Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shades of Disruption!

While touring about one-third of the USA over the Thanksgiving holiday (via: Dash-8, CRJ-700, A320, and 737, so far...) I had some time to do some reading. Okay, looking at pictures- and some reading too.
Drawn to aviation magazines at the airport gift shops, I came upon the November 2009 copy of Plane & Pilot, with the Icon A5 on the cover (different pic than the one shown here).

I hadn't intended on doing another headline about Light Sport Aircraft, at least not so soon, but the article well, set off the Disruption Alert Monitor (DAM) in my little brain.

As a somewhat gushy sort myself, I'll give the P&P writers a pass on the somewhat gushy "Rock Star" accolades regarding: the airplane, designers, staff, CEO, future owners, etc.

Where things seem a little, star-struck and rocky, are the observation:

"...the James Bondian prototype was unveiled at a very rock 'n' roll premiere in Los Angeles in June 2008. The lavish affair was complete with stage lighting, beautiful people, pumping music, and celebrities...".

Well, sounds like fun. Not to sound hurt or anything about not being invited, I was curious about who did attend. The Icon web site has a nice article about the "coming out" party. (I have to confess, I struggled recognizing the beautiful people, (the redheaded guy in the headlock turns out NOT to be Carrot Top, but rather Shaun White. OK, me too, so here- interesting picture with Sir Richard. Strange little incestuous world we seem to be discovering- more about that in a future headline). Not pictured but mentioned elsewhere was Jeremy McGrath, probably one of the 5 best motocross racers in the past 30 years- seems the Icon CEO Kirk Hawkins is a sporting type, interested in skiing and motocross- picks some world class chums to hang with). The single (well, single main-stream anyway) celeb I noted was Buzz Aldrin, the second guy on the moon. Buzz turns 80 in a couple of months, so I find it a little odd he'd be attending a LSA debut. Paid appearance, perhaps? Maybe a complimentary Icon whenever they come off the line- by then, I would expect even a former astronaut might be comforted knowing that a sport pilot license does not require a medical. (Not sure about military flight physicals- I remember seeing Barry Goldwater shuffling along with a cane, and then clambering into the back seat of an F-16, so maybe Buzz has some leeway...).

Anyway, back to what set off the DAM:

"In an extraordinary example of viral marketing, Icon has- almost without trying- created an airplane so anticipated by the general public that it has leapt outside the geriatric boundaries of general aviation...".

Wow. Okay then. Time for US to step in and give this thing a look.

(And I'm sure Buzz would appreciate it if that were changed to "generic" boundaries).

First of all, this is being built to pass the Light Sport certification regs, rather than the "onerous" FAR23 standards. I am becoming less and less enamored with LSA certification, and frankly, wonder why a LSA shouldn't have to stand up to the same requirements as a Cessna 152. After considerable contemplation, the ONLY reason I can see the FAA establishing LSA is to avoid the expense of reviewing numerous small aircraft programs, and avoiding some sort of liability exposure, even if it's only moral or political exposure. The EAA was behind the sport pilot licensing, which I can understand, and appreciate- why they would become involved in fighting OEM legal and regulatory battles stretches the imagination. ("Good for the flying public" I suppose- perhaps some of our fellow bloggers can shed some light on this). Lots of airplanes are being certified to LSA/NTSM standards, so I'll cut the Icon guys some slack on that one.

The design team was recruited from Scaled Composites- they are very good with prototypes, but shall we say less than stellar record of successfully certified derivatives. Maybe the LSA rules will present, um,...less of a challenge.

Only two people have flown the airplane- and one of them is the lead engineer, and the other is the CEO?? That seems very odd. Credit to both of them for being highly experienced, but multiple inputs are the norm. (Maybe there aren't any other pilots? Is the operation that small?)

Being built with "disposable tooling" that allows two or three uses? Oh? How, ah, very ...interesting.

Over 450 orders, and "Standard A5 deliveries are scheduled to begin fall 2012, with position 450 delivery estimated for Q4 2013". Lets see- 450 airplanes, on disposable tooling, in the first year of production. Ooookay.

And, those "orders"- $5K down, fully refundable (and escrowed! Silicon Valley Bank. Yeah for Icon for doing the ethical thing). But that only comes out to a bit over $2M. Outside "angel" and venture capital has been obtained (sufficient to take the program through certification and production startup. R-i-g-h-t. I suppose compared to some of the big ticket IT adventures in Silicon Valley (where the players in this seem to be from), this is chump change- maybe $20-50M to get it going? (Anyone think it will be only $5-10M? For build quantities approaching 500, the first year? More like $100M for that volume probably. How do you make a small fortune in aviation?...)

