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Slate veteran to build high spec, cheap ‘air limos’

Private jet travel for the masses. Well, the rich masses...

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Remember Vern Raburn? A Lotus and Microsoft exec way back in the days when Bill Gates wasn't ruler of the world, and founder of Slate Corp, the pen-based computing venture that flopped in the 80s. Since then he's been combining advising Paul Allen on investments with various aircraft restoration bodies and projects. We're not sure how valuable Vern's advice to Paul will turn out to have been in the long run. If he's the guy who's been telling the Microsoft co-founder to plough his billions into a hugely expensive US cable network, then we're really not sure. But the aircraft stuff looks fun. Raburn owns a rather natty and operational Lockheed Constellation, and now he's president and CEO of a startup that intends to build groovy, cheap light jets, Eclipse Aviation. The first one on the stocks is the six seater Eclipse 500, and you can put your name down for one now. It'll use twin Williams EJ-22 turbofans, have a cruising speed of 423 mph, a 41,000 foot service ceiling and a 2,000 mile range. The gag, such as it is, is that Eclipse will use "advanced, high volume manufacturing techniques... and avionics and operating systems derived from the computer industry." It aims to bring the cost of private jet transportation down to "less than a full fare commercial airline ticket," and first deliveries are intended for 2003. The tab? It's aimed at $775,000 at current prices, but the aircraft are also intended to unleash the "air limousine" concept on the world, particularly on the US. It could conceivably be cost-effective for at least medium-powered execs to rent an Eclipse for point to point travel in pretty much the same way they'd rent a limo. For some reason Eclipse has decided to include a sound-bite from Queen Esther Dyson in the release, but it's not very interesting, so we'll skip it. Raburn, on the other hand, is going for it: "Eclipse," he says, "is using disruptive technologies to drive major change in the way that air transportation works in the United States... In addition to those technologies, we will be applying management principles from the high technology sector, creating a 'virtual corporation' that draws the best skills from wherever they exist and that partners with suppliers and others in the truest sense of the word. The result will be a series of aircraft that are affordable for the individual owner/operator pilot and that will foster the development of a completely new kind of commercial air travel, a limousine of the air." ® See also: Eclipse Aviation Vern's Connie

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