Pilot Report: Boeing Business Jet

 - May 5, 2008, 11:57 AM

When General Electric’s then CEO Jack Welch decided it was time to shop for a new business aircraft in 1995, he knew he needed more of what every executive wants in a corporate airplane–space. The Gulfstream V, then under development, was expected to have the range, but on a 12-hr trip, the GE head thought the cabin was too claustrophobic. Since GE was already negotiating a deal for a number of Boeing 737s, Welch called his friend, Boeing chairman and CEO Phil Condit, and asked if he could deliver a 737 with more range. Condit asked Borge Boeskov, Boeing’s vice president of product strategy at that time, the same question. Boeskov said, “Yes.”

The obvious airframe choice was a member of Boeing’s Next Generation (NG) series, the 737-600. But while the -600’s cabin was right for the job, the aircraft still did not have enough range. Boeing then looked at the 737-700, but again, while the cabin offered the room business owners wanted, range was limited. By combining the 737-700 fuselage with the -800 wing and landing gear and extra fuel tanks, Boeing developed the combination that would become the BBJ, officially titled the Boeing 737-700 IGW (increased gross weight), offering a 6,200-nm range.

In early 1997 Boeing began accepting deposits for the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), which is powered by two 27,300-lb-thrust CFM56-7 engines produced by CFM International, a 50/50 joint company between Snecma of France and GE.

In addition to the necessary range, the BBJ offers space–lots and lots of cabin space. Although the BBJ’s ramp footprint is not significantly larger than that of a Bombardier Global Express or the GV, the cabin is massive, topping out at 807 sq ft, with a ceiling more than seven feet high. Another, even larger version of the BBJ, called the BBJ2 and based on the 737-800 cabin, offers 1,000 sq ft of interior cabin area. Typical interiors include seating for 14 to 27 people, conference tables, additional conference rooms, sleeping quarters, bathrooms with showers and gourmet galleys.

One BBJ operator, who wished to remain anonymous, compared regular trips to Europe from the West Coast in his company’s Challenger 601 with those in its new Boeing. “You buy the aircraft for the boss, not the pilot, but the long days were killing our crews. From Van Nuys for example, it was six hours to Gander, an hour on the ground to fuel and six and a half more to Paris. Add in the two-hour [before takeoff] show times and we were easily seeing 15-hour days going over and 17 coming back. Now that we go nonstop, we knock off four hours going over and six coming back. We looked at a Global Express and then did the analysis on a BBJ. I don’t think there is any comparison. The BBJ does the job hands down.” On April 7, Boeing flew a BBJ nonstop from Seattle’s Boeing Field to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The 6,854-nm flight, which took 14 hr 12 min, represents the farthest distance flown in a BBJ.

Another Dallas-based operator said, “The aircraft burns 20 percent more fuel than some smaller jets, but I can save money by tankering fuel. On a trip from the West Coast to New York, I saved $7,600 because I didn’t buy any of the high-priced fuel in the Big Apple. Buying this airplane was the easiest decision I’ve ever made.” Kevin Russell, executive vice president of NetJets, said, “It is one of the most reliable aircraft ever built for corporate aviation. Most other aircraft require more maintenance. Our dispatch reliability is over 99 percent. It has been a wonderful aircraft that has exceeded our expectations.” NetJets currently flies seven BBJs with 22 more on order (sales of BBJ shares, however, have reportedly not met NetJets’ original expectations).

The Dallas operator explained the value of the BBJ this way: “My boss and his wife climb aboard the aircraft in the late afternoon, have plenty of room to get nice and comfortable as we head off to Europe. Our flight attendant can cook them a gourmet meal, they can take a shower if they’d like and then climb into bed at their normal time. They wake up about an hour before landing, have breakfast and are pretty much ready to go when we land in Paris. It’s like they take a part of their home with them.”

An owner can do a considerable amount of personalization with an 800-sq-ft-cabin, which is precisely why some customers choose the BBJ over the GV and the Global Express. But while this personalization works well for many of the individuals who own and operate BBJs, the public visibility issues that accompany owning an aircraft the size of a 737 might be slowing sales of the Boeing. In fact, some experts believe it could be one of the most significant marketing problems Boeing faces when competing with the GV and the Global–two aircraft, that despite their own size, have become almost normal in size for a large-cabin business jet.