Icon does have a nice up-front purchase contract.
($139K+CPI, figure 3 years. Standard equipment: manual folding wing, steam gages, no BRS- seems like a CPI'd, optioned up one would come in around, say, getting close to $200K or so..).

I'm a bit concerned about the wing fold thing- there is a video of it, but "we already have that mechanism tested" doesn't quite jive with "they've built the actual mechanism, (but) the implementation needs to be finalized".

I was also a little puzzled about the first flight video.
One, why did it take place on a lake, instead of a long runway, with crash crews, ambulances, etc.- and without the risk of drowning. Two, where is the chase plane? It is a ground based video- no chase plane? A bit substandard.

(An alternate explanation dawns on me- could it be they don't even have a hangar at an airport? -the home page shows landing at a land airport, but is it a touch and go from the lake?)

After watching the video several times to detect a chase plane- I think the takeoff "roll"(?whatever it's called for an amphibian?) was shot from a boat(?)- the engine start scene puzzled me- why it just starts moving. Then it dawned on me- fixed pitch prop, the airplane starts moving as soon as the crank starts turning. It would be helpful to have a variable pitch prop for zero thrust- maybe even a reversible one for shorter landing and crude maneuvering. But LSA rules say fixed (or ground adjustable) pitch only. And speaking of maneuvering- don't float planes usually have water rudders? (Not a big thing to add, but I don't see it yet. The engine placement would make the air rudder pretty effective, but sometimes more speed isn't a good thing).

Speaking of propulsion- the 100 HP Rotax "is enough power, but we're looking at the turbo charged engine". Cha-Ching!

The Wall Street Journal article mentions "barely 9 feet across".
The California DMV says 108 inches for the trailer, 102 inches for cargo- looks like a tight squeeze. I assume they designed for it. In California anyway.

One other thing concerns me- the flight test is taking place at Lake Isabella, a lovely little lake, in the middle of nowhere (I've been there in passing).
"This is a machine that appeals in a big way to nonpilots and is changing the public perception of flying...that is Skimming just 20 feet above the water, I sense the fun and excitement that Hawkins is working to convey". I have some concern that flying boats will, to some degree, indeed "change the public perception of flying"...mostly in response to noise.

How about the management experience at Icon?
The "team" has a lot of smart guys, but any aircraft manufacturing experience? NOPE.
Don't worry- there is a "board of directors and advisors":
John Dorton- CEO of a boat company
Vern Raburn- Lately?
Jim Ellis- a lecturer at Stanford
Bruce Holmes- Ex-NASA, of airspace "modernization", AGATE, and air taxi fame.
David Kelly- Industrial designer
Esther Dyson- "noted visionary"
Ilan Kroo- Aero Prof at Stanford (certification experience?)
Stewart Reed- industrial designer for automobiles
Troy Lee- industrial designer of sporting apparel and concept cars.
David Beech- Manufacturing engineer at Stanford ("Innovative Manufacturing").
Smart folks, no doubt. But aircraft manufacturing experience? (As a group, quite limited. The first three are directors, the next seven are advisors- handy for determining the interior colors and such. Plus, maybe they can help out with the books too- at some airplane companies the directors apparently were color blind, at least when it came to red ink versus black).

Anyways- the Icon looks like a fun project. And I think it is technically feasible. How affordable, profitable, practical, and plausible, well...I wish them well.

(This month's edition of Plane & Pilot- has lots of fun articles- Light Sport avionics, electric airplanes, convective weather, VFR corridors, Cessna 206).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

It appears the Cessna Skycatcher is about to enter "the real world". Rose Pelton, wife of Cessna CEO Jack Pelton, will be the first customer. It's interesting to study what -might- be the start of major OEM involvement in the trainer market again, first time in, literally, a generation- the Cessna 152 production ceased in 1985.

And speaking of a new generation (of avionics), the Skycatcher comes with a glass cockpit. (After our many discussions regarding standby indicators, I was perplexed that there is not one in the 162. But the airplane is not offered as an IFR paltform (and LSA-only pilots are restricted to Day VFR).

