Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

Eclipse Aviation will begin taking orders for its Eclipse 500 personal jet by the end of this month. People who have registered interest in the $750,000 aircraft via Eclipse's website will get the first opportunity to reserve delivery positions, says chief executive Vern Raburn.

Details of a "fairly innovative" sales programme have yet to be revealed, but Raburn says deposits will become non-refundable when Eclipse provides performance and delivery guarantees at the Oshkosh show in late July.

The company, meanwhile, will move in mid-June to Albuquerque, New Mexico, initially occupying a former fixed-base operation at the main airport before beginning construction of a final assembly facility at the city's Double Eagle II general aviation airport.

Eclipse has decided to build the first aircraft and begin flight testing in Albuquerque, rather than at Williams International in Detroit, as originally planned. Williams will continue to be responsible for design and certification of the Eclipse 500 and its EJ-22 engine, Raburn says.

Development of the 700lb thrust-class (3kN) EJ-22 is "in good shape", he says. Testing has "gone beyond full thrust", but specific fuel consumption has not met expectations. Another engine is being fabricated with "fairly significant" design changes to solve the problem, Raburn says.

The EJ-22 is the first production version of Williams' FJX-2 small turbofan, being developed under a cost-sharing contract with NASA. Raburn says plans to fly the FJX-2 at Oshkosh in Williams' V-Jet 2 demonstrator have been dropped.

"It did not push the programme forward," he says. Instead, the engine will fly late this year on a Boeing 727 testbed.

Eclipse, meanwhile, is about to begin its second round of financing, having secured an initial $60 million from private investors including Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. Raburn continues to forecast that "more than $300 million" will be needed to certificate and begin production of the all-metal Eclipse 500. First deliveries are scheduled for 2003.

Source: Flight International