If you’re looking for a small, light business jet, one option to consider is the Eclipse 550. Let’s take a close look and see what it has to offer.
The average price for a pre-owned Eclipse 550 is $2 million. The price can be up to $3 million depending on year of manufacture, specification and condition. With twin, aft-mounted PW610F-A turbofans, the 550 cruises at 384 mph (334 knots) with an average fuel burn of just 59 gallons per hour.
As a pilot and avgeek, who’s spent countless hours in both seats of almost every single light jet ever built, I’d like to guide you through the specs and features of the Eclipse 550.
Eclipse 550 Overview
The Eclipse 550 is a low-wing, twin-engine, six-seat, small business jet, built by American manufacturer Eclipse Aerospace (the company that acquired the assets of Eclipse Aviation; later One Aviation) between 2014 and 2017. A total of 33 deliveries were made during this time.
The Eclipse 550 is the 2nd-generation derivative of the Eclipse Jet which began to be delivered to customers in 2006. The 550 is certified to be flown by a single pilot; therefore it can carry up to 5 passengers. With a crew of 2, the cabin can accommodate 4 passengers.
With a maximum range of 1,125 nm (1295 miles), the Eclipse 550 is designed to carry you on short trips, getting you into your destination quickly, with economical running costs to fit your budget.
The 550 has a perfect safety record, with no fatalities in its almost nine years of operation. Pilots are required to complete a UPRT (Upset Prevention and Recovery Training) course before delivery. Should the aircraft approach a stall condition in flight, the stall recovery system will operate.
When that happens, the autopilot will lower the airplane’s nose, even if the autopilot has not been engaged. The autothrottles (if fitted - they are an optional extra) will advance power to aid stall recovery.
In addition to the UPRT training, pilots who are new to the Eclipse 550 must complete a general type rating program for the airplane. This can be obtained from various providers approved by the FAA.
The program combines online at-home study with practical simulator sessions, to familiarize the pilot with the airplane’s systems, handling characteristics, controls and avionics. Most pilots complete the training in around two weeks, although it can take less time.
Walking around the airplane, you will also see how close to the ground the wing is - it will touch your thigh if you walk right up to it. The aircraft’s diminutive size might portend a cramped cabin experience, but that’s not the case - read on.
Continuing your walkaround, you will notice the wingtip fuel tanks, which boost the airplane’s range. The fully automated fuel management system draws fuel from the wingtip tanks first, then from the main tanks. Fuel balance is achieved by fully automatic pumps, reducing pilot workload.
Take a close look at the airplane’s nose, below the windshield, and you will find a textured area around each static port. This prevents the build up of ice when flying in icing conditions, preserving accurate pilot information about altitude and airspeed.
The Eclipse 550 is FIKI equipped - Flying Into Known Icing. You will notice the pneumatic boots on the wing leading edges, and along the horizontal stabilizer at the top of the T-tail. In icing conditions, the boots pulsate rapidly, dislodging any ice that is beginning to build up, preserving wing performance.
Eclipse 550 Specifications
The Eclipse 550 is at the smaller end of the business jet market, with the most economical fuel burn of any jet airplane in the world.
How Much Does an Eclipse 550 cost?
Buying a private jet is a major life expense, so it’s worth spending some time looking at all the information ahead of your decision. Though the Eclipse 550 is no longer in production, it is still a prominent option for those who want a compact, fast, fuel-efficient airplane to get around.
To acquire your Eclipse 550, you will need to source between $2 million and $3 million, depending on the aircraft’s date of manufacture, condition, specification and history. If you need to arrange finance, you must build the interest into your budget too.
After the acquisition cost, you need to take into account the operating costs, year on year. Running an airplane involves many expenses that vary with flying hours, such as fuel, aircraft storage, crew training and salaries, maintenance and overhaul, and insurance.
The final figure will depend on how many hours your Eclipse 550 flies each year. As per this aircraft cost calculating site, the annual cost if your Eclipse 550 spends 450 hours aloft per year works out at $872,025, a small fraction of the operating cost of larger bizjets.
The Eclipse 550 represents truly economical private business aviation, which is very important in today’s global financial climate. As well as saving on fuel costs thanks to her super-frugal fuel burn figure, you can rest assured you have a low carbon footprint, too.
Eclipse 550 Performance
Before investing in a private airplane, you need to know it can give you what you need. Can the Eclipse 550 keep pace with your business travel schedule, getting you where you need to go, for those all-important face-to-face meetings that lead to the most successful deals?
To find out, let’s take a look at the 550’s engines, cruise altitude and speed, range, fuel burn and cabin accommodation, as well as the special features she has, to help her achieve what you need her to deliver.
What Engines Does The Eclipse 550 Have?
The Eclipse 550 has twin PW610F-A turbofans, mounted at the rear of the fuselage. The engine was developed by Pratt & Whitney Canada and certified by the FAA in 2006. The PW610F-A is a compact engine, with an air intake diameter of just 14 inches.