(This article is a bit dated, Garmin G300 to Make Debut on Cessna 162 LSA (Aviation Week, Fred George, July 20, 2007), but might be indicative of the cost savings philosophy on the SkyCatcher program: "The new Garmin G300 avionics package, a de-contented, non-TSOed, VFR-only outgrowth of Garmin's G1000 integrated system..." The Cessna website has this press release regarding the 162 and Garmin G300- "Quite literally made for each other".

One kind of odd looking item, is the pilot control- Cessna Cuts Pilot Training Cost In Half (Flying Magazine, J. Mac McClellan, Oct 2007) notes "The fulcrum of the sticks is configured so that control inputs feel like those of a centrally mounted stick on the floor instead of a sidestick, or some other kind of push and twist arrangement." (Roomier and more convenient for entry and egress, I suppose).

Cessna LSA Flies
(AVweb, Oct 16, 2006)
"Cessna's proof-of-concept entry into the light sport aircraft category flew for the first time last Friday (the 13th). The 33-minute flight originated at McConnell Air Force Base and ended at Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita."
(Not a superstitious bunch!)

"The LSA also has a free-castering nosewheel and, although it's about 200 pounds lighter than a 152, its cockpit is about six inches wider. Cessna CEO Jack Pelton says the LSA market is the fastest-growing sector in aviation and could be a crucial factor in reigniting interest in personal aviation."
(Hmm, six inches wider. One could wonder what really is the fastest growing "sector" in aviation).

"An important part of our thought process in looking at LSA is the value in terms of new pilot starts," Pelton said in the release. The company's thought is that today's LSA pilot will be tomorrow's Skyhawk -- or Citation -- owner."

Using the Cessna 162 article in Wikipedia, it is interesting to map out the timeline for the Skycatcher:

* Jan. 2006- Program launched

*Oct. 13, 2006- nine months after launching the program, the concept prototype aircraft, registered N158CS flies.

*July 22, 2007- at Oshkosh, unveiled a full-scale mockup and details about the planned production version.

*Nov. 27, 2007- Cessna announced that the Cessna 162 would be made in China

*March 8, 2008- The conforming prototype had its first flight

*May 5, 2008- The first initial production configuration aircraft flew

*Sept. 18, 2008- Prototype crashes (spin testing- The aircraft was equipped with a Ballistic Recovery System parachute, but it failed to deploy when activated)

*Late 2008- The 162 received a redesigned vertical stabilizer...with the new larger fin the dorsal fin was unneeded and was deleted from the design to save weight

*March 19, 2009 -A second prototype crashes (spin testing- BRS deployed, but "The pilot exited the aircraft and attempted to remove the parachute, which remained attached to the aircraft. Wind then dragged the aircraft 0.6 miles into a fence, leaving it inverted and heavily damaged".)

*Mid 2009- The final production 162 incorporated a thicker wing and further changes to the tail, including a ventral fin, to make the aircraft more resistant to spins.

*Sept. 17, 2009- The first production Cessna 162 had its initial flight in China

*Nov. 2009- the company indicated that it expected to deliver the first production the end of 2009

The program has been met with good market acceptance, "In July 2009, orders were still reported at "over 1,000." The forecast production rates I've read vary from 300-700 per year (based largely on which year the article was published).

It is interesting to note the "extra" testing Cessna has conducted, beyond the Light Sport Aircraft requirements.
"The company indicated that the testing was outside that required for LSA certification...The aircraft entered an unintentional flat spin and was not under control at 5,000 feet (1,500 m), at which point the test pilot bailed out of the aircraft. Cessna confirmed that the 162 entered a spin from cross-controlled, power-on stall, that the spin became flat and recovery was not possible."

And from the Cessna press release (July 27, 2009)

"In several areas, Cessna conducted additional tests on the SkyCatcher not required by the ASTM International standards, such as an extensive Ground Vibration Test (GVT) and instrumented, in-flight flutter testing. Planned testing, also not required by ASTM, includes an airframe fatigue test to ensure a durable product for the training environment."

I certainly applaud Cessna for the extra testing they have conducted. But I must confess, I am rather perplexed that this is "extra", and not regulatory.

*Spin testing
*flutter testing
*fatigue testing

It seems to me these should all be mandatory, and not left to the owner to become unwitting "test pilots"/guinea pigs.

