Pilot Report: Bombardier Challenger 605

 - August 29, 2008, 12:47 PM

For airplanes–some airplanes at least–30 years is just another birthday to precede many more, a time when the manufacturers will hopefully hear comments such as “better, not older,” or “significantly improved.” That is true of the Bombardier Challenger 605.

The original Challenger 600, upon which the 605 is based, was the first of the business airplanes nicknamed a widebody when it was announced in 1977. The Challenger 600 first flew in November 1978. Successive versions of the series emerged as the 601-1, 601-3, 601-3R and 604. The PrecisionPlus avionics upgrade was first retrofitted to the 604’s Collins Pro Line 4 CRT avionics in 2001 at S/N 5500; 605s are delivered off the line with Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 LCD-display avionics. The hydraulics and electrical systems on the 605 are identical to those on the 604.

If the boss is the kind of person who really likes a big, wide cabin capable of carrying as many as 12 people or flying fairly long legs at speeds of up to Mach 0.82, the 605 version of the Bombardier Challenger is sure to please. Although the 605 will scoot along at Mach 0.82, 0.80 is the best speed for runs of about 3,700 nm. To see the airplane’s maximum range of 4,000 nm, the throttles need to come back for a speed of Mach 0.74.

Just don’t expect a technologically new airplane for the $28.079 million (2008) price tag, despite the addition of the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 four-LCD cockpit. The 605 is essentially an aircraft with new displays of all the familiar workings–many of them manual–of previous 600-series Challengers. (The 605’s big brothers–the Global Express and the Global 5000–are fully automatic airplanes in just about every sense.)

Like all updated versions of old airplanes, this one offers a number of valuable tweaks to the airframe. In this case, the galley is laid out more efficiently and the airplane has a potty that sits at precisely the same height as a standard unit found in ground toilets (most in aircraft are lower). A number of knobs–such as the barometer setting–have been relocated to areas of the panel where they are easier to control.
Auto-throttles are standard on the 605.

The GE CF34 turbofans on the 605 are the same as those on the 604, which are also the same engines used in millions of flight hours attached to the fuselage of the CRJ series of regional jets the company has built over the past 20 years. The 605 uses the same wing as the one on the CRJ.

A significant advantage of the Pro Line 21 system, in addition to the enhanced situational awareness it delivers, is the reduction in weight–nearly 200 pounds over previous avionics–enough to add one more passenger in the cabin while carrying the same amount of fuel as the 604.

Maximum takeoff weight for the 605 is 48,300 pounds, while a standard basic operating weight comes in at about 27,000 pounds. Maximum fuel weighs in at 20,000 pounds. During the first hour, the crew of a heavy 605 can expect to burn about 3,000 pounds of fuel. That retreats to 2,000 in the second and third hour, dropping off to about 1,800 during each of the final few hours of a flight. The airplane will not climb directly to its 41,000-foot service ceiling immediately after a max-weight takeoff. It needs to be down in the 40,000-pound range to climb above 37,000 feet. At 41,000 feet, the cabin is a comfortable 6,800 feet.

A More Comfortable Cabin

What makes the Challenger series a true winner is the cabin and cockpit interior dimensions. For $28 million, passengers receive a cabin almost exactly the same width and height as the Gulfstream G350/450/550 and Bombardier’s own Global series or the corporate version of the CRJ200, called the Challenger 850. Only the new Gulfstream G650 will deliver a cabin wider than the Challenger’s and then only by a few inches. The 605 is available now for about half the price of a new G650, which is scheduled to enter service in the first half of 2012.

All aircraft pushed to their limits demand compromise. In a cabin the size of the Challenger 605’s, the demands of a long-range trip actually translate into superb comfort for the people in the back. The 605 will fly five passengers and two pilots from New York to almost anywhere in the heart of Europe or South America nonstop. From Buenos Aires the 605 can easily make the leap across the Atlantic to Cape Town, South Africa.

It will also lift seven people from Aspen on a 22 degree C day and still fly for three hours, which translates into Los Angeles or Atlanta or Chicago Midway without much effort. As a rule of thumb, the 605 can easily carry seven people from any sea-level field with full fuel. Certification for the 605 to fly the five-degree slope approaches into London City Airport (LCY) should be of interest to many operators.
(U.S.-registered aircraft are not permitted to use the LCY approaches, however.)

