Monday, August 24, 2009

What's NeXT for Eclipse ?

What's the NeXT step in the continuing (after some pause) story of Eclipse Aviation?

While we ourselves pause to contemplate that intriguing question, I'll answer the one for those wondering what the heck this cube thing is about: NeXT computers was a Steve Jobs thing back in the mid-1980's through mid-1990's. And seemingly, on into today, as (to a windows user) it appears MacOS X is evolved from the software developed for the NeXT platform. Pretty cool- I remember ogling over them "back in the day".

There does seem to be a bit of a similarity in the plot lines:

a) Computer whiz (Steve Jobs) gets rich guy (Ross Perot) to fund cutting edge (NeXT) tool for high tech breakthrough (DNA simulations).

b) Computer whiz (Vern Raburn) gets rich guy (Al Mann) to fund cutting edge (Eclipse) tool for high tech breakthrough (VLJ transportation revolution).

Take your pick, which one this applies to (hint- both):

"To avoid inventory errors, (Eclipse/NeXT) used the just in time (JIT) inventory strategy. The company contracted out for all major components such as (Wings/Motherboards) shipped to the first floor for assembly. "

Both Eclipse and NeXT featured advanced displays (pixel resolution advantage Eclipse: 1440 x 900 MFD with Avio-NG, 1120x832 for NeXT) relatively advanced processing power, and considerable attention placed on the user interface. Both wound up costing a bit more than expected, and never quite achieved the market shares anticipated, before going out of production.

And both featured some arguably advanced features, that, well, never quite caught on in their respective industries- the 2.88 MB floppy disk, which was nice, but wasn't worth the extra cost, and Friction Stir Welding, which, ah, well, you know the rest...

Reading the Wikipedia article, it amazing to consider just what heady times there were back in the Silicon Valley venture capital boom years. A dynamic environment- explosively dynamic in fact, compared to the rather staid ways of general aviation ways from the mid 1980's through mid 1990's. In that light, it is easy to see how a person familiar with both worlds, might sense the GA one was ripe for innovation and shakeup- dare I say- disruption!

The comparison is relatively shocking. Essentially, nothing was happening in personal aviation transportation during that period, aside from some "quirky" (odd similarity to the relationship to the word(?) "qwerty", which is pretty quirky compared to the Dvorac keyboard layout...) designs from Burt Rutan, etc.; while the Personal Computer/Information Technology world was, well, changing the world. (...Somewhat. Call me a Luddite -as those who use Apple computers no doubt will :) - I'm still not convinced calculators are a boon to an eight year old. But to allow a person to essentially have the world's library's at their fingertips is a flabbergasting advance. As is- almost- enabling adults, and eight year olds alike, to access our fine blog. (Although sometimes it's hard to tell the difference! Okay- just kidding again!! :). An interesting anecdote from Smart Computing, March 1999: A Brief History of Cyberspace:
"By the end of that year (1990), he (Berners-Lee ) had named the project "World Wide Web," created the first Web browser, and launched the World Wide Web on a NeXT computer at the CERN headquarters."

How did the finances work out for NeXT Computer, Inc.? I couldn't find the stock symbol, but in 1989 Canon paid $100M for 16.67%, so it was valued at about $600M. With inflation adjustments, that's about $1042M today. More or less what Eclipse probably shoulda/coulda/mighta been worth- once upon at time. When Apple bought NeXT in 1996, they shelled out $429M (about $600M in 2009 dollars), so it seems the original investors did pretty well. Steve Jobs got only stock, but at 1.5M shares, that was 1.19% of Apple. I believe it's split twice since then, at 1.5M x 2 x 2 x $170 (today's closing price), Steve-o would be sitting on about $1.020B. (Heck- he coulda bought Eclipse at it's peak! (...If he hadn't sold them...?) On the other hand, at the time of the NeXT buy out, those shares were worth around $15 x 1.5M = $22.5M, which is about what Al Mann forked out this time. Oh, the similarities are mind boggling. (So was the amount of cash Apple was burning back then!).

The NeXT adventure for Eclipse? Well, so far, it seems to be lacking some of the, ah, pizzazz, of the original (By the way, we seem to be missing some of the Karen Di Piazza's pizzazz as well):

From the same article as above, Flight Global, 13 March 2007;

"Announcing the new avionics team on 5 March (2007), Eclipse chief executive Vern Raburn said the changes would have 'absolutely no effect' on the delivery of an expected 402 aircraft this year...The Albuquerque, New Mexico-based airframer has delivered one aircraft since receiving its US Federal Aviation Administration certification in September (2006)...Raburn says Eclipse 500s delivered through the first half of the year with the Avidyne systems would be retrofitted with the Avio NG by year's end, a process he said would take less than 10 days".

Now THOSE were some pretty "heady" times as well...
* Can't Remember or Learn ?
* Can't Concentrate or Think Clearly ?
* Is Paranoid or Anxious ?
* Has Difficulty Keeping Track of Time ?