A Marketing Dilemma

Clay Lacy, president of Clay Lacy Aviation and a BBJ operator, said, “I think the BBJ is a great airplane. But most of the BBJs are owned by wealthy individuals and only a few by publicly held companies. There are only so many of those wealthy people to go around, so the BBJ might be reaching a saturation point.” Lacy, a long-time proponent of large aircraft for business aviation, added, “I thought [corporate] people would get used to these big airplanes the way wealthy individuals have. I don’t know how Boeing is going to overcome that issue. Perhaps the marketers should educate people that Boeing pays for almost everything the first five years and that these aircraft don’t cost much more to operate than a GV or a Global. We lease the GV for $8,000 a flight hour and the Boeing for $9,500 per hour.”

Chuck Colburn, Boeing Business Jets’ director of marketing, said, “One of the reasons the BBJ costs more to operate is that it burns about 20 percent more fuel. But check out how seldom our aircraft is ever down for maintenance.” The Dallas operator said, “I can operate the BBJ cheaper than a GV or the Global because my maintenance costs are so low.” Russell agreed: NetJets flies its BBJs about 1,000 hr per year. “There is not a great differential between the occupied hourly costs on the GV and the BBJ,” he said.

A green BBJ now runs $39 million, up from $32 million in 1996. Operators can expect to spend anywhere from $10 million to $12 million more to turn the aircraft into a home away from home. “All the things we’ve done to make the 737NG a great airliner make it a no-brainer for a business jet,” said Mike Hewett, Boeing Business Jets chief pilot. “But since the downturn in our nation’s economy, our challenge at Boeing Business Jets is to convince corporate boards of directors that the BBJ is a better economic investment and a more effective tool than our competitors.” One industry expert explained the issues he faces selling time in an airplane as large as a 737: “One corporation I called asked who else in the neighborhood we’d sold one to. He loved the aircraft, but did not want to be the first one in his area to operate such a large aircraft.”

Airbus, with its Airbus Corporate Jetliner (ACJ), is hot on Boeing’s heels. “We cannot afford to dismiss Airbus as a competitor,” said Colburn. “They make a fine aircraft. But I do think that until recently, they simply viewed the ACJ as an extension of the A319 and not a true business aircraft. They have since changed that view and are being a lot more aggressive with our potential customers, too. But walking through our aircraft and theirs, most people could not tell the difference. The ACJ is a foot shorter and five inches wider than the BBJ.”

Not Just Another 737

While many people might think the BBJ is simply a 737 dressed up in pinstripes and wingtips, Hewett said that’s hardly the case. “There is only 9 percent of the BBJ that is common to the 737 Next Generation. We kept the architecture of the flight control systems and the human interface, but everything behind the scenes was redesigned to the latest standards or upgraded to what Boeing offers on other new aircraft. There have been hundreds of changes to FAA certification regulations since the 737 was certified. We chose to certify the BBJ as a derivative, which means you don’t need to meet all of those changes. But we stepped up to all but about six or seven of them.”

Since the BBJ incorporates much of the same safety architecture as the original Boeings, a pilot can safely control the aircraft to landing through the aircraft’s cable-boosted flight control systems, even after a complete hydraulic failure, which no 737 has ever had. The Boeing 737 has 120 million flight hours behind it, 100 million on the 737 classic (-100 thru -500 models) and 20 million on the Next Generation aircraft (-600 models and later).

Operationally, Boeing sells the BBJ as an airplane independent of most ground support anywhere it travels, with a stairway that folds neatly into the fuselage and an APU and air conditioning packs “that could make it snow in 110-degree heat on the ground in any middle east airport,” according to Hewett. Access to the baggage compartments from the ground is easy for anyone more than five feet tall, with a simple one-handed turn of the door’s handle. The BBJ floors are approximately 51 to 55 in. above the ground, depending on aircraft weight. The ACJ, by comparison, has baggage compartment floors considerably higher at 78 to 83 in.

