Gulfstream unveils G650

 - March 25, 2008, 5:12 AM

Ending protracted speculation about how it would address the aging fuselage cross section of its large-cabin business jets, Gulfstream Aerospace last month took the wraps off the G650, which will topple (but initially not replace) the G550 from its perch as the top Gulfstream business jet when it enters service in the first half of 2012.

Compared with its predecessor, the G650 will have a cabin 14 inches wider, three inches taller and 45 feet 6 inches long, providing 28 percent more volume and a lower cabin altitude (4,850 feet at the FL510 ceiling and a mere 2,765 feet at FL410), a larger baggage compartment (195 cu ft, 11 percent more than the G550’s, accessed by an 8-percent-larger exterior door that is four inches closer to the ground and accessible in flight up to the airplane’s certified ceiling), a larger main entry doorway (74.75 inches high) and larger cabin windows (28 inches wide versus the current 26 inches, and mounted 3.4 inches higher in the fuselage for a better viewing angle).

The G650 will fly on new wings, swept six degrees more than the G550’s. In the cockpit there will be PlaneView II avionics and fly-by-wire flight controls connected to conventional yokes rather than sidesticks.

New Rolls-Royce BR725 engines, each rated at 16,100 pounds thrust, will propel the 99,600-pound mtow jet, which will have a balanced field length of less than 6,000 feet at mtow and 3,000-foot landing distance at max landing weight (83,500 pounds, Vref 131 knots), dropping to 2,500 feet at typical landing weight (59,000 pounds, Vref 110 knots). With six feet more span and 13 percent more wing area (1,283 sq ft) than the G550, the G650, like its predecessors, achieves these numbers without wing leading-edge slats.

Contrary to much pre-launch speculation, the new Gulfstream retains the metal primary construction of its forebears for the most part, although metal bonding will be used in place of rivets in the fuselage; the new-design wings will be riveted, much like the G550’s. On the G650 there is more use of composites in the empennage, specifically the horizontal stabilizer, elevators and rudder–all supplied by Fokker.

Performance targets include 7,000-nm range at Mach 0.85 and 5,000 nm at Mach 0.90. Top speed of Mach 0.925 will displace, by about three knots, the Mach 0.92 Cessna Citation X from its title of world’s fastest civil aircraft. With the G650, Gulfstream intends to regain its title as “biggest, farthest, fastest” among dedicated business jets (as opposed to converted airliners). The company has already committed to the project without launch customers and will start taking orders for the upper-$50 million (2012 $) jet on April 15.

Gulfstream has worked hard to distance the G650 from the “tubular-er” feel that attended each stretch of the original fuselage cross section. The new cross section has four radii, with a flattened lower portion to provide more room inside while minimizing wetted area.

Underscoring the clean-sheet origins of this project, the G650 will be certified under an all-new type certificate. The last time Gulfstream (then Grumman) tackled an all-new certification program was for the GII in 1965; every Gulfstream large-cabin jet since, through the G550, has been certified as an amendment of the GII approval. Gulfstream expects to fly the G650 in the second half of next year and achieve FAA/EASA certification in 2011.

Gulfstream president Joe Lombardo said that the company had been conducting briefings globally to potential customers in the months before the unveiling on March 13, and added, “We’ve been working on this airplane for at least three years.” May 10, 2005, marked the official internal program launch of the project, codename “P20.”

Speaking to editors assembled around a conference table at the company’s headquarters in Savannah about the category the G650 occupies, senior v-p of programs, engineering and test Pres Henne said, “You guys already used ‘ultra-long range,’ so we’ll be interested to see what you call this range class.” The consensus among the scribes later was that, rather than establishing a new segment, the G650 reigns in the ultra-long-range class.

For the past couple of years at least, speculation has been rife that any new large-cabin Gulfstream would be made of composite materials, and this appeared to be strengthened with the appointment of a “composite-materials czar” last year. However, although it will make more widespread use of composites than its forebears, the G650 will be made largely of metal. On composites as primary structure, Henne had this to say: “There’s still a whole lot of research going on, and we’re not ready to take that step yet.”

The G650 represents Gulfstream’s single largest investment ever in its product line, and the model name suggests that the marketing people have left room for derivatives sharing the new wing and fuselage cross section. Over the seven years beginning in March 2006, Gulfstream will be spending a total of $400 million on new facilities at Savannah, the most prominent being the 203,000-sq-ft G650 manufacturing facility. This massive building is capable of turning out 90 G650s a year.

The G550 is sold out until the anticipated entry into service of the G650 in 2012, and Gulfstream expects the G650 backlog to stretch out to 2016 soon. As of late January, Gulfstream said no G550 buyers had canceled their orders in favor of the G650 and that it would continue to offer the G550 as long as the market asks for it.