The engine uses half as many parts as older turbofan engines, reducing size and weight, and facilitating maintenance. Pratt & Whitney designed the power plant specifically for point-to-point travel, combining performance with light weight, fuel efficiency and low carbon emission.
The PW610F-A features a free turbine with shrouded blades, and a high-efficiency fuel mixer to keep fuel burn to a minimum and reduce noise. The total length of the engine is just 46 inches from air intake to exhaust.
The Eclipse 550’s engines are controlled by FADECs (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) to maintain optimum fuel burn and reduce pilot workload. The FADECs also extend engine life and reduce the need for maintenance, giving more on-wing time and keeping costs down.
Pratt & Whitney has a worldwide network so, when maintenance and overhaul time comes around, your Eclipse 550 is never far from a maintenance base where you can get the essential work done.
Placing the engines on the fuselage, rather than the wings, makes the aircraft easier for the pilot to control in the event of an inoperative engine, as the yaw effect caused by asymmetric thrust is greatly reduced.
Pilots who have tried this, by deliberately throttling back one engine on a test flight, report very little effect on directional control, and the tests confirm the single-engine climb rate of around 500 feet per minute.
Furthermore, as there are no engine pods hanging below the wings to interrupt air flow, the effectiveness of the wing in providing lift is increased. The stall speed of the Eclipse 550 is a staggeringly low 80 mph, making it a very safe airplane indeed to fly.
Before leaving the power plants, we should note that an aft-mounted engine configuration has the disadvantage that fuel lines must pass along the fuselage, which can increase the risk of fire in the event of an accident. However, the Eclipse 550’s safety record is unblemished at the time of writing.
How Fast Is The Eclipse 550?
The twin PW610F-A turbofans can power the Eclipse 550 up to 41,000 feet in around 34 minutes from take-off. In the event of an engine failure, the aircraft can still climb away safely at 539 feet per minute, clearing obstacles, with enough power for a safe return to the airfield.
Level in the cruise, the airplane can cover a maximum of 448 miles in an hour, in calm winds. For best fuel burn, the ideal speed is 334 mph.
Perfect conditions for minimum fuel burn can be hard to find, but pilots report that the average fuel burn rarely rises above 60 gallons per hour. Overall, the Eclipse 550 only uses about twice as much fuel as a large family SUV, which is an amazing achievement for a jet airplane.
These figures are of course adversely affected if there is a headwind or a strong crosswind, so it is well worth checking enroute weather data and choosing the cruise level with the most favorable winds.
How High Does The Eclipse 550 Fly?
The Eclipse 550 has a maximum cruise level of FL410, or 41,000 feet. More typically, the airplane is comfortable at 37,000 feet, which gives the best overall range, winds permitting.
If the flight is a long one, toward the upper end of the 550’s range capability, the pilot should choose the optimum cruise level. The highest fuel burn takes place during the climb, and there is a trade-off between fuel spent while climbing, and fuel saved when cruising.
How Far Can The Eclipse 550 Fly?
To get the very best range, occupancy of the aircraft should be limited to the pilot and two passengers. This allows a full fuel load to be carried.
Thus configured, the aircraft can accomplish a cruise distance of 1,000 nautical miles (1,150 miles) at 317 knots, with an hour of reserve fuel, according to the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA).
Therefore, the airplane can comfortably fly from New York as far as Memphis, Tennessee, or down to Jacksonville, Florida.
The Eclipse 550 Experience
As we would expect on such a compact airplane, the passenger cabin is quite small, but every cubic inch is put to good use. The passenger seats face forward in tandem configuration, two abreast with a narrow central aisle. Entry is via the left door just aft of the pilot’s seat.
There are two rows of passenger seats behind the pilots’ seats. The right pilot seat can be used for a passenger during single pilot operation, as is the case on small commercial airliners such as the Britten-Norman Trislander.
You will need to duck as you make your way on board, as cabin height is only about 4 ft, meaning that headroom is limited, which is to be expected in a compact airplane. Once sat down, you should find the headroom sufficient. The cabin is also about 12 feet long and 4.7 feet wide.
If you do not feel comfortable in confined spaces, the Eclipse 550 might not be the ideal airplane for you, especially if it is configured for the maximum number of passengers. However, such an issue aside, the space is sufficient to travel in comfort.
There is an emergency exit on the right side of the fuselage, forward of the first row of passenger seats. Passengers have access to power outlets which have a USB socket and also 110V AC mains.
The seats are all leather-upholstered. The cabin has an Iridium satellite phone for those urgent business calls. There is an on-board chemical oxygen generation system, like the ones on commercial airliners, in case of sudden decompression at altitude.
Some examples of the Eclipse 550 have only three seats in the passenger cabin, creating more space for baggage, as there is no external baggage compartment. In such cases, the single passenger seat on the left side of the cabin is staggered longitudinally between the two seats on the right side.
