal jet for new company Eclipse Aviation.

Williams is under contract to develop and certificate the Eclipse 500 twinjet and its EJ22 engine, and to turn over to Eclipse a certificated factory ready to produce the aircraft. A team led by former Pilatus Aircraft vice-president Oliver Masefield is working on the aircraft at Williams' Walled Lake, Michigan, plant.

Eclipse is a "virtual company", with just two employees, but 140 people are working on the project, says chief executive Vern Raburn. "We have been in 'stealth mode' until now, but we are quite a way down the path," he says. The company has raised $60 million from individual investors. It will take "more than $300 million" to get the aircraft into production, Raburn says.

The first flight is planned for early 2002, with aircraft and engine certification set for mid-2003, followed by deliveries from August. Eclipse envisages a "distributed air-travel system", using personal jets as an alternative to airline travel.

The price for the all-metal six-seater is to be around $775,000. Design specifications include:

•2,090kg (4,600lb) maximum take-off weight;

•730m (2,400ft) balanced field length, which "opens up a lot of airports", Raburn says;

• 368kt (680km/h) cruise and 67kt stall speeds;

• 2,680km (1,450nm) "real world" range with four passengers.

Key to the aircraft's performance is the 770lb-thrust (3.4kN) EJ22-2 turbofan, a production version of the Williams FJX-2 engine under development for NASA's General Aviation Propulsion programme. "We are paying for development," says Raburn, adding that Eclipse will have "a period of exclusivity" as a result.

The EJ22's efficiency gives the Eclipse 500 a fuel consumption of just 5.8km/litre (11.8nm/USgal) over 1,850km, and an operating cost of "less than high-performance piston singles", Raburn says. The engine is "very clean" and "extraordinarily quiet", he says. Four FJX-2 engines have accumulated over 100h of testing and two EJ22s are being built.

Inside, the Eclipse will have a glass cockpit and "automotive-style" interior. In the cockpit, three large graphical displays will provide full instrument flight rules capability, Raburn says. Eclipse is working with two automotive interior design firms on the cabin, which will feature "minivan-style" reconfiguration capability.

Automotive technologies and concepts will also be used in manufacture, Raburn says, with large integrated components reducing parts count. Digitally controlled machining and robotic assembly will also reduce costs, he says.

Raburn says Eclipse's unique relationship with Williams "reduces the typical start-up risk", noting the "dismal" track record of general aviation start-ups. Under its cost-sharing contract, Williams will design, build and certificate the aircraft and move the development team into Eclipse as production begins.

Target markets include traditional owner/operators, as piston-twin replacements, along with fractional ownership and charter operations, Raburn says.

Eclipse envisages its aircraft being used for "air limousine" services, offering passengers a cost per seat kilometre for 400-1,800km trips that is less than the equivalent airline walk-up fare.

Source: Flight International