NTSB asks FAA to ground Zodiac CH-601XL

"The NTSB has asked the ATSM to take the following actions: 1) Add requirements to ensure the standards for light sport airplanes reduce the potential for aerodynamic flutter to develop; 2) develop standards on stick force characteristics for light sport airplanes that minimize the possibility of pilot’s inadvertently over-controlling the airplane; and 3) ensure standards for light sport airplanes result in accurate airspeed indications and appropriate documentation in new airplane pilot operating handbooks."

Isn't this kind of what we have the FAA for?

(Not to pick on the Zodiac 601- it seems to be a quite popular airplane, but rather to express concern over the relaxation of purposeful regulatory standards, namely, the FAA Part 23 standards).

A little research turned up this AOPA article from 2004.
"FAA Administrator Marion Blakey on Tuesday, July 20, 2004, officially unveiled the long-awaited Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft rule that allows many pilots to fly light sport aircraft with a valid driver's license in lieu of a medical certificate and creates new, less-expensive ways to become a pilot."

Seems like M. Blakey was quite an "enthusiast" of "new, less expensive", and perhaps- disruptive- ways of circumventing established certification processes, on a number of levels. (I'm okay with the idea of using a driver's license for a 1320 lb airplane, rather than medical exam, but think the pilot training for LSA is in general, an unwise simplification, perhaps appropriate/adequate for those in rural areas, but not in general).

(That's good material for another day- but for now),
Congratulations to Cessna 162 design team.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

So, How 'bout those Single Engine Jets? I thought it would be fun to see how the Cirrus program is coming along. Things have been a bit "disruptive" lately, with some management changes, but I think it is a promising program.

There's a great short article in Flying Magazine, March 2009, by Robert Goyer, Cirrus Vision Jet Gets Lighter. While tempted to place it "between" the Eclipse EA400 and EA500, marketing-wise, it is interesting to note that at 6000 MTOW (or 5,999, depending), and 1900 lbs thrust, spec-wise, it is much closer to the EA500. Performance wise, it is not quite so impressive compared to the EA500 though, with a full-fuel usable load of 400 lbs, and a max speed of 320 knots (odd that Cirrus compares it to the SR-22 Turbo: "Cirrus is designing the Vision SF50 jet to be a step-up aircraft for a pilot currently flying a high-performance single, like the Cirrus TURBO, or a twin engine piston rather than being a down-sized business jet. The Vision will carry more payload, farther and faster than the Cirrus TURBO while maintaining the same outstanding handling characteristics". Certianly the SR22 turbo is a very fine airplane, but still, using that comparison in one's own marketing information seems a bit overly modest. (Especially if there is a 300-400 percent price difference...)

"The New Cirrus Jet"
(Philip Greenspun's Blog; June 17, 2009- (It's not so new to readers here). Seems like I frequently come across Philg's postings when I'm searching for something or other on the web regarding airplanes. He's a good writer and observer- an interesting read indeed.
"I sat in a mock-up of the new Cirrus Jet today alongside Alan Klapmeier, the company’s co-founder". "If the Cirrus Vision jet can be delivered at anywhere near the originally promised price ($1 million 2006 dollars) it will certainly be a revolution in family jet" (!?! Guess KoolAid had to make up for lost sales in New Mexico somehow).
(About six weeks later, Alan Klapmeier was out, and his bid to take over the program rejected. Sounds like an outstandingly talented and pssionate aviation enthusiast. But I wonder if that poppycock about $1M had something to do with it...I think we've seen enough of that kind of bunk for a while. Still, he did a great job growing Cirrus from 1984-1999. Too bad Eclipse didn't study Cirrus. Or Cessna).

S-T-E-P Right Up!!
(This is from the Cirrus web site, Nov 16, 2009):
"Our expectations for the base cost will start around $1 Million US dollars...We are presently accepting deposits* for delivery positions and we will eventually ramp up to a delivery rate of one jet per business day. We expect the annual order rate will closely match the delivery rate, so the wait will never be shorter than it is now."

Private Plane Manufacturer Cirrus Aircraft Offers Vision Jet
(International Business Times, September 10, 2009):
"Customers who reserve their aircraft between now and December 31, 2009, with a non-refundable $100,000 deposit, the maximum purchase price for a Vision Jet will be $1.55 million. The price will then increase beginning in January 2010".

Cirrus Hiking the Price of Vision Jet
(AIN, Chad Trautvetter, October 1, 2009):
"Cirrus Aircraft last month raised the price of the single-engine Vision Jet, a personal VLJ, to $1.39 million for existing position holders and to $1.55 million for new orders placed before December 31. The price increases to $1.72 million for orders placed after January 1."