(Although I pity the fool with such afflictions- I think we all that :)

So the question is, will M&M assemble the A team and succeed? While most of the Eclipse work force has probably dispersed over the months since production- and paychecks- stopped, let's hope so- I love it when a plan comes together!

(Okay, if you -really- want to see it-...the original A Team...but you'll probably wished you hadn't! :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Boeing 787 First Flight Competition

Mysterious goings on at the Lazy B ranch !!

"Aug. 3 (Bloomberg) --Boeing Co. may not get the 787 Dreamliner flying for another six months following its fifth postponement, said Senior Plc, a British supplier of air ducts and other parts for the plane.
" 'We estimate another six-month delay,' Chief Executive Officer Mark Rollins, said today in a telephone interview. 'Their credibility is somewhat in question.' "

Well, now THERE's a quote for the blog to remember (no doubt, a view well established in the minds of both "advocates" and "critics" of a certain program in ABQ...)

Aviation critics (and enthusasts!!) have long been presented with challenge of finding a good metric for measuring progress of a new development program. First flight is an obvious one. One of my favorites is/was, second flight. And Type Certificate. First Delivery. Entry into Service.

Alas, Eclipse has taught us to re-evaluate the meaning of all those terms...and left me with the ill feeling that the only ones -really- quantifiable are: first flights. Still, I'll go out on a limb, and say TC, and first revenue flight are big milestones for the 787 program.

Along those lines, I'm "keeping score" for everyone wanting to offer a guess on:

a) 787 First Flight
b) Type Certificate Date
c) First Revenue Flight

Extra Credit Problem:
d) Number of aircraft having flown by the end of 2010

Super-Duper Extra Credit Problem:
e) Invent your own metric/milestone and share it with us!

Winner of the 787 First Flight will get a courtesy copy of Shane's forthcoming book.
(I'm pretty sure it will be finished before any of the above items are accomplished...)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Public Service Announcement !


Things are getting pretty lively!! (Time for a Moderator Interrupt).

A gentle reminder, from the upper left hand corner of the blog homepage:

"Politeness, civility and good manners are expected at a minimum..."

Thank you- we now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Light At The End Of The Tunnel (?)

The figurative Duke of Albuquerque, Mayor Marty Chavez, announced on Friday, July 31, that he was "98 percent certain that Eclipse has been saved.". Perhaps he meant, 98% certain 2% of it had been saved, as the rumored offer is $40M, for what had been a $2B investment...).

A group of investors formed Eclipse Aerospace (I believe, formerly calling themselves Eclipse Jet, when Roel Pieper was associated with them mid-year- Mr. Peiper has since moved back to Europe to carry on his pen-pal relationship with Al Mann, and perhaps avoid a different pen-pal relationship with other former Eclipse managment).

The new cast of characters:

Mason R. Holland Jr., Benefitfocus of Charleston, S.C., (Holland held a position on s/n 473-or so, and had made the 60% progress payment).

Mike Press, president and CEO of Single-Pilot Jet Management in Chesterfield, Mo.,

Raul Segredo, president and CEO of Miami-based Avionica, a provider of aircraft data communications products and services, and

John Cracken, a managing director of Cracken, Harkey & Co., a Dallas-based private equity firm.

Mason and Mike were kind enough to copy Shane on an email explaining their intentions in April- things might have changed a little, being as that was a few months ago, but I suspect the basic intent is the same. Shane kindly posted their information on April 26, 2009.

I'm not sure Raul is still with the group- his avionics experience would definitely be a strong plus for the group.

KRQE in Albuquerque has a recent "extended interview" (well, it's a 3 minute telephone call) with Mason Holland.

Time line for the court events ahead:
August 10 hearing (I believe to discuss the current offer).
August 24 hearing (Going once, going twice, ...)

There is rumor of another bid or two, possibly forthcoming- but Mayor Chavez seems to feel this one is likely to be the winner. And if anyone knows how to pick a winner... (Just Kidding!)

Not to be un-"enthusiast"-ic, I do feel an obligation to caution a certain degree of "critic"-al evaluation, particularly for those in Albuquerque, who might be expecting too much, too soon, from the new ownership. While the mayor refers to some part of a former employment level of 800 (odd, it's not 2000), and Eclipse Aerospace mentions 100-200 intially, I feel perhaps we should be discussing dozens rather than hundreds, at least for the first few months. I hope things accelerate quickly, but still, it's a tough market.

Well, that pretty much assuages my urge to issue a cautionary note. These are the things a critic frets about. But as an enthusiast, I'm happy the offices and factory and hangar doors will be unlocked. Long time blog participant Ken Meyers, an EA500 owner himself, feels this is a well-prepared group, who seem to have been doing their homework. The announced long term intention of reopening the production line and building 100-200 airplanes per year seems quite reasonable once the economy improves, and until then, everyone will welcome the near-term effort to bring updates and improvements to the existing fleet, and offer parts and training for pilots and maintenance personnel.

Good luck, Eclipse Aerospace.

(It will be interesting to see what's "just around the bend"!)