Certainly there are a few things Boeing operators don’t like. For example, not all business airport runways can accept a 171,000-lb aircraft. By contrast, the GV-SP tips the scales at 91,500 lb and the Global Express weighs in at 96,000 lb. Colburn said, “The BBJ’s weight has been an issue only at a small number of airports, such as Teterboro and Aspen. And in both cases, it is not necessarily a runway capability issue as much as it is a local political one. There is a 100,000-pound arbitrary weight limit at Teterboro designed to keep out airline traffic. At Aspen, the airport manager is concerned that the BBJ may clutter up the ramp and has imposed a wingspan limit on aircraft. The Gulfstreams just make it in, but not the BBJ. We are not interested in a legal battle over the issue and are continuing to work with the communities.” He added, however, that some BBJ customers might be able to lodge legal challenges at airports that take federal money while excluding the BBJ.

The Speed Issue

Also at issue is the BBJ’s speed limit of Mach 0.82 and service ceiling of FL 410. Hewett would like to see the aircraft fly faster and knows his airplane can easily do it. “I’ve flown the aircraft to Mach 0.92, which means I could clear it to 0.84, but since we’d be up against the barber poll, we’d have to go back and reconfigure the computers to accommodate 0.84. Every time we want to make a tiny change anywhere, we have to prove to the FAA we haven’t affected any of the other systems, which can take thousands of hours. So we tend to make modifications when we are going to open the boxes anyway for a major change. But I’m still pushing for Mach 0.84.” Bruce Marsteller, a BBJ captain and special projects manager at Huizenga Holdings in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said, “Mach 0.80 is pretty much it in the BBJ. We’d like to go 0.82, but with the autothrottles on, the engines surge as they keep looking for the right power setting. But I like everything about this airplane. It will easily out-climb our GV at altitude.”

Buddy Rogers, a Houston-based BBJ pilot, said, “I thought the BBJ was much slower operationally than I’d expected. On long trips you had to back off to Mach 0.78. Above FL 350, you’re against the barber pole if you push it above 0.80. With that said though, I found the BBJ to be simple and very reliable. I’d recommend it over the Gulfstreams or the Globals to anyone.” Jerry Sonderstrom, a BBJ captain for Kevin Air in Van Nuys, said, “We fly at 0.80 for trips of 10 hours or less and at 0.78 on a trip like Van Nuys to Paris. It is a great airplane.”

Hewett added, “We’re lowering the cabin to 6,500 feet at 41,000 feet. To accomplish that, though, we had to change all the software in the digital controller and do a year’s worth of structural analysis that defines how many life cycles–the BBJ is good for 75,000–we would have to give up when we blow more pressure into the cabin. It will cost us 20 percent of the useful life of the BBJ, but a business jet customer will never see that kind of time anyway. They’ll never even see 10,000 cycles. If it were an airliner, it would be an issue.”

But the Dallas flight department manager said, “I don’t like the fact that the BBJ only goes to 41,000 feet. I’d rather lose cycles on the airframe and be able to go to FL 450. On a long trip that could save me fuel, which could mean making a legal alternate or not.” Colburn countered, “Although the aircraft wing and engines are more than capable of flying the aircraft safely at FL 450, there is the matter of an FAA restriction to contend with that is slowing the approval process.” This problem may, in the end, completely prevent the BBJ from legally flying above FL 410.

An FAA document, “Amendment 2587, Standards for Approval of High Altitude Operations of Subsonic Transport Airplanes,” imposed a new standard when it was released in July 1996–ironically just a month after the BBJ was announced–for the size of a hole in the cabin an aircraft must be able to withstand and still not completely depressurize before reaching the magic 14,000-ft emergency descent altitude. “Right now, none of the Boeings can comply with this amendment, except the 777, which is certified to FL 430,” said Colburn. Interestingly, the A319, of which the ACJ is a derivative, is certified to only FL 390 as an airliner, but Airbus obtained FL 410 as a service ceiling on the ACJ itself.

BBJ Maintenance

Simple maintainability is one of the highlights of a BBJ. The BBJ Gold Card entitles purchasers to hotline access at Delta Air Lines’ technical operations center, fuel discounts and flight support through Air Routing, not to mention advice through a connection with Boeing’s trouble desk. The Gold Card also allows purchasers to pick up a badly needed part at a local participating airline parts department.

