October 23, 2013
By Thomas B Haines
Bruce Dickinson’s new maiden is not iron, it is aluminum. The lead singer for the legendary heavy metal band Iron Maiden is a new proponent for the Eclipse 550, an all-aluminum light twinjet. Dickinson, a longtime pilot who at varying times has worked as an airline pilot and CFI, is an investor in Eclipse Aerospace's European dealer network and the owner of a heavy airline maintenance, repair, and training facility in England.
Dickinson is fresh off the band’s two-year world tour that played to some 900,000 fans and generated some $57.4 million in revenue across 54 concerts, according to Billboard. But at the National Business Aviation Association convention in Las Vegas this week he was not a screaming, tongue-wagging rock star, but instead a passionate aviator sharing his story to anyone who would listen.
The singer recently earned his type rating in the Eclipse 500 and fell in love with the airplane, which he describes as a small airplane that feels much bigger and heavier than it appears.
The Eclipse 550, an upgraded version of the 500, made its debut at the convention, with its new owner, Frank Phillips, taking token possession of the airplane. The 550 is Phillips’ third Eclipse. He uses them for personal and business purposes in support of his company Phillips Energy in Shreveport, La. Once FAA certification paperwork is complete in about two weeks, Phillips will be able to fly his newest Eclipse.
Eclipse President Mason Holland reports that the new model includes anti-skid brakes that dramatically reduce stopping distances, optional synthetic vision and enhanced vision powered by an infrared camera on the nose of the airplane, as well as numerous avionics upgrades and autothrottles. Autothrottles, normally the purview only of much larger aircraft, are a first in this class of aircraft. The new panel includes higher-resolution displays on the dual and redundant channel flight management system, and an independent situation display that is independently powered.
Holland expects to deliver four to five 550s by the end of the year, each retailing for about $2.895 million. In 2014 the rate will accelerate to about two per month. The airplane is built and assembled in Albuquerque. Through an arrangement with Sikorsky, some subassemblies are built in Poland. If demand warrants production to increase to four or more a month, the factory in Poland will begin producing a higher number of components.
Meanwhile, the company is working to reduce the training time for a type rating and to decrease time for recurrent training. A new Internet-based training program for at-home study in advance of simulator training at SimCom should reduce training time by several days, according to Holland.
As for Iron Maiden’s Dickinson, he plans to fly the Eclipse 550 demonstrator he is receiving soon to potential customers throughout Europe. No doubt he will not need XM Radio in flight for his entertainment purposes.
AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.
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