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Sikorsky boost gives birth to Eclipse 550

One year after Sikorsky took a minority ownership in Eclipse Aerospace, the company has announced a "new" aircraft called the Eclipse 550. Based on the Eclipse 500 but with significant modifications, the 550 is priced at $2.695 million with standard options, up by $545,000 from today's Eclipse 500 price. Entry into service is slated for 2013.

Unlike the previous twinjet, produced between 2006 and 2008 under the leadership of Eclipse Aviation head Vern Raburn, the new 550 will feature a fuselage, wing and empennage all built by Sikorsky subsidiary PZL Mielec in Poland. Sikorsky's agreement with Eclipse included global supply chain support and help to restart the production line.

The airframe itself will be the same as that of the latest Eclipse 500, including Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F turbofan engines and an integrated cockpit built by Innovative Solutions and Support (IS&S), but now with synthetic vision and auto throttles, the wiring for which was included in the original design but not activated.

Wings, empennages and fuselages will be delivered to Eclipse's Albuquerque facility, where workers will assemble, install interiors, flight test and paint the aircraft. Since the aircraft itself is certified, Eclipse will perform incremental certifications of the upgrades during 2012 and be ready for deliveries in 2013.


Eclipse 500

 The Eclipse 500 on which the 550 is based on

Copyright: EBACE

Eclipse Aerospace CEO Mason Holland said final construction of the aircraft is likely to stay in Albuquerque, although the company is keeping its options open in the long term. Holland said Eclipse will double its workforce in Albuquerque from 150 to 300 employees by the end of 2012. "We have one partner under our own umbrella," Holland said of work at PZL. "That's why we're going to do it right this time."

Eclipse Aviation, under Raburn, had developed a host of problems with vendors in the supply chain, which led to delays and legal issues. Empennages, built by Hampson Aerospace, proved particularly troublesome when Hampson filed a legal complaint in early 2008 claiming Eclipse had not paid its bills. Although the issue was later solved, Eclipse ultimately went bankrupt in 2008, with Eclipse Aerospace purchasing the assets for $40 million and restarting the company in September 2009 with 260 aircraft in the fleet.

Eclipse would not release its order tally for the show, although more than one new customer put deposits on aircraft. As for production rate, Holland said the company is looking at demand for 50-100 aircraft per year.

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