Despite Boeing’s claims of an inexhaustible supply of parts, one operator complained, “We’re the little fish in the Boeing pond. AOG for a part from Boeing is 24 hours, and that is simply too long. They should have them to us in four to eight hours maximum.” But another expressed joy at the fact that recapped tires for a BBJ list out at just $400 each. Boeing even has items in the catalog for a dollar, he said.

Another operator compared windshield replacement procedures between his new BBJ and his old Challenger. “Replacing a windscreen on the Challenger costs about $35,000 and takes the airplane out of service for three days. On the Boeing, it’s $5,000 and takes about seven hours.” Admittedly, though, no one at Boeing could even recall an instance where any 737 had an in-flight windscreen failure that required replacement. None of the operators AIN spoke to reported more than a few minor delays due to mechanical issues.

If a buyer uses the aircraft 1,000 hr or less a year, Boeing puts the airplane on a low-utilization CAMPS maintenance program. The first hot section would be five years after the aircraft goes into service and 10 years before the first major overhaul. “We’re running at about 99.9-percent dispatch reliability with about 30,000 hours of BBJ operations,” said Hewett. “Everything that is easily repairable is in the electronics and equipment (E&E) bay near the nosewheel. Hydraulic and electrical pumps and much of the aircraft’s plumbing all meet in the wheelwell where they can quickly be repaired. The wheelwell has been designed to withstand a complete tire explosion and keep everything intact.”

While airlines choose from a huge option list before they purchase a 737-700, BBJs have only a few extras. “We went through the option list and hand picked the ones we believed were most important to business aviation customers,” said Colburn. Other than the choice of either Honeywell or Goodrich for brakes–both certified for about 1,500 landings–the only significant option is Category 3A autoland capability. “We believe that most corporate flight departments flying 400 hours a year would not be able to stay current on the Cat 3A system,” said Colburn. “But we also learned that most company principals don’t want to be out trying to land in Cat 3A conditions anyway.”

The BBJ standard equipment includes the Smiths FMS that has been a standard on the 737 for many years. Boeing chose the Smiths unit for its superb navigational capabilities, recently demonstrated by the RNP approaches Alaska Airlines has been flying with the units into remote mountain airports in the 49th state. Boeing gives each customer a new Dell Laptop Computer Tool with proprietary weight and balance and performance software that makes flight planning easy.

The numbers must, however, be manually transferred into the FMS before takeoff because the Smiths unit does not store performance data. “We simply didn’t want to partition off a part of the FMS computer to add the performance data,” Colburn explained. The Dell laptop also holds all of the aircraft’s maintenance documents, including the aircraft maintenance manual, fault isolation manual, illustrated parts catalog, wiring diagram equipment list, dispatch deviation list, service letters and in-service activity reports.

The possibilities of a rudder problem have been plaguing the 737 ever since two high-profile crashes, one in Pittsburgh and another in Colorado Springs, Colo. Although nothing was ever conclusively proven to indict the 737 rudder system, Boeing is being forced to upgrade all of the rudder power control units (PCU) on all 737s still in service, including the BBJs, at Boeing’s cost. The Dallas operator said, “All this hoopla on the rudder just irritates me because they are not sure there is even a problem with the system.”

Hewett added his personal thoughts: “I don’t believe the 737 had a rudder problem. We probably ran that Pittsburgh scenario in the simulator a hundred times. We did everything but drop the PCU off a 50-story building and it didn’t fail. They did try freezing the unit and they managed to get it to fail when a Boeing engineer jammed on the rudder after we’d shot boiling hydraulic fluid through the PCU. The NTSB thought they had the solution, although this kind of scenario is impossible in a 737NG. But a later test we did measured the temperature of the hydraulic fluid in actual flight and found it was near zero in the Pittsburgh aircraft, not -35 like the test. And the Pittsburgh aircraft crashed in the summer from 9,000 feet, where it was much warmer. I believe a rotor cloud toppled the Colorado Springs aircraft, not the rudder.” None of this speculation on the rudder PCU applies to the PCU in the BBJ, however.

