Chicago Area’s First VLJ Calls North American Jet Home

By Robert Mark on July 18th, 2007

One of the cool parts about flying a jet airplane is being pushed into the back of your seat when you shove the throttles to the firewall. And yes, I know, jets don’t really have firewalls. The second most ego-boosting event comes when ATC asks you to slow down because they realize you’re catching up with slower airplanes ahead. Loss of an engine on takeoff is also greatly simplified in a jet. Just keep flying the airplane. There’s nothing else to worry about.

Now, as the first of the Very Light Jets begin to appear on the scene, more pilot are going to have the opportunity to learn these very important jet sensations for themselves.

Ken Ross is president of North American Jet Charter Group LLC based at Chicago Executive Airport just north of O’Hare. His company also happens to be the first charter company in Chicagoland to manage one of the newest of the VLJs, the Eclipse 500. NAJ plans to soon add the Eclipse to their charter certificate making it available to both old and new customers. Depending upon when FAA completes the final charter certification of serial number 18, also known as N875NA, could well become the first Eclipse in the nation certified under Part 135.

Let’s Go Fly

Ken invited me to ride along the other day on a short training flight. The experience was nothing short of eye opening. In case you’ve living under a rock for the past five or six years, you’ll know that Eclipse and its CEO Vern Raburn have no shortage of critics. But I’ll let you dig through the rhetoric and form your own opinions on that front.

When Ken Ross and co-pilot Ed Lavigne started the 950-lb thrust Pratt and Whitney engines at North American Jet’s PWK facility, the motors were barely audible. The all digital cockpit is made up of three Avio system screens, one in front of each pilot that functions as Primary Flight Display and a central screen that acts as a multi-function display for tracking engine, fuel and electrical activities.

At takeoff, the Eclipse was carrying four people and 1325 lb of fuel. The humid outside air temperature hovered around 85 degrees making for a significant density altitude issue at takeoff. As Ken pushed the throttles forward the engines spun up but never came close to reaching the high noise level I though they might. Another passenger and I continued to carry on a normal conversation during the roll. The aircraft left the ground after about a 2,200 foot ground roll.

The Eclipse accelerated quickly and seemed to find a comfortable 2,000 fpm rate at about 170 knots IAS. Not bad with four folks on board and nearly full fuel. Bumpy IFR weather west of the airport and the current lack of IFR Certification on the airplane meant a short VFR trip to Lake Geneva in southeast Wisconsin and back would be about it.

We stayed beneath the cloud bases at 4,500 feet. Ken said the current fuel would have given us a range of about 1,000 miles once we climbed up into the thinner, more efficient air. The Eclipse is miserly on fuel burning 600 lb the first hour, 500 lb the second and 400 the last hour. Do the math. That translates into 92 gallons total, then 77 and finally 61 gallons per hour.

The room in the cabin – I sat in the seat behind the pilot – offered ample space for my legs with room to spare, certainly more than on any airline coach flight. And no one in front of me would be running the seat back either. We ended up cruising at about 220 knots once clear of the Chicago Class B airspace. The noise was the same as takeoff, nice actually.

Visibility from the back was excellent with large bright windows. I looked around to the baggage compartment once we were level. Sure, it is small with room for perhaps three small suitcases and a garment bag hung-up and no more, but the Eclipse is a two-hour airplane tops anyway.

As we headed back to a landing at PWK, I found myself wondering if the aircraft would be easier for new pilots to fly with the sidestick control. Although the Eclipse uses a sidestick, it is connected to conventional cables and rods for control. In Paris I’d recently had an opportunity to fly Dassault Falcon’s 7X which includes a fly-by-wire – totally computer controlled – sidestick. Ten seconds after trading a control wheel for a sidestick, I couldn’t imagine flying the old way. I think the era of the sidestick, as also used aboard the Cirrus and Airbus aircraft is the future.

The Eclipse has no thrust reversers for landing. We crossed the approach end of 16 at about 95 knots and turned off at runway 30 with very little use of the brakes as taxied back to NAJ. Turning the two engine-control knobs on the eyebrow panel to off cuts the fuel and the engines quickly spooled down.

Even this short flight proved two things to me. The noise in the cabin is beyond comfortable. It’s downright conversation provoking. The amount of room in the Eclipse with two pilots and three in the back is plenty for an hour or two flight.

If you have an Eclipse delivery position, you’re going to like this machine when yours shows up, despite the items that still need work, like certification into known icing, and a pitot static problem. If you don’t have a delivery position for one of the new $1.6 million jets, stop by and visit Ken Ross at NAJ. Maybe you can thumb a ride.

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9 Responses to “Chicago Area’s First VLJ Calls North American Jet Home”

  1. scott ryan Says:

    very interesting experience of eclipse, it seemed as if i was inside it :)

  2. Dennis Crum Says:

    I have flown in an Eclipse and this article depicts the experience perfectly.

  3. Robert Mark Says:

    What a couple of nice comments. Thanks so much.

    Where did you have a chance to fly the Eclipse Dennis?

  4. Dennis Crum Says:

    I own SN28. It was the acceptance flight.

  5. Garry Conn Says:

    Hi Robert,

    I am not a pilot, but just a guy that loves airplanes and their history. What a great article you wrote. Thanks so much for sharing your experience as a passenger in the Eclipse 500. Sounds pretty smooth to me! I don’t quite have the 1.6 Mil to buy one though…

  6. Robert Mark Says:

    But do you realize how little it would cost if you made payments over say 25 years? This is a deal!

  7. Brian Says:

    One thing is for sure, ATC won’t be asking an Eclipse to slow down on final. Anything short of an ultralight can pass them up. Single engine piston drivers get a laugh out of being asked to slow down to follow an eclipse.

  8. Matthew Justice Says:

    Very interesting review, it is really nice to get a perspective from a pilot instead of the marketing folks!

    I am really excited to get the chance to fly on one. I am jealous :-)

  9. Todd Says:

    Great post! I fly out of Chicago Executive and will be looking out for this VLJ!

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