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Eclipse to replace its 500 VLJ's composite wingtip tanks with aluminium after certification tests fail, delaying approval

Aluminium to replace original composite wingtip units

Eclipse Aviation planned to begin testing late last week of aluminium wingtip fuel tanks for the Eclipse 500 very light jet after it failed to secure certification of the original composite tanks. The need to replace the tanks is one reason the Eclipse obtained only provisional US type certification in July.

The replacement tanks have the same fuel capacity and essentially the same weight, so flutter clearance will be performed by analysis to enable Eclipse to obtain full certification around the end of August, says chief executive Vern Raburn, adding that preliminary panel tests indicate the aluminium tanks will pass lightning certification.

"It's Eclipse's fault. We screwed that one up," says Raburn, but he blames suppliers for other delays. "Meggitt has had technical problems with the autopilot, but I think we are through them," he says. "We are doing flight tests now." Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Eclipse has slowed the production ramp-up and will not deliver as many aircraft as planned this year.

Raburn reserves his strongest criticism for supplier Avidyne, which has failed to certificate much of the planned avionics functionality "and continues to slip". The hardware has been qualified, "and we have been flying the functionality for initial certification for a month and a half, but they have not been able to get it certified".

Initial certification will allow single-pilot, day/night visual and instrument flight rules operation, but a software upgrade is planned for October to add avionics functionality that DayJet needs to meet Part 135 operating requirements so that it can begin its air-taxi service. Initial certification will give DayJet what it needs to begin training, route-proving and work out its maintenance processes, he says.

Additional avionics functionality that Eclipse views as its "market differentiator" will not be available for another six to 12 months, says Raburn, adding: "We will certificate with what most aircraft have, but we will not have many of things needed to realise the potential of this aircraft." As the hardware is already installed and approved, he says, Eclipse will add the functionality as software upgrades.

The company is working on enhancements, including larger aluminium tip tanks that will extend range. The heavier tanks will need flight testing, planned for later this month. Plans call for the "first dozen aircraft" delivered with smaller aluminium tanks to be retrofitted with the larger units once they are certificated, says Raburn.

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