I'm sure the gathered media was floored when Eclipse Aviation company founder Vern Raburn taxied up to the Eclipse tent during a press conference in the new Eclipse ECJ, or Eclipse Concept Jet. According to many web stories floating out of KOSH this week, the ECJ – one a flood of new PJs or Personal Jets – was built in secret at the NASA Wallops Island facility in Virginia by a team of engineering companies selected by Eclipse, with design of the airplane handled by Eclipse staff.
I'll let someone else describe the specs of this one, and trust me, they will be sweet if those marks are met in the production model. But I want to address some initial confusion about the ECJ:
At the press conference, Raburn said "this is not a product launch," and described the ECJ as a "concept" aircraft in the spirit of the concept cars automakers have long created. He also said that over the next 12 months, Eclipse will weigh market and media interest and make a decision whether to proceed with development of the ECJ for production.All well and good...until you look at the Eclipse Aviation website, shown above. A big splashy photo of the ECJ accompanied by the giant headline of "Introducing the ECJ" greets visitors on their home page. You just don't see General Motors coat their home page with flash that screams "introducing" for their concept vehicles...it doesn't happen. So if you didn't get the memo that this was only a "testing of the waters" and went to their site seeking a place to mail in your deposit on an ECJ, you'd be thrilled to see what awaits you...until you click through to the ECJ dedicated site and read the fine print.
Even if the ECJ is truly just a concept project from the Eclipse design team, it gives us a possible glimpse of the company's future. That may be surprising to some, and this quote from Raburn indicates that the last thing Eclipse wants right now is for any feathers to be ruffled:
[Raburn] assured the media that only a very few Eclipse employees had spent any time on the project in an effort not to deplete resources necessary to finish development and manufacturing ramp-up of the Eclipse 500 twin jet.I write this with no money down waiting for an E500 to come off their assembly line. But I still have to wonder what the the most patient people in all of general aviation – Eclipse 500 position holders – must be thinking about this ECJ rollout show. Nobody but them really has earned the right to publicly whip Eclipse for spending even one man-hour developing the ECJ when the factory still isn't spitting out the E500s they've bought.
From the sidelines, it's way too easy to armchair quarterback this whole deal. So I'll wrap this post by saying I'm still a fan of Eclipse and as always, wish them the very best in everything they do. I just think they should have made a huge splash with a mock-up instead of spending their resources actually building an ECJ to fly into Wittman Regional in front of the world's aviation media.
Because they choose to go forward with actually building a flying prototype – in spite of all they have going on back in Albuquerque – it leads me to believe this was indeed a product launch, they just didn't think the timing was right to call it that.
But you do have to admit, the ECJ is very, very cool. What will make or break this project is price point, because it is designed to deliver performance not that far removed from the E500. If it comes in at anywhere significantly south of a million USD, they might just sell a load of 'em.