(? $1.0M, $1.39M, $1.55M, $1.72M, in "2009 dollars", think maybe $2.0M in 2012?)

"Cirrus Jet in Capital Crunch, But Progressing
(AVweb, Mary Grady, November 5, 2009):
"Undertaking the development of a light jet is a project "not for the faint of heart," Cirrus CEO Brent Wouters said at AOPA's Aviation Summit on Thursday..."
(Nor for the light of least not when they start... although they do tend to get that way).

A memo from Brent Wouters, Cirrus President & CEO to Cirrus Aircraft Employees.
(Cirrus, November 10, 2009):
"Cirrus CEO notes significant progress in last 12 months, seasonal adjustsments still to be made and increasing optimism heading into 2010 in message to all employees".
(Nice that he's trying to keep everyone informed- I suspect the rumor mill there had a jump on the story before it was official though).

Cirrus Reduces Staffing Levels
(NorthlandNewsCenter, November 11, 2009):
"Company officials say more than 50 people are being furloughed...Cirrus officials says the move is in regard to an anticipated decline in economic demand during the first quarter of next year...Officials say the curtailments will not impede progress on Cirrus' jet program."

Cirrus Vision Overview
Nice slide show for "jet position holders". (That sounds a little more dignified than the Eclipse "position holders" nomenclature).

(Despite earlier metion of the L3 SmartDeck avionics package, the overview says V1 prototype updated to Garmin Perspective, which makes sense, since their piston lineup also uses Garmin).

But it looks as if there were some hard feelings over that:
L-3 seeks $21.7 M from Cirrus in SmartDeck Lawsuit.
(AINonline, Stephen Pope, July 1, 2009):
"L-3 says Cirrus then agreed to go ahead with the purchase of 75 SmartDeck systems, but in December asked that L-3 not ship the systems because of a slowdown in aircraft orders. In February L-3 sent Cirrus a bill for $18.7 million to cover SmartDeck development costs. Cirrus allegedly replied that it owed L-3 only $3.5 million–the stated purchase price for the 75 systems. Since then, “Cirrus has failed to pay any amount due to L-3 and has not responded to any communications from L-3,” the avionics maker said in its lawsuit, which is requesting an additional $2.99 million to recover money allegedly owed for stand-alone systems."

And, with the Cirrus cancellation, so far no announced OEM is using the L3 SmartDeck avionics package (New Flat Glass "L3 introduces SmartDeck with Huge Displays"
(Flying Magazine, November 2007, J. Mac McClellan).
Well, I guess in 2007 12.1 inches was "huge".
Still pretty nice, but I think the Garmin G3000 is 14.1 inches).
(Consistent with apparently no firm users for the SmartDeck, the L3 website, all the "news" articles are from 2007...)

As some have pointed out, the now-cancelled Grob SPn was using the Honeywell Apex avionics suite.

Grob went bankrupt, but it looks like somebody has bought them (yeah!), as their website seems to still be up, with some recent minor news).

Interestingly, as others have noted, Avidyne has a nice upgrade package for the piston powered SR-22 Cirrus aircraft).

Looks like Cirrus was going to use the old Northwest Airlines facility at MSP for the Vision Jet, until things slowed down.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Airplane that won the Cold War

That's a pretty impressive accolade! Where'd I get such a notion? By reading an article in the Smithsonian Air and Space magazine (July 2008), which perhaps put it even a bit more "enthusiastically", naming it one of the ten "Aircraft That Changed The World".

What secret military technology did this device conceal? Well, none. It was the "mission" it was flown on, also expounded upon by the Smithsonian some time earlier (June/July 2005 issue), "The Notorious Flight of Mathias Rust".

At the time, the general perception conveyed in the U.S. press, was this was an amusing stunt performed by a naive but somewhat unbalanced and delusional extremist.

(And, perhaps he was...Mathias Rust).

But to his credit, he had done some thinking (on things besides flight planning: 550 nm flight was at the far end of the Cessna's range): "To many Europeans, Mikhail Gorbachev’s ascendancy to the Soviet leadership in 1985 offered a glimmer of hope. Glasnost, his policy of transparency in government, and perestroika, economic reforms at home, were radical departures from the policies of his predecessors. So when the U.S.-Soviet summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986 ended without an arms reduction deal, Rust felt despair. He was particularly angered by Reagan’s reflexive mistrust of the Soviet Union, which Rust felt had blinded the president to the historic opportunity Gorbachev presented."