Most privately owned BBJs are operated under Part 91, while those available for lease are operated under Part 125. Left over from another era when rules were set in stone to restrict competition with the regularly scheduled airlines, Part 125 BBJ operators cannot advertise their aircraft as being available for charter at all. In fact, they cannot even use the word charter in any form. “I’d like to advertise my BBJ in the The Wall Street Journal, but I can’t,” said Lacy. “I’m sure that’s why our use of the BBJ has not been nearly as much as I initially expected.”

But one solution may be operating the BBJ under Part 135, a concept both the FAA and DOT blocked until recently. “There was the perception that this airplane is too big and more complicated than some smaller ones and hence it needs more oversight [like Part 125],” Colburn said. “We disagree.” One BBJ customer who intends to use the aircraft under Part 135 filed a petition, knowing it would become a test case. Top-level FAA officials recently determined a suitably configured BBJ will be approved for Part 135 operation and were expected to issue pending Part 135 certificates by the middle of last month.

It’s What’s Inside that Counts

Boeing sales people had to negotiate a learning curve as they made the switch from marketing airliners to marketing business aircraft. Although the company sold the aircraft to their customers in a green configuration, it shied away from making recommendations about available completion centers.

“When we started out, Borge Boeskov and I visited all the centers capable of working on BBJs,” Colburn recalled. “When we first visited Raytheon E-Systems in Waco, Texas, they didn’t seem very interested until we told them about the size of the market. They told us they could finish 12 aircraft a year.”

But the relationship between Boeing and Raytheon E-Systems soured quickly when “it became obvious that Raytheon did not have the resources to complete the planned work and got progressively further behind schedule.” Hewett said, “We’re a lot smarter now.” Boeing now reviews the business plans of all BBJ completion centers and audits their work processes.

A fairly typical BBJ interior adds 12,000 lb to the aircraft. “Airbus claims its aircraft can do exactly what ours can,” Hewett said. “But since it never got its aircraft’s gross weight increased, it can only do what a BBJ can if it has a 5,000-pound interior. Try and find one of those.” Hewett also compared landing performance. “I’ll take this aircraft into a 5,000-foot runway all day long. I can also get it down and stopped in 2,000 feet.”

Boeing’s market expectations were originally small, estimating six to eight aircraft per year. The market demand turned out to be greater, with 83 aircraft sold between 1996 and this year, with 50 already in service. But BBJ sales have stagnated this year, with no sales recorded during the first two quarters. Production rates for the BBJs have also fallen from a peak of 24 per year in 1997 to currently about 12 per year. Hewett said, “There are a number of sales about ready to go, but they just haven’t happened yet.” Colburn said Boeing plans to announce some orders at this month’s NBAA show. While Hewett said there are no white-tail aircraft sitting on the ramp at Boeing Field, he admitted that this situation might be rapidly approaching.

“I know a large majority of the BBJs in service in the U.S. is currently with private individuals,” said Colburn, “but we hope to expand our base. The most significant thing that will help would be to get more BBJs in service.” But Colburn is also aware of the Catch 22 aspect of Boeing’s marketing challenges. Big corporations are wary of being seen by shareholders flying around in an airliner, and that makes them tougher to sell. “We were hoping our link with General Electric would help put more aircraft into the field [with corporations]. Then, too, there is the product-loyalty issue. Many potential customers have been flying Gulfstreams for a long time and are reluctant to change.”

But a strong advantage to the BBJ is its lineage. The 737 is the most successful airliner in the world today, with more than 3,500 aircraft flying. Boeing officials say a 737 lands and takes off somewhere in the world every six seconds. No other aircraft manufacturer can make that claim. And that lineage goes backwards and forward, with such aircraft as the Boeing 707, 727, 747, 757, 767 and the 777, some 10,750 airframes in all.

The Flight

Walking through the security doors at Boeing’s delivery center at Seattle Boeing Field (BFI) made it abundantly clear that, at 171,000 lb gross weight, this was not going to be an ordinary airplane for a flight report. The ground rules set by Boeing were that this AIN reporter would fly left seat on a typical trip, with an approach or two at the destination, but not much time for air work in between. The aircraft was being repositioned for a new customer demonstration in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., about four hours east. Boeing Business Jets said no flight simulator time was available  before my flight.

