On the eve of the 2011 NBAA Convention, we belted into the left seat of Total Eclipse s.n. 54 for a hands-on demonstration of the latest avionics upgrades the company has made to the aircraft, including features that will be standard in the Eclipse 550. We were accompanied by Matt Blackburn, business development director for North American Jet, a charter and MRO firm in which Holland has invested. Our flight plan would take us from North Las Vegas Airport to Grand Canyon National Park Airport. We'd stop there for fuel and then return.

Holland and Blackburn walked us around the aircraft, pointing out the many improvements made to the Total Eclipse, a completely upgraded version of the original aircraft. The package includes flight into known ice certification, a completely new interior, Avio IFMS, a completely new interior with much improved fit and finish, and fresh paint from Hillaero Modification Center in Lincoln, Neb. During the makeover, the aircraft is brought up to date with all mandatory Service Bulletins and Airworthiness Directives, it is enrolled in P&WC's Eagle Service Plan and it is delivered with a new aircraft warranty. The newly certified upgraded combustion liners installed into the PW610F-A turbofans will allow the aircraft to fly up to 41,000 ft., eliminating the 30,000-ft. altitude restriction imposed by AD 2011-6-06. However, s.n. 54 did not have the upgrade.

Preflight checks were quick. Everything that needs to be checked easily could be reached, seen or touched because of the aircraft's low stance. Boarding the aircraft, we found it convenient to recline the copilot's seat to open up more room for climbing into the left seat. The cockpit doesn't have storage pockets for navigation charts and checklists. Rather, those items are placed in the narrow aisle between the seats for ready access.

Basic operating weight of this Total Eclipse was 3,927 lb., assuming a standard 200-lb. pilot. That's 98-lb. greater than the BOW of the original aircraft, according to our May 2007 Purchase Planning Handbook. We assumed Blackburn weighed 200 lb. for computation purposes. With 1,055 lb. of fuel aboard, the Avio IFMS automatically computed takeoff weight to be 5,182 lb. and it computed an 84 KEAS rotation speed. Eclipse jets display equivalent, rather than indicated, airspeed because it is corrected for both instrument error and high-speed compressibility.

The Avio IFMS also displayed a center of gravity chart that illustrated the change in c.g. with fuel burn. It also verified that the aircraft would remain inside the c.g. envelope for the entire flight and computed an 84 KEAS rotation speed. The Avio IFMS doesn't yet have a full airport performance database. We looked up other pertinent data in the AFM. The V50 speed, the target speed for 50 ft. above the runway, was 101 KEAS. Best OEI rate-of-climb speed with gear and flaps set for takeoff was 102 KEAS and with flaps retracted it was 123 KEAS.

Part 23 all-engine takeoff distance over a 50-ft. obstacle was about 2,500 ft., based upon KVGT's 2,205-ft. field elevation, 19C OAT and 30.09-in. Hg altimeter setting. OEI takeoff runway performance is not published for the aircraft. But the aircraft would have climbed at 550 fpm with gear retracted and takeoff flaps extended and 850 fpm with flaps and gear retracted, according to the AFM.

Prepping the aircraft for engine start involves turning on the batteries and calling up a series of interactive synoptic systems diagrams on the MFD that graphically indicate appropriate functioning of electrical relays, electronic circuit breakers and fuel pumps, among other systems components. After a lapse of four years since earning my single-pilot type rating, Blackburn's guidance through these processes was essential.

For engine start, the starter/generator switch for each engine is left in the off position until the engine is running, contrary to the original checklist protocol. This prevents balky behavior by the generator control units that can act up with the switches left in the automatic position during engine start. After start, the switch is positioned to automatic and the generator comes on line, not unlike the procedure in a vintage Learjet or King Air.

We called taxi and advanced the throttles to roll out of the chocks. Starting the first turn, the aircraft's bungee-like link nosewheel steering didn't provide crisp response, a quirk found in the original Eclipse 500. This required us to use differential thrust and braking to maneuver in confined areas. An electronic Jeppesen chart with airplane symbol enabled us to orient ourselves with the assigned taxi route to Runway 12R for takeoff.

Pressing a button at the base of the left throttle handle — not the usual thumb button on the outside of the throttle — activated the flight director's takeoff and go-around pitch guidance mode. This presets the pitch command to 10 deg. for all-engine takeoffs. Commanded pitch attitude is automatically reduced in the event of engine failure, a feature found in many airliners, but few light jets.

However, no other lateral or vertical modes can be preselected until after takeoff with weight off the wheels for 15 sec. We prefer flight guidance systems that provide lateral navigation guidance with TOGA, such as heading or even LNAV using the FMS.

The primary purpose of the flight was to evaluate the enhanced capabilities of Avio IFMS release 2.04. We soon concluded that many of its features are quite original, departing from industry standard conventions embraced by Garmin, Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Thales, among others. The Avio IFMS also departs from many the design specifications that were originally published by Eclipse Aviation.

Engaging the flight guidance's altitude change mode, for instance, doesn't cause the speed bug to synch to the aircraft's current equivalent airspeed. Instead, it causes a shift in commanded airspeed to best rate of climb speed. Conversely, during descent, altitude change commands a 3-deg. pitch down rather than synching with current airspeed. Increasing or decreasing descent angle is done with the pitch wheel on the flight guidance panel. Using the speed mode for descent involves several button pushes and the protocol is not easily discoverable. The APPR (approach) button must be pushed not once, but twice, to activate the mode.

Because of the differences between the original Eclipse 500 and other jets we've flown, we often asked ourselves during the flight, “What's it doing now?”

Blackburn programmed in the RNAV GPS Runway 03 approach for Grand Canyon Airport. We soon discovered that the IFMS will compute and display a 3-deg. glidepath but it doesn't provide vertical guidance on the flight director for LNAV/VNAV GPS approaches. Flight director lateral and vertical guidance only is available for ILS and LPV approaches.

The Avio IFMS automatically computed Vref at 87 KEAS for landing at Grand Canyon, based upon a landing weight of 4,700 lb. Field elevation was 6,609 ft., computed touchdown speed was 75 KEAS and AFM landing distance was approximately 4,300 ft.

Blackburn advised flying the approach at Vref+10. At the fence, he advised to slow to Vref. At 50 ft., we slowly reduced thrust to idle. The aircraft didn't decelerate quickly and we floated excessively.

Make a note. We learned its importance in 2007, but didn't practice precise speed discipline on this landing. The Eclipse doesn't have ground spoilers or anti-skid brakes. It will float in ground effect and there is considerable residual idle thrust from the PW610F engines. In addition, it's not hard to flat spot or even pop a tire if excessive brake pedal force is applied at high speed. So, speed control is critical if pilots want to make book landing distances. But savvy Eclipse 500 pilots say it's possible to achieve AFM landing distances if you nail the published speed numbers.

After stopping briefly for fuel, we flew VFR back to North Las Vegas at 16,500 ft. Vref landing speed was 87 KEAS and computed landing distance was 3,200 ft. The Eclipse 550 should have shorter published landing distances than other light jets, but the competitors all have anti-skid brakes and thus their stopping distances should be more predictable and consistent, especially on contaminated runways.

Conclusions? The Avio IFMS provides the Total Eclipse with impressive new capabilities, including XM radio weather, WAAS approach, JeppView charts and an excellent moving map display. But in its current state, it's still a work in progress. We're looking forward to flying with the complete package of IFMS features in the new production Eclipse 550.