Reykjavik Summit, Oct 11-12, 1986.

With today, November 9, being the 20th anniversary of the nominal observation of the "fall of the Berlin Wall", I think the humble Cessna 172 deserves it's due credit.

From U.S. News and World Report, June 15, 1987:
"Mathias Rust surely had no thoughtof doing Mikhail Gorbachev a favor. But last week, Gorbachev was trying to turn what could have been humiliation into opportunity by undercutting the old military establishment and launching what may be the long-awaited mopup of opponents--military and civilian --who impede his reforms. Rust's tiny plane, which he had flown unscathed through vaunted Soviet air defenses, was still parked near Red Square when Gorbachev began firing and promoting military brass. His dismissal of Defense Minister Sergei Sokolov, 75, appeared only the first step in a purge of recalcitrant officers."

Gorbachev and glasnost: viewpoints from the Soviet Press by Isaac J. Tarasulo, Dec 1989):
"For two years Gorachev did not attempt to interfere with military personnel decisions. While military leaders supported Gorbachev's call for revitalizing the Soviet economy, they believed themselves exempt from these changes. Exempt, that is, until May 1987. On May 28, 1987, nineteen-year-old Mathias Rust landed his Cessna 172 in Red Square..."

NYTimes, June 1, 1987:
A Test for Gorbachev...
"The scalding public indictment of the military signaled that even the most revered and powerful institutions would be subject to open criticism...Since taking office in March 1985, Mr. Gorbachev has pressed to hold down growth in military spending and has pursued a number of foreign policy initiatives, including an 18-month moratorium on underground nuclear testing, that have troubled the military." (How's that go again, that we forced the Soviet Union to economic collapse with an arms spending race?)

"Tear Down This Wall". (Ronnie reads his lines, on June 12, 1987. He was in Germany to bolster support for Pershing II nuclear missile deployments in Europe).

Two weeks after the Cessna 172 landed.

Reagan ends his second term, on Jan 21, 1989.

"In May of 1989, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev visited West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Gorbachev told Kohl the Soviets would not block democratic reforms in Warsaw Pact nations".

In June 1989, the Polish elections legitmize Solidarity.

On August 23, 1989, Hungary removed its physical border defences with Austria, and in September more than 13,000 East German tourists in Hungary escaped to Austria.

The East German head of state Erich Honecker, from 1971 until 1989, is forced by his own Poltiburo to resign on October 18, 1989. (The big significance: "In 1961, Honecker, as the Central Committee secretary for security matters, was in charge of the building of the Berlin Wall.")

"East German government announced on November 9, 1989, after several weeks of civil unrest, that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin."

"The fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for German reunification, which was formally concluded on October 3, 1990."

What a wonderful moment in history, to be celebrated! It was amazing how fast Germany reunification happened- I remember estimates of the year 2020-2040. (Erich Honecker, The Party Leader in East Germany:"The Wall will be standing in 50 and even in 100 years, if the reasons for it are not yet removed." (Berlin, 19 January 1989).

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What's Next for Eclipse ?

Now that the drama regarding Eclipse Aviation Corporation bankruptcy has been resolved, with Eclipse Aerospace winning the bid for $40M (or, well $20M plus promises to Al Mann and others, and discounting the $10M that Al Mann put in himself, leaving $10M, of which around half was borrowed, we can conclude that the fabulous assets of EAC (and none of the even more fabulous liabilities) were "locked up" for about $5M plus another $5M OPM (other people's money). Anyone think a $5M+ player is going to restart production with those kind of "deep pockets"? I think there's two probabilities:

1) No How
2) No Way

IMHO: They're gonna flip that sucker like a pancake!

From the press releases (admittedly, perhaps a bit, "Verntastic"), the facilities and infrastructure, and inventory and IP, were all substantial, worth MUCH more than $5M or $10M. For comparison, Cessna paid $26M for Columbia, a company with a very nice, but MUCH lower price point than the Eclipse (at least, a sustainable price point). That was during the "boom" times; but with all probability, there's going to be another "boom" time again, as our investigation of the past five business cycles, over the past 40 years showed.And when it comes, the Eclipse facility will be a hot commodity- I'd figure, with IP and what will be by then, a fully functioning parts and service network. I'd say to the tune of $100M or more.