It was a partly sunny day in Seattle, with light winds and a temperature of 20 deg C, as BBJ chief pilot Hewett and I approached N130QS, a BBJ originally destined for fractional provider NetJets. After climbing on board, Hewett took me on a tour of the aircraft from the cockpit back. Returning to the cockpit, Hewett offered me the left seat, which was certainly easy enough to climb into since the subliminal message everywhere inside and outside the BBJ is space. Once the pilot adjusts the seat, the field of view out all six windows is superb.

Avionics are arranged around five 8 by 8-in. Honeywell LCD flat-panel displays–the same as those used in Boeing’s 777–connected through dual Smiths FMS units. The BBJ comes standard with a Honeywell Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System, a Flight Dynamics HGS 4000 Head-Up Guidance system, dual ADIRUs, 120-min cockpit voice recorder, triple VHF, dual HF and TCAS II. The airplane is also certified for RVSM airspace, 8.33-kHz spacing and required navigation performance (RNP) 0.5 nm. The BBJ also uses a Smiths autothrottle system.

Like all other Boeings, the BBJ incorporates a traditional control wheel. “We were asked why we didn’t move to a fly-by-wire sidestick,” said Hewett. “For our airline customers, that meant nothing except additional expense and they are already in trouble right now. We had to provide them with an airplane that flew faster, further, higher, with higher reliability and maintain the same type rating, while requiring no more than two days of FAA training.”

With only two passengers and a crew of five, N130QS was well under its maximum gross takeoff weight at 147,000 lb with 42,000 lb of fuel. The BBJ will carry as much as 64,000 lb. Hewett estimated we’d burn about 5,000 lb per hour for the 4.5-hour trip to the East Coast. Boeing’s Laptop Tool quickly calculated V1 at 133 kt, Vr 136 kt and V2 142 kt. Required runway was 5,401 ft if we needed to stop before V1. The available pavement at BFI’s Runway 31R is 10,000 ft. The nice part of using the Boeing Laptop Tool is that all the numbers consider necessary obstacle clearance criteria. Not all competing systems do.

Before doing the external walkaround, Hewett described what’s needed to bring the airplane online: turn on the battery switch, run the fire tests and start the APU. The APU can, incidentally, be started all the way up to 41,000 ft, with a generator capable of supplying the entire aircraft. Next the avionics come on to begin the IRU alignment process while the first officer handles the preflight. Outside, Hewett pointed out the easy access to the E&E bays in front of and behind the nosewheel. Easy access to the forward cargo hold from ramp level offers up 300 cu ft of baggage space. Despite the large cargo bay, many buyers opt for an in-cabin closet that offers passengers in-flight access to their suitcases.

The lowest point of the engine nacelles of the CFM56s is just 19 in. off the ground, raising questions about FOD. “The velocity of the air going in is so low, because of the size of the opening, that small objects simply get tossed aside,” Hewett explained. The oil service door is at chest height for most people, making that verification a snap. The landing gear can easily be checked from the same point.
As one walks in front of the wings, the seven-foot-tall winglets are prominent. Boeing put them on initially to enhance the airplane’s image, but soon learned the benefits were tremendous, according to Hewett. “The performance improvement from the winglets allowed us to pull out the 10th fuel tank, as well as enhance the aircraft’s hot-and-high performance.”

Moving to the rear cargo area, a look inside revealed little cargo room on 130QS, with available space taken up by fuel tanks. The BBJ2 offers an additional 20 cu ft of cargo space here. Looking up from the cargo bay allows an easy view of the separate APU intake and exhaust stacks.

The first officer can now walk forward toward the left main gear well, duck down and emerge standing in a Rube-Goldberg-like place with miles of piping and electrical bundles all available for quick checks. After checking the left main landing gear, left wing and engine, it is time to climb the stairs to the cockpit.

Hewett said, “We do flows and verify with the checklist. The first officer has an assigned part of the overhead panel and normally loads the FMS. Essentially, everything goes to ‘on’ or ‘auto’ and all the lights go out. It is pretty simple.” Hewett also pointed out the emergency galley power isolation switch, now required on all new transport aircraft since the Swissair crash.

Hewett attempted to upload the ATC flight plan into the FMS through Universal Data’s system. But after three or four attempts, it became clear a manual entry would be necessary. Although the Smiths system is similar to the Honeywell or Universal systems I’m familiar with, I needed a few minutes of training from Hewett before I put the flight plan in.