The inside dimensions of the 605 are exactly the same as the 604’s, although the addition of larger 10- by 16-inch cabin windows placed two-and-a-half inches higher than on previous versions will make passengers feel as if they are in a much larger airplane. This increase in cabin window area–about 20 percent on each pane–provides an overall increase of glass of nearly 300 sq in to allow cabin light in.
The cabin uses the newest in LED lighting to provide more cabin light with less of the annoying glare of old-generation fixtures.

Bombardier enlisted the help of pilots and flight attendants to help design the new galley area with a digital display for lighting and sound control. From the eight- inch touch-screen galley panel, the attendants can control all briefings, cabin lighting and shade positions, as well as keep tabs on the aircraft’s water supply. The cabin seats are comfortable and can fold into four separate sleeper beds. The forward-facing seats also offer an adjustable leg support.

Another of the upgrades available in the 605 is the digital, Ethernet-based cabin electronic system that focuses passenger attention on either the front or rear of the cabin with a pair of 18-inch monitors mounted on the bulkhead walls.
Twenty-one-inch screens are optional. The system uses dual DVD/CD players that make it easy for two separate presentations to be running simultaneously. Airborne office systems to complement the baseline installed Iridium satcom system to provide Internet access are optional. The plug-in control system makes it easy for passengers to bring along iPods to plug in with a good set of Bose headphones to listen to their favorite tunes on a long flight. XM satellite weather is another option on the 605.

Pilots will feel pleasantly engulfed with technology when they sit themselves in front of the Pro Line 21 avionics system. The four Pro Line 21 screens add almost 50 percent more viewing area to the cockpit than the previous PrecisionPlus upgrade of Pro Line 4-equipped models. In addition to displaying more information–including the latest in moving map and graphical weather depiction– the avionics display the information more clearly than before. The 605 is also designed to offer pilots electronic chart options on the front screens and not, as on some other jets, via smaller outboard screens. On an ILS approach, Pro Line 21 will auto- tune the localizer when it is within 110 degrees of the final approach signal, as well as arm and capture the glideslope on the way down, with the autothrottles handling much of the additional work to fly smoothly.

The 605 is not Fans-capable yet. When it is, it will be able to provide more datalink communications from the cockpit while over the ocean with much less HF chatter. An application I found particularly useful was the ability to customize much of the PFD/MFD control functions individually with hot buttons similar to setting up a computer macro or a preset radio station in a car.

Flying the 605

The day this AIN writer caught up with the demonstration version of the 605, I was part of a foursome of other aviation journalists vying for the left seat on the same day at Bombardier’s Bradley Windsor Locks facility. We’d all been partially weathered-out the day before when the wind was howling across the ramp at 40-plus knots, so despite the congested flight schedule, all breathed a sigh of relief at having a more normal day to try out the aircraft. At the walkaround, the sky was nothing but high cirrus, with a gusty breeze from the west and an outside temperature of -1 degree C. The other pilot and I were under the expert tutelage of Bombardier demonstration pilots Yves Tessier and David Ure.

The APU of the 605 burns 200 pounds per hour on the ground and was already running when we climbed aboard N605BA. Tessier said the APU will run at up to 20,000 feet and is normally used to cool the cabin and maintain pressurization on takeoff during departures from hot and high locales.

Another journalist had the first takeoff, with me looking over his shoulder during the pre-start briefing. Tessier showed us the flows he uses before start that included the possible variations of the PFD display. The true benefit of Pro Line 21 is the way the displays make the IFR pilot scan easier than ever. In one place on the 10-inch-wide displays, a good deal of information can be easily displayed without crowding, one of the major problems with earlier glass panels.

Of particular value is the selectable flight-path cue available on the PFD. Why anyone flying a 50,000-pound flying machine wouldn’t want to know where the airplane will be five seconds from now is beyond me, but Tessier says many pilots prefer the feature turned off to eliminate clutter. The PFD allows the pilot to choose a post-to-post attitude indicator at the top and the HSI in the bottom of the PFD, which can also be used to display traffic and weather, lightning and terrain against the HSI display. All are selectable by the pilot. A head-up display is optional on the 605.

For this flight, N605BA was light since we had only 9,600 pounds of fuel and four people on board. Takeoff weight was calculated as 37,508 pounds, and maximum landing weight was 34,846 pounds. With the 605, there is no concern about where people sit in the cabin for weight-and-balance purposes even as fuel is burned down. Although the flight plan showed a final altitude of FL240 out of Bradley International (BDL), we knew the time constraints might prevent us from climbing quite that high.
For departure from 9,500-foot-long Runway 24 at BDL, the speeds were a respectable V1 of 115, Vr 121, V2 132 and safe return speed of 157. Flaps were set at 20 degrees for takeoff.

