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Air Taxi Flight Com Interview: Eclipse 500, From Dream To Delivery

By Elliot Borin, Air TaxiFlights.com Staff Writer - © 2009, Reproduction without permission strictly prohibited. All company and product names in this document are the property of their respective copyright and/or trademark holders.

Eclipse 500
It began, according to Eclipse Aviation PR Director Andrew Broom, as a dream.

The dreamer was Vern Rayburn, a top troubleshooter for Microsoft co-founder and mega-venture capitalist Paul Allen. At the time, Rayburn was spending half his life either in airports and or on airplanes bouncing from Board of Directors Meeting 1 to Board of Directors Meeting 11. So the dream, not surprisingly, was for a better, faster, more cost-effective, less fuel-guzzling way to get from Point A in Allen's far-flung Vulcan Ventures, Inc. empire to points X, Y, and Z.

In the dream, which reportedly came to him on board a flight leading to a major airport far removed from his actual destination, Rayburn saw an airplane unlike any then existent on either tarmac or drawing board. A jet that could take off and land at virtually any airfield serving twin-prop aircraft. An aircraft that would cost 50 or 60 percent less than an entry-level business jet and stay in the air for under $1 a mile. An aircraft built of advanced materials and flown with state of the art control and navigation systems equal to those found on current-generation jumbo jets.

Future historians attempting to affix the label of "father" on someone involved in the Very Light Jet revolution will not face the same problem as those writing the history of the automobile or television. The father is Vern Raburn and the Eclipse 500, the first VLJ in the world to receive FAA full-type certification allowing commercial operation, is his baby.

In a far-ranging interview with AirTaxiFlights.com contributing writer Elliot Borin, Andrew Broom discussed the evolution and future of the aircraft and the company which is building it.

ATF: Normally, I like to do these interviews chronologically, but this is a special case. So, if you don't mind, let's jump ahead to the question our readers are all asking. "When can I book a flight on an Eclipse 500?"

AB: The first air-taxi operator to take delivery is Dayjet and they're getting their initial aircraft now. When they actually begin revenue service is obviously up to them, but I assume that'll happen as soon as they take delivery of enough aircraft to properly cover some segments of their intrastate Florida service area. (Editor's Note: DayJet plans to begin revenue service by the end of the year. For exclusive interviews with DayJet executives Vicky Harris and Brad Noe, click here.)

ATF: Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of Eclipse? Probably every executive who's taken more than five business trips a year has dreamed of a better way to get around. But no one ever did anything about it before. How is Vern Rayburn different from the other dreamers?

AB: For one thing, Vern is a longtime pilot and aircraft collector. He's owned all kinds of notable aircraft a Super Constellation, among other birds. With his unique combination of aviation background and computer system expertise he was able to see the convergence of the various technologies.

He realized that it was theoretically possible to create the type of aircraft he had in mind on deadline and under budget by using such common-to-electronics-but-not-to-aviation business processes as outsourcing and just-in-time manufacturing. Once he met Sam Williams, he realized the theoretical was also practical.

ATF: How did that meeting with Dr. Williams change the equation?

AB: Williams is one of the real pioneers in developing high-performance, low-thrust turbojet engines - he helped convince Vern that Very Light Jet engines could power the 500 through the skies within the altitude, speed and fuel-economy parameters Vern established.

ATF: Let's talk about those parameters a bit. What are they and how well are the 500 prototypes meeting them?

AB: We wanted to be able to cruise at 40,000 feet and 375kt at a cost of under $1 a mile and the prototypes have met all those goals. In large part, that's because their P&W PW610F engines only produce about 900 pounds of thrust each.

Our projections, based on a cost of $3 a gallon, are that they will consume about 56 cents of fuel a mile in revenue service. To put it another way, fuel costs per hour will be about two-thirds lower than similar capacity twin-engine prop planes. And, of course, performance will be much higher.

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