Although the start sequence on the big CFMs is simple, the right engine took two tries for reasons unknown to any of us. At the beginning of the taxi out, it was apparent that having marshallers, while important, was not absolutely necessary because the pilots can easily see the tips of those big winglets from the cockpit. Hewett said the added airfoils have actually made getting the Boeing to descend a bit more difficult than originally planned. The tiller was necessary for the tight turns as we taxied between the dozens of new 737s awaiting completion and delivery, but the pilot can otherwise easily steer the BBJ with the interconnected link between the rudder pedals and the nosewheel steering, something that made the takeoff a few minutes later quite easy.

We discussed the takeoff procedures out of BFI, normally planned to miss traffic departing and arriving SeaTac just a few miles south. As Hewett turned the auto-brake system to “RTO,” he discussed engine failure before V1. The procedure would be speed brakes out, full reverse thrust and hang on while the auto brakes pump 3,000 psi into the system. He added that the auto-brake system is so effective that a rejected takeoff below V1 will find the airplane slowing nicely by the time the flying pilot even gets the reversers out. But he also cautioned against stepping on the brake pedals during the rejected takeoff, something that pilots coming from smaller jets might normally do. “Once you add more than 90 pounds of pressure to the pedals, the auto braking kicks off and you’re on your own.” There are really not many emergencies in the 737 to get excited about. The only two requiring memory items are an engine fire and an emergency descent.

The HUD was left down for the flight, so all attitude and speed information was readily available. Lining up for takeoff, I brought the throttles up a few inches and pressed the autothrottle button to engage them. As a Hawker pilot, watching the throttles move on their own seemed a bit odd to me. They moved smoothly and the airplane accelerated quickly through V1 with only minimal rudder steering inputs. On rotation, I pitched the aircraft to about 20 deg nose up. We’d used about 4,300 ft of runway. The light feeling of the elevators was a precursor to how the big Boeing would fly later. At positive climb the gear was retracted and the aircraft quickly climbed toward our first target altitude of 3,000 ft. Since the initial rate of climb can easily reach 3,500 fpm soon after gear up, the level-off needed to begin almost immediately. Even though the speed bug had been set at 200 kt, a pilot not paying attention could easily have blown through 3,000 ft when hand flying the aircraft as I was.

Cleared to 11,000 ft, we were given a turn east toward our first point, Moses Lake, Wash. Still hand flying the aircraft, the response for a 150,000-lb vehicle was impressive. It was quickly trimmed to fly hands off as we passed through 10,000 ft and the speed increased to 280 kias. The climb rate settled at about 3,000 fpm. By 28,000 ft, the rate had fallen to 2,000 fpm, which held through level off at FL 370. From takeoff to level off took about 19 min for an average rate of 2,000 fpm. Still hand flying the aircraft, I found the effort minimal.

Once we accelerated to cruise at M0.80, I tried some steep turns at 37,000 ft. Initially I used 30 deg of bank so as not to frighten the folks in back. Hewett tried a few at nearly 60 deg and gave it back over to me for another attempt. It felt like the BBJ could easily have completed a great aileron roll from my 60-deg banks, and that is not surprising considering the BBJ’s grandfather–the Boeing’s 707–was rolled by Tex Johnson on its first flight 45 years ago. The HGS system makes steep turns a breese. After just a few minutes of practice, I was able to easily hold altitude within 20 ft. Fuel flows at Mach 0.80-our cruise speed-settled down to about 2,600 pph per side. The book showed that at 41,000 ft and Mach 0.80, the flows would have saved about 800 pph total.

Discussing handling qualities again, Hewett said the BBJ, like all 737s, has no stick-shaker system. “When I did the flight test on this aircraft, I took it up to 30 degrees pitch. I was coming down at 7,000 feet per minute and if I’d let go of the wheel, it would have recovered on its own. But the FAA wants you to hold the stick back and have the nose drop by itself. To make that happen they put stick pushers on airplanes, which I think are the stupidest things in the world. So we put a stall strip in, but we also gave it an artificial feel. When it gets close to a stall, we ramped up the stick force so high, a pilot can’t hold it back any longer.”

During the next 3.5 hr, the conversations about rudder issues and other marketing perspectives on the BBJ were easily handled because the cockpit noise level was so low. After two hours, I handed the controls to our extra Boeing pilot, Jim Ratley, and Hewett and I moved aft to sample the noise level in the cabin. The room in the back would quickly spoil any corporate pilot, once you pass the galley and the crew rest quarters. Five people could easily walk abreast in the cabin and never interfere with each other, which is easily one of the largest selling points to the Boeing.

As the noise check proceeded, I noted there was some noticeable, but tolerable, vibration noise right near the wing connect points. Hewett said Boeing is looking at a noise-suppression system with actuators that measure the vibration in the cabin and reduce it by exciting the pylons. It will be retrofittable to earlier aircraft, but is probably still a year off.

About halfway through the flight, Ratley climbed to FL 410, where N130QS accelerated to Mach 0.80, about 460 ktas. Fuel flows became about 2,500 pph per side. By the time the BBJ is light, the flows can reach down to less than 4,000 pph total at this altitude. About 150 mi west of Raleigh-Durham as I slid back into the left seat just before we began our descent, a number of respectable thunderstorms began to pop up. A great practical benefit of the HGS is navigating weather in daylight hours. If the tops of the thunderstorms penetrate the wings-level pitch attitude of the aircraft on the head-up display, you won’t clear the weather. If you need to deviate, rather than guessing how far, simply turn the heading bug until it clears the weather visually on the HGS screen, hit nav and you’re guaranteed to miss it all.

Skies were partly cloudy and winds light out of the northeast at Raleigh with a temperature of 35 deg C. The first approach was to be a flaps 40, full autoland affair to a touch and go. I flew the aircraft by hand out of 10,000 ft, slowing to 250 kt. Vref was 126 kt at our landing weight of 121,000 lb. All there was left to do was lower the flaps incrementally and turn the speed bug to the required number. Flaps one begins around Vref+70 kt, or 196 kt, which occurred as we turned downwind. Abeam the airport it was flaps five and I selected 176 kt on the airspeed selector. Since it looked as if the turn might be close, we selected flaps 10 and slowed to 156 kt. As we were vectored to a 90 deg heading for the ILS 7L approach, I reengaged the autopilot and punched approach. The system quickly coupled. At glideslope alive on autopilot, I called for flaps 15 and gear down as one dot beneath appeared. As we joined the slope, flaps went to 25 and speed slowed to 136 kt. Just inside the marker, we went flaps 40 and selected 131 kt or Vref+5.

At 50 ft the throttles moved to idle and the aircraft began to flare. The touchdown was so gentle that I wondered whether I could duplicate it next time. As the nosegear touched down, Hewett set the flaps for 10 deg and I gently brought the throttles back up. The aircraft required only a mild rotation and we were quickly airborne within 4,000 ft of touchdown. The final landing would be a hand-flown version and I was determined to equal the autoland I’d just witnessed, although I thought that would be well high on my first attempt at landing a BBJ.

The second approach was set up much like the first and I used the flight director all the way to minimums. There was very little trimming necessary until flaps 25. Surprisingly, at 121,000 lb the approach and flare were a piece of cake, with a touchdown so gentle, I wondered if Hewett had a hand in it, something he denied completely. After touchdown it was speed brakes and reversers out. The massive brakes brought the aircraft to a stop to make the turn off for our ramp at Million Air after using just under 5,000 ft of runway. Hewett handled the after landing checks.

The BBJ is an airplane with a heritage as broad as it is deep and millions of flight hours behind it. It flies like a pussycat, yet has the strength to take much more abuse than most corporate flight departments might hand it. It is also an airplane that can indeed be a chariot for kings. As Colburn said, “It will take a while for the BBJ to be accepted as a regular member of the business aviation community, but we are seeing new markets develop all the time. We maintain a high profile at all the trade shows and we’re always on the lookout for that next opportunity.”

Hewett concluded, “There are only two reasons you should buy a BBJ. One is for the space and the other is because it’s a Boeing airplane, which is designed to have the heck beat out of it seven days a week, 12 hours a day. And every day you get ready to go fly, this airplane will be ready to go. When you buy a BBJ you get an unbelievably reliable aircraft.”