And until then, Eclipse Aerospace wins, and the customers and supplier base wins, with parts and service support. NewCo might even make some bucks selling off excess facilities. Or subcontracting bits and pieces for other OEMs (aviation or non-aviation related) in lieu of manufacturing restart up. And make some bucks on the training program. And some bucks on the DayJet fleet. And some bucks on the assembly line articles- if they can be finished and delivered, even without PC (using individual FAA inspection- there's not all that many of them). And make some bucks either selling or licensing the EA400 Single Engine Jet (Con-Jet). For that matter, even licensing the EA500, without ever restarting production in ABQ.

Maybe some bucks in licensing the Phoestrex patent? (If the legal squable- yes, ANOTHER Eclipse OldCo legal squabble, has been patched up with the patent holders- see Dave Ivedorne's excellent post, on March 25, 2009, 2:54 PM). Although OldCo claimed it patented Monday and sunrises, there is some legal dispute in those regards as well. (I think a patent for Friday afternoon would be more marketable than the one for Monday morning though).

Or doing some sort of contract FSW for a military program or two?

I for one, think some foreign interests might pursue Eclipse, either license or the entire factory; Piper was bought by Imprimis, based in Brunei. (Apparently, for $20M in 1998+ $35M in 2003 + $31M profit = $86M. According to GAMA; in FY 2008, Piper delivered 216 pistons, and 52 turbines, Eclipse delivered 161 aircraft- in the first 8 months or so- I suspect Eclipse "out billed" Piper, and it would have been even more so if EAC hadn't stalled in the last part of the year).

And Emivest of Dubai owns the old (VERY old now) SJ30 program (nie, Sino-Swearingen SJ30; arguably/possibly, the only GA story rivaling Eclipse for weirdness).

How interested were the Russians? Since Eclipse denied (for a while anyway) any Russian connection, I figure just the opposite was true, to some extent. And remember, oil prices, on which the Russian boom was based, were over $125/barrel in the heady times of initial ETIRC involvement, but plummeted to below $50/barrel, when the time came to close the deal.

How interested were the Chinese? Definitely some courtship, at least contemplated. ("AIN has been in contact with a person who said he represents a Chinese company interested in bidding on the Eclipse assets, but he would not reveal any details by the time this article was published. He also would not confirm if he represents China Commercial Aircraft, which is interested in bidding on Eclipse’s assets, according to a March 17 article in the Albuquerque Journal." For those not following the Chinese aviation industry, there has been a shakeout/re-organization in progress, actually, for the last six months or so- which might have, er, dare I say- disrupted- plans for Chinese involvement. As might engine and avionics technology export concerns, etc. By sitting on the assets, EAC-NewCo might be, literally, buying time, for these details to be worked out. (The blog reported the FBI was asking questions some months back, presumably related to technology export concerns, with an undisclosed suitor).

And per the article about Columbia Aircraft above, they were owned by an affiliate of the Malaysian government.

How about Fuji Heavy Industries- they are doing the FSW wing assembly, with tooling and technology shipped from Albuquerque to Japan- maybe they'd be interested in buying the rest of the tooling and IP for an EA500 final assembly line in Japan? (Or just keeping in in New Mexico, for ease of dealing with a Production Certificate).

And I'm not arguing that production of the EA500 won't restart, and not even that it won't restart in ABQ- I think it very well might. (And personally, I hope so- on both accounts).

But I just don't see it happening with the current team that took months scraping together $5-10M. It will be a deep pockets adventure ($100-200M, if the ETIRC figures used in 2008 are a reasonable guide).

Could the current owners restart production? Possibly. But why would they want to, if they can "flip" the company for a 500-1000% return in a couple of years? And make a profit in the mean time, by providing parts and service.

Personally, I think they've made a very smart move by acquiring the assets to Eclipse. If the plane turns out to be a turkey, they make a mint by providing engineering, service, and parts. On the other hand, if turns out to be a great airplane, that just enhances the market value of the production facilities, once the larger economy improves in a year or two. Which is about the time it will take to work through the Dayjet fleet and customer-delivered rework.

So I think they're pretty smart guys (and seemingly, pretty honest guys too). My bet is they are smart enough to be aware of the adage;

"Q: How do you make a small fortune in aviation?"
"A: By starting with a large one."

I think there is nowhere that this is more true than in the manufacturing end of aviation.

Of course, priorities change, when working with OPM (other people's money). As we have well seen.

Still, I'd buy stock in Spatula City!