The staggered configuration is popular because it affords more shoulder room for passengers, particularly if they are larger-framed individuals.
In normal operation, the cabin of the 550 is pressurized to 8,000 feet, which enhances passenger comfort and pilot effectiveness. The cabin features LED lighting and a wi-fi passenger entertainment system.
In the front row, the pilots will find an avionics suite consisting of two LCD Simpatico primary flight displays with artificial horizon, airspeed, vertical speed and altitude information. There is also a separate multifunctional display and a navigation display, as well as standby instruments on the left side.
Additional standby instruments on the copilot’s side are a customer option. Overall, pilots are impressed by the level of information and redundancy in the 550’s cockpit displays; a great improvement on earlier versions of the airplane, in line with modern pilot expectations of a jet aircraft.
The large, clear display panels give excellent situational awareness, via the central navigation display, and via the twin displays situated below each pilot’s primary flight display. A truly 21st century airplane, the Eclipse 550 has an iPad app to download, with quick reference guides, flight manual, a weight-and-balance calculator and checklists.
There is no control column, as the Eclipse 550 uses sidesticks, like those found in the Airbus A320 family and the F16 fighter. That said, the Eclipse 550 is not a fly-by-wire aircraft. The sidesticks are connected directly to the control surfaces (ailerons and elevators) by mechanical linkages.
When the pilot moves the sidestick, a system of pushrods, bellcranks, pulleys and cables operates the surfaces that control the airplane - ailerons in the case of a lateral side stick deflection; elevators if the sidestick is pulled backward or pushed forward.
Unlike a fly-by-wire aircraft, moving one side stick will move the other side stick the same way on the Eclipse 550. When two pilots are flying the aircraft, neither can be in any doubt about the sidestick inputs the other pilot is making. Conflicting sidestick inputs have contributed to accidents on FBW aircraft.
The trim setting for each of the primary flight controls on the Eclipse 550 is electrically operated. Elevator and aileron trim are controlled by a four-position switch on top of each sidestick. As in an airliner, rudder trim is adjusted by a knob on the center pedestal.
If a trim control fails, trim can be adjusted via the flight controls synoptic page on the multi-function display panel, which also displays the trim position for all three axes.
The Eclipse 550’s rudder is controlled by conventional, adjustable rudder pedals.
The toe brakes feature an anti-skid system that allows the pilot to apply full braking effort on landing without fear of locking the wheels and losing traction. The anti-skid system allows the Eclipse 550 to stop after landing in as little as 700 feet.
The optional autothrottle - the first ever to be fitted to a light jet - saves a great deal of pilot workload and is a boon for a single pilot, especially in a busy approach environment where airspeed and descent rate can vary while the pilot is distracted by ATC clearances and navigation.
The autothrottle is not available on take-off, but activates at 400 feet. Prior to autothrottle engagement, the Automatic Power Reserve (APR) feature is available to boost the remaining engine, should one engine fail.
The Avio flight management system is different from other such systems - like those on Boeing or Airbus airliners - but it is easy to learn, according to Eclipse pilots. The Avio system uses two fully redundant computers to control everything on the aircraft. The interface comprises a touch screen and a pull-out keyboard.
The FMS is one of the most advanced systems to be fitted to a light jet. It utilizes dual GPS receivers for navigational precision, integrating fully with the autopilot control panel.
The Eclipse 550 has windshields made with glass only, featuring in-built heaters, in contrast to the plastic windshields fitted to the earlier 500 variant. The new glass windshields do not suffer from the warping that affected the older version.
With safety in mind, the Eclipse 550 was designed as a single-pilot airplane, right from the drawing board, hence the multiplicity of automatic systems installed. Workload-related pilot stress can lead to incorrect decisions, which in turn can cause accidents.
Automation is a feature that runs throughout the Eclipse 550, protecting the pilot from the stress of high workload. The air conditioning and pressurization system is fully automated. It sets the elevation of the destination airfield, from the flight plan.
Before take-off, an automated system checks that the aircraft is correctly configured. The altimeters set themselves automatically to 29.92 when climbing through transition altitude (18,000 feet in the USA).
When the pilot commands a descent, the autopilot automatically defaults to a three-degree descent path, which is another workload-reducing feature in one of the busiest phases of flight.
Some owners have complained that the Eclipse 550’s manufacturer maintains a monopoly on spare parts for their aircraft, driving prices up. However, the manufacturer cites parts (such as the airplane’s battery) that are sold at a lower price than competitors’ equivalents.
Also, it is possible that those who find the 550 expensive to run and maintain have only recently upgraded from piston aircraft, and have yet to get used to the generally higher costs associated with operating light jets, or jet aircraft in general.
Generally, owners’ feedback indicates that the 550 is a superbly reliable airplane that exceeds their expectations in numerous ways. Many owners fly their Eclipse 550 themselves, as a single pilot, with total confidence in the airplane’s systems and safety features.
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood