Emergency cocktail hour at Eclipse

July 29, 2008 by Mike Collins

Although I realize the move was necessary for Eclipse Aviation’s long-term survival, I was nevertheless saddened Monday morning to learn that founder Vern Raburn was stepping down as CEO. “For me, the show ends today,” he said, opening a media event on the first day of AirVenture 2008.

I was in Albuquerque for the Eclipse 500 rollout in July 2002, and I wrote much of AOPA Pilot’s early Eclipse coverage. And I fondly remember my first visit to Eclipse, while researching “Turbine Pilot: An Inside Look at Eclipse” for the February 2001 AOPA Pilot.

After a day or two interviewing various Eclipse staffers, I was to join Raburn and several other Eclipse employees for a flight to Michigan in Raburn’s Twin Commander. There I would visit Williams International (at the time, the airplane’s engine manufacturer) and another Eclipse contractor. It was late fall, and Houston, we had a problem–freezing rain was forecast for our destination, and every other airport within a reasonable distance.

What to do, what to do? The call went out–meet in the conference room for an emergency cocktail hour. Small, entrepreneurial startups work hard and play hard, and Eclipse was no exception. The company had only 20 or 30 employees in Albuquerque at the time, although more than 100 engineers worked on the project at Williams International in Walled Lake, Michigan. The emergency cocktail hour was a surreal, yet enjoyable experience. Soon, growing Eclipse would be too big for an all-hands cocktail party.

Eclipse and Vern Raburn, a toast to your respective success. Now if you’ll excuse me, it appears my Low Bourbon annunciator is illuminated….

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