Now a keenly interested observer, Raburn has high hopes for the Eclipse 550.

“We had some amazingly good suppliers, such as Ducommon, Fuji Heavy Industries and Pratt & Whitney Canada,” he said. “But we also had some extraordinarily bad ones. An outsourced supply chain has to work 100% of the time. That's Sikorsky's strong suit. It has the process and quality systems, plus so much tribal knowledge.”

Sikorsky also is extending its participation in the Eclipse program to include air charter, fractional ownership and aircraft management. The Total Eclipse on display at the NBAA Convention hall, for instance, shortly will enter service with Sikorsky's Associated Air Group in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. AAG currently operates nine S-76 medium helicopters. A spokesman said the charter rate for the Total Eclipse will be less than $2,000 per hour.

A second Total Eclipse will enter service with AAG with the intention of starting a fractional ownership program. If all goes well, it's probable that AAG will operate Eclipse 550 aircraft when they enter production in 2013, Raburn believes.

Eclipse 500 operators also are giving Holland high marks for product support. Essential parts now are available and AOG delays are rare. In the past six months, 81% of requested parts were shipped the same working day and 89% were on their way within 24 hr. The number of back-ordered parts has been slashed by 98.75% and the number of rotable spares has been increased. Sikorsky is helping with logistics with its worldwide support network.

Fleet usage has increased to 1,700 hr. per month from 1,000 hr. per month when Eclipse Aerospace acquired the company in August 2009. Product improvements have been made to the landing light, ice protection system and PhostrEx fire extinguishers. A rubber gasket has been installed below the front equipment bay access door, thereby eliminating the need to reseal the door gap and repaint the area during routine removal and replacement for maintenance operations.

Yet to be accomplished is a battery upgrade. Eclipse Aviation originally planned to use lithium-ion batteries in the aircraft, but the development effort foundered. Upgrading from lead-acid to high power Li-I batteries could eliminate the low-temperature engine starting restrictions and make the aircraft easier to operate in cold climates.

Holland believes, though, that if he can hold down the price of the Eclipse 550 to less than $3 million, he can capture a sizable portion of the new light jet market currently owned by the Citation Mustang and Embraer Phenom 100.

Pino tacitly endorses the business plan or else he wouldn't have pushed for Sikorsky's involvement in the program. Both Pino and Holland believe that Eclipse 550 assembly lines eventually may be established in new locations.

Thus, Williams' and Raburn's dreams to create a new class of very light, twin-turbofan aircraft are back on track to become reality because of Holland's commitment to the program and Sikorsky's growing participation. Beginning in 2013, there may be as much buzz about Eclipse VLJs as there was in 2003. BCA