Tessier was clear about who was responsible for precisely what long before takeoff. He reserved the right to pull the journalist pilot out of the left seat and replace him with the more Challenger-experienced Ure if anything serious happened after takeoff. Each flying pilot also went through a pre-takeoff briefing. Tessier mentioned that the 6.5 degrees of pedal-activated nosewheel steering available on takeoff would be more than adequate for control on the ground. In other words, no touching the tiller on takeoff.

We requested the updated weather from Nexrad, which while helpful in the planning process can still be as much as 30 to 40 minutes old. Autothrottles are a valuable asset. Engage them when taking the runway and anytime up to 80 knots by pressing the ATS button near the flight director button and the throttles will move on their own for takeoff. The system will also sense takeoff power from the pilot and set takeoff power on its own on the roll.

I took the controls after the other pilot made his landing back at Bradley. The airplane was slightly lighter this time, and on takeoff the nosewheel steering was quite responsive even with the gusty wind. With 14 degrees of nose-up pitch at rotation, the 605 leapt off the ground. Calculations showed that at this light weight we should expect to use 3,561 feet for takeoff, but the aircraft was actually off the ground after 3,300 feet of runway.

In fact, this day was almost not a fair test of climb performance because the aircraft was so light. But it offered me plenty of opportunity to feel the controls on climbout and during the steep turns I tried once we reached 20,000 feet. Steep turns were easy as the autothrottles moved in response to my steepening the bank angle. Rate of climb teetered near 5,000 fpm through 20,000 feet. I found the 605 a little heavy on the controls, but honestly few people most likely fly the airplane by hand very much–with the opportunity to try a half dozen different electronic flight routines using the Pro Line 21, I probably wouldn’t hand-fly it much either.

In flight, I got up and tried pulling the acoustic curtain across the main passenger door once the aircraft had climbed high enough for the seat-belt sign to be snuffed. The curtain made a significant difference to the cabin noise level near the entrance when it was pulled tight. Ure opened and closed it while I sat in the rear of the cabin at one point during the flight, and even there the change was clearly noticeable. On takeoff, the noise level at the middle seat point was also quiet and only slightly higher at the rearmost part of the cabin.

The door between the cockpit and the cabin may well need to be pulled in cruise to prevent passengers from hearing the pilots’ conversations or the shuffling of a flight attendant in the galley.

After half an hour of hand flying the airplane at 20,000 feet, it was time to return to BDL. The speed brakes work at any altitude and any speed. During descent, I pulled the boards and found no noticeable buffet even as they helped bring the airplane down at nearly 6,000 fpm. At 230 knots, the flaps-20 speed is also quite high, and useful.

We calculated that Vref was 127 on our approach into Bradley as I turned downwind for the Runway 33 ILS. True to form, the system tuned the proper frequencies and, with the autopilot engaged, turned the aircraft on the localizer and captured the glideslope.

Lowering the landing gear provided the first significant increase in noise when the doors popped open. Below 1,500 feet agl, the wind was still gusty when I popped off the autopilot. I found the windy conditions to be one of the best tests of the aircraft that morning. All the way down final, I was easily able to keep the wings from rocking. I told Tessier that I wanted to try a maximum performance landing so, despite the 127 ref speed, our groundspeed across the end of the runway considering the wind was probably closer to 100.

The Challenger does not require much of a flare, only a slight raising of the nose across the end to slow the rate of descent. Touchdown was barely what I would even consider firm, considering the gusts, and the nose lowered gently to the ground. I pulled the manual spoiler handle back immediately, and maximum braking and barely a hint of reverse brought N605BA to a halt in 2,500 feet. The 605 does not use an autobraking system. I had to add power to taxi the aircraft to Taxiway Charlie to return to the ramp.

In the time allowed to evaluate the 605, I certainly liked what I saw and felt. The 605 delivers a vast cabin and cockpit for the dollar. The airplane is also extremely quiet through most of the flight envelope, which is enough to make most flight department managers–and their passengers– quite happy.

Bombardier has sold 53 Challenger 605s since first delivery in January 2007, and the next available delivery slots are in 2010. A Bombardier spokesman said there are no current plans to build a 606, but the company does keep its options open.

One 604 customer told AIN he would indeed buy another Challenger for his flight department for one simple reason: “Nothing ever